Navajo Tech land grant workshops seek to restore gardening on rez

Environmental Science and Natural Resources major Leighton Garcia of Many Farms, Arizona picks jalapeno peppers at one of NTU’s land grant gardening workshops. (Navajo Technical University)

Environmental Science and Natural Resources major Leighton Garcia of Many Farms, Arizona picks jalapeno peppers at one of NTU’s land grant gardening workshops. (Navajo Technical University)

CROWNPOINT, N.M. — In July, Navajo Technical University (NTU) began offering free gardening workshops to community members to increase the knowledge base on the Navajo Nation about healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound methods.

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Horticulture specialist Hallie Casey discusses with community members the proper way to pick green beans during a work day of NTU’s land grant program’s gardening workshop series. (Navajo Technical University)

The workshops are being conducted by NTU’s land grant department.

“Our focus for the gardening workshops is to answer questions and equip our participants to grow whatever and however they want. Our aim is to meet participants where they are and support their efforts,” said Hallie Casey, horticulture specialist for NTU’s land grant program. “Often times, this means working with folks to restore their family’s land or provide healthier food options for their family. We are thrilled to be able to support individuals passionate about nourishing their land and bodies.”

The land grant program’s fall series began Sept. 21 with a cool weather crops presentation and was followed by a demonstration on how to make a low-cost pea trellis, using PVC pipes and string. On Oct. 5, the program wrapped up a presentation on indoor plants, and the series will continue Oct. 12 with hands-on plant propagation. A fall crops cooking demo will also be provided before the end of the month, as well as a workshop on tree care and maintenance. 

A wide array of participants attended the workshops, including NTU students, faculty members, and community members from throughout the Four Corners region.  NTU’s summer series on composting, seed saving, food preservation and rainwater harvesting averaged 21 participants a session, which has allowed the fall series to be offered twice a week to accommodate participants’ schedules. 

“It’s been a learning experience for me. I’m learning everything I can each day,” explained environmental science and natural resources major Leighton Garcia, who is working for the land grant department managing NTU’s garden and greenhouse. “I want to apply everything I learn back home. I want to teach people around me and say this is possible. We can do it. We can grow our own food here.”

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NTU students and community members participate in a seed saving workshop as Hallie Casey explains how to extract the seeds of cherry tomatoes. (Navajo Technical University)

“I remember in my youth when I was a kid planting seeds for my grandma in the cornfield,” reflected Garcia, whose clans are Kinyaa’áanii, Tábaahá, Tódich’ii’nii, and Naakai Dine’é.  “As time went on, it’s been forgotten. The corn crops are gone. The farming is gone. There’s only a few of us who still hold on to [the practice].”

“I think if we hold on to it and learn all we can, it’s possible to do more,” continued Garcia, whose family operates a farm in Many Farms, Arizona, where he does irrigation farming for trees and corn. “We can overcome poverty. We can overcome hunger. We can overcome diabetes.”

Bebbah Bitsui of Chinle, Arizona reiterated Garcia’s sentiment about gardening having the potential to make a community-wide impact, and stated she was attending the workshop series for her job working as a health technician with Indian Health Services. Bitsui was tasked with starting a gardening project at Crownpoint’s local elementary, which will eventually be developed and spread to other regional schools. 

In addition to the land grant department’s gardening workshops, Casey expects to start working with area schools on bringing agriculture discussions to the classroom. NTU’s land grant program will also be conducting its annual ram lease project Nov. 2, where rams will be leased to community members in attempt to improve the herd health of the region. 

More information about NTU’s gardening workshop series is available from Hallie Casey at horticulture@navajotech.edu. More information about NTU’s ram lease project is available at (505) 786.4150.

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