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Pueblo starts Sustainable Agriculture Initiative

Page history last edited by Tom Johnson 11 years, 6 months ago

Pueblo starts Sustainable Agriculture Initiative 

Original story at http://www.santafenewmexican.com/Food/Pueblo-starts-Sustainable-Agriculture-Initiative


TAOS PUEBLO —In times of great challenge — such as the recent rise in food prices, transportation costs and devastation from natural forces such as hurricanes and tornados — it becomes increasingly important for rural and tribal communities to look inward for survival.



Taos Pueblo has been addressing this need through its Sustainable Agriculture Initiative, which was incorporated into the pueblo's summer youth-training program at the Red Willow Education Center to give the next generation a valuable hands-on learning experience. Young tribal members prepared the groundwork and the foundation for the greenhouses and helped plant the crops.



"We brought back this initiative through our summer youth-training program to encourage tribal members to utilize their land to grow crops," said Shawn Duran, the Red Willow Education Center's education and training division director. "Fifty years ago people grew their own food and bartered."



In March, a biomass district heating system was installed at the Red Willow Education Center because rising fuel costs are making cold-area greenhouses impractical.



The fire mitigation efforts of the Taos Pueblo War Chief's Office following the 2003 Encebado fire helped make the system a reality when a three-year Forest Health Collaborative grant was awarded to the pueblo to produce an abundance of small-diameter wood (forest thinnings) to provide the heating fuel for the district heating system.



The unit basically consists of a specially designed firebox contained within a large metal water tank. The fire heats the water, which is then channeled into a radiant floor heating system, first in the education center and then to the radiant systems in the two greenhouses.



Without help from the Taos Pueblo tribal council — which awarded the program the use of the 3.3 acre site — and the community volunteers who made adobe bricks for the building, Duran said, none of this would have happened. "It has been a labor of love," she said.



Tribal members grow a variety of plants such as corn, tomatoes, beans, squash, dark leafy greens, and different types of lettuce on the land dedicated to the Agricultural Initiative, as well as on their own land.



"Whatever they don't use is sold at the Red Willow Farmers Market, an old tradition that we revived last year," said market manager Shirley Trujillo.



The long-term goal of the Agricultural Initiative is to have a store on the pueblo open to the general public. Years ago, Duran said, Tony Reyna's family had a store called the Old Grainery that sold meat and shelf items. "I remember it when I was a little girl, and my aunt worked there."



The Agricultural Initiative wants the pueblo to return to producing its own fresh food not only for self-sufficiency reasons, but also for health reasons.



"About 25 percent of our patients have heart problems, and we try to prevent this through changes in their diet," said Josie Shije, Healthy Heart Program director at the Taos/Picuris Health Center.



The center has a registered dietitian who comes in one day a week to counsel patients with diabetes and other conditions about diet and nutrition. The center also offers a series of educational classes for patients, four of which are devoted to diet, nutrition and preparing healthy meals on a tight budget.



Soil of opportunity



For the last 19 years, the Food Center at the Taos County Economic Development Corporation also has been addressing food insecurity challenges.



"I hate to be prophetic based on catastrophes," said co-director Terri Bad Hand, "but this is why we created the Food Center with its own community garden and greenhouse — to try to localize our food production."



The directors of the TCEDC also see a great need in the agricultural community for business training and offer special courses tailored to the unique needs of low- to middle-income farmers and ranchers.



Their nationally recognized agricultural entrepreneurship training program, "Tilling the Soil of Opportunity," focuses on the business aspects of running a successful farm and ranch operation. In this eight-week program, which meets one day per week, farmers learn to reinvent their agricultural enterprises by developing business planning, marketing research and financial management skills.



Another, weeklong program is designed help people interested in developing a food production business, covering everything from recipe development and food safety issues to marketing of the final product.



"Anyone who has land or wants to go into the food business should take this course," Bad Hand said.



Both of these free classes are offered by TCEDC twice a year.



Elsewhere in the United States, the revival of agriculture and farmers markets on tribal lands is being aggressively pursued. The Tohono O'odham in Arizona have revived interest in planting and gathering many of their traditional desert foods, such as tepery beans and choya buds. And the Navajo Nation is producing and selling churro lamb and squash blossoms.



"A lot of native chefs and other culinary people are buying these products and putting them on their menus," said TCEDC co-director Patti Martinson.



The communities that survive, Martinson and Bad Hand said, will be the ones that can feed their people.




Agricultural entrepreneurship training classes are offered free of charge by the Taos County Economic Development Corporation. For more information, call 505-758-8731 or visit tcedc.org.




WHAT: Taos Pueblo Farmers Market

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays through the end of October, or until there’s a killing frost

WHERE: Taos Pueblo’s Red Willow Education Center, 885 Starr Road (just past Tony Reyna’s Indian Shop)

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call 505-758-5990


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