“If we didn’t have our culture, we wouldn’t be a pueblo. We would just be another town.” This is why the Pueblo of Nambé in New Mexico is ingraining its rich heritage in every crop, and growing pride with every harvest.
“It’s an investment in not only food sovereignty, but in the future of our people,” said Nambé Farm Manager George Toya.
It’s all happening thanks to the Nambé Community Gardens, which began in 2012 with initial funding from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations). In just four years, the gardens have grown from one acre to six, and have infused life into family farms and public lands that were “drying up” along with the opportunities for young people to learn about their culture and heritage.
Returning to farming, returning to roots
“There was no one left to do the farming, and little for young people to come home to,” Toya said.
Recognizing the need to not only grow food but also reconnect with their culture, the Pueblo of Nambé sought funding for the Community Farm Project. With a $25,000 grant from First Nations, the pueblo was able to clear and harvest land and begin providing locally-grown food to the whole tribal community. They were also able to construct a hoop house to grow food year-round, create a plan for surplus and distribution, and develop a food database.
They did it by involving the community, and by seeking — in the Pueblo way — the input of their elders. “There is a sacredness to food and water. It’s the most important thing in your life. It affects everything you do. The elders knew that, and now we’re just relearning it,” Toya said.
In learning about Native agriculture practices, Nambé youth also discover their identity. “People who don’t have the pleasure of saying ‘This is who I am, this is where I am from’ are kind of lost,” Toya said, “And when that happens, they tend to be vulnerable.”
Through the Nambé Community Gardens, young people learn the practices and customs of their people. This lets them know they have a history, and instills in them a sense of pride.
In addition, the agriculture experience provides another tool in what Toya refers to as a “toolbox” of life skills. “It gives them more things to learn and be exposed to. And if they have an interest in what they learn, they now have a community to stay with and build from, so they don’t have to seek a life elsewhere,” he said.
Growing for the future
As part of the Pueblo way, the Pueblo of Nambé does the most with what it has, said Toya. And every year since 2012, it’s been able to do more and more.
Since the initial grant, the Pueblo of Nambé has received additional funding through First Nations to build on the success of the Community Farm Project and to launch additional efforts toward food sovereignty and cultural enrichment. The organization has been granted a total of $162,250 through First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, its Native Youth and Culture Fund, and its partnership in the Seeds of Native Health campaign.
“This whole project would have never been started without the support of First Nations,” Toya said. “They saw that there was a need here, and we’ve been very fortunate. The entire community is thankful.”
Today, the Community Gardens cover six acres and include a small herd of bison and a cross-trained staff of three farm technicians, who also act as cultural mentors. The Pueblo of Nambé has developed a new drip-irrigation system and cultivated a 1,000-vine vineyard. In addition, the pueblo is leading a five-year food and health assessment, which will establish a baseline of the community’s health knowledge and provide hoop houses to select assessment participants. It is hoped that at the end of the five-year assessment, the community will have 20 new hoop houses in operation, and a growing number of people will be more focused on health, exercise, nutrition and risk factors.
“Our future is bright and we keep moving forward. We keep doing what we can do, and as much as we can do,” Toya said.
To learn more about the Pueblo of Nambé, visit http://nambepueblo.org/.
By Amy Jakober