In 2015, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) launched the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Scholarship Program to encourage more Native American college students to enter agriculture and agricultural-related fields. This new scholarship program will help grow a new generation of Native leaders dedicated to reclaiming control of local and traditional food systems.
Current research indicates that many Native youth view agriculture and agricultural-related fields as outdated and irrelevant. According to the USDA, the number of farmers and ranchers nearing retirement age has grown by 22 percent in the past five years, while the number of young farmers and ranchers adequately trained to replace them has decreased by 14 percent.
As a result of this indifference, many farmers, ranchers, herders, etc. are now retiring without qualified replacements trained to take their place. In an attempt to increase the number of students entering these fields, First Nations awarded six $1,000 scholarships to Native American college students majoring in agriculture and related fields.
Kyle Swimmer, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, received one of these six inaugural scholarships. Kyle is a junior at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology majoring in environmental engineering. In addition to his studies, Kyle also manages his own cornfield that includes nine species of corn that were passed down to him by his grandfather.
Kyle is one of the youngest tribal members to raise a field of corn in his pueblo. Recently, Kyle shared his experiences as a presenter at Native Youth Leaders: Revitalizing and Embracing Wellness Through Food. In February 2015, 30 Native youth from Arizona, New Mexico and South Dakota gathered together at this innovative conference to discuss issues related to food and wellness in their communities.
After he graduates, Kyle intends to use his degree in environmental engineering to build a canal system that will help him and other farmers in his community carry water to their fields. Kyle’s accomplishments and future goals underscore the potential of Native youth to empower themselves and their communities. First Nations is proud to be a part of this effort.