The experience, knowledge and wisdom of tribal elders have the potential to improve the health and well-being of tribal communities.
In 2012, the Pueblo of Nambe launched an innovative project to demonstrate its respect and appreciation for tribal elders’ lifelong contributions to the tribe. It established a community farm that has helped revitalize traditional farming methods and produced more than 4,000 pounds of food to help eliminate senior hunger on the reservation.
First Nations supported this innovative project with two grants through its broad Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI). The first $25,000 grant was awarded in 2012 and was underwritten by AARP Foundation as part of the Native American Food Security project. It was intended to find a sustainable solution to hunger for seniors. The tremendous success of this first project encouraged the tribe to apply for a second grant in 2013 to build capacity and increase healthy food access for Native American children and families as well as seniors. The second grant for $37,500 was underwritten by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It will be used to expand this small community project into a much larger business venture that addresses senior hunger as well as food insecurity and economic instability.
Funding by AARP Foundation motivated the pueblo to conduct a food assessment to examine the needs of their tribal community. This assessment revealed a gap in healthy food access for seniors. The pueblo addressed this gap by launching a community farm and food-distribution program that ensured that tribal elders had easy access to traditional and healthy local foods both at home and at the senior center. Additionally, in the fall, the tribe hosted a harvest party to honor their elders with a traditional feast that included fresh bison and fruits and vegetables from the community garden. Much of the produce was grown and harvested by tribal youth under the guidance and supervision of their elders, who used that opportunity to pass their cultural knowledge and wisdom along to the next generation.
The success of this community-wide initiative inspired the Pueblo of Nambe to apply for a second grant in 2013 to lease additional land and hire more hands to cultivate the community garden. The hope is that the pueblo can use the second grant to tackle food insecurity on the reservation, sell surplus fruits and vegetables to stores and restaurants off the reservation, and stimulate tribal economic growth and development by hiring tribal youth to assist in these efforts.
The Pueblo of Nambe Community Farm demonstrates how a small and seemingly fragile community project can have far and long-lasting generational effects in Indian Country, especially when these projects are nurtured through stable and consistent funding and support. This innovative project would not have been possible without the generous support of both AARP Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, whose commitment and dedication to Native people is helping build strong, sustainable tribal communities – culturally, nutritionally and economically – for generations to come.
By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator