First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is always happy and proud when our grantees and the various projects we have supported achieve good success and begin to make positive ripples in Indian Country. We’re happy and proud a lot because we have many of these stories, but one of the recent ones is about our good friend A-dae Romero.
A-dae first flew onto First Nations’ radar in 2011 when we provided her with a USDA Community Food Projects travel scholarship to attend our L.E.A.D. Conference. At the time, A-dae was thinking of starting a nonprofit organization related to food.
That thought soon became reality with a new organization called Cochiti Youth Experience, Inc. at Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico. (A-dae was born and raised in Cochiti Pueblo. She is Cochiti and Kiowa.) She co-founded this nonprofit so it could create positive opportunities for Cochiti’s young people, and it has a special focus on strengthening Pueblo agriculture as an economic, political and social anchor for the community. First Nations provided a grant to assist Cochiti Youth Experience in 2012 under First Nations’ Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, then another grant in 2013 under our Native Youth and Culture Fund.
Since then, A-dae has continued to accomplish good things, both personally and professionally. She recently received important honors and achieved major milestones that recognize her growing impact, especially in Native American agriculture.
In July 2014, The White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture honored A-dae as one of 15 local “Champions of Change” leaders from across the country “who are doing extraordinary things to build the bench for the next generation of farming and ranching. These champions are leading in their industries and communities, inspiring others who want to find careers and a life on the land, and providing food, fiber, fuel, and flora around the world.”
Then, she was recently named a U.S. Fulbright Scholar, a very prestigious academic accomplishment. She will use it to study the Maori people of New Zealand. Then Agri-Pulse, a national agricultural news source, included her as one of the most influential rural agricultural advocates in its “50 Under 50” report.
Further, A-dae recently completed her LL.M. (master of law) degree in agricultural and food law through the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law. A-dae was the initiative’s first student to complete this multi-disciplinary research, service and educational opportunity, and the initiative itself is the first of its kind nationally. This advanced law degree comes on top of her J.D. (juris doctorate) degree from Arizona State University’s College of Law, and her degree from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (her focus was on public policy and economic policy).
A-dae now acts as a consultant with First Nations Development Institute on several of our Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative efforts, plus she walks in two worlds by farming with her family in New Mexico – raising blue corn and varieties of Pueblo corn – and farming with her husband’s family in Hawaii, growing taro. She also serves on the board of Native American Farmers and Ranchers through New Mexico Community Capital, and on the board of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA). And, she was just named a legal researcher for the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), in partnership with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), for the new Global Network on Legal Preparedness for Achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
It’s no wonder A-dae is becoming a leader in Native agriculture. According to the Agri-Pulse article, her grandfather was a leader among his people. When construction of the Cochiti Dam flooded agricultural land used by their tribe, A-dae was just a child. Yet she remembers playing nearby as her grandfather and other leaders discussed the loss of the land for farming, which was vital to the pueblo’s livelihood.
A-dae said it was “very intimate and powerful time” in her life, as the community, dependent on agriculture, struggled with the question of who they would be without farming. As she began to develop an interest in a profession that could help her to be a voice of her culture, she found a mentor who encouraged her to pursue her dreams of law school. Since then she has found a fertile and fruitful field of endeavor at the intersection of law and agriculture.
“After all,” she said in the Agri-Pulse interview, “farming is about getting our hands dirty, and there is a simple kind of happiness in that.”
By Randy Blauvelt, First Nations Senior Communications Officer