Diné farming and food production an economic development model

DINE, Inc holds first ‘From Vine to Market’ workshop

<i>Photo by S.J. Wilson/NHO<br>Lechelle Gabriel displays the finished product — from vine to fresh salsa meeting industry standards.

<i>Photo by S.J. Wilson/NHO<br>Lechelle Gabriel displays the finished product — from vine to fresh salsa meeting industry standards.

SEBA DALKAI, Ariz. - "Five hundred years ago - 25 grandmothers ago - the Diné people came to this area and lived here without white people helping you," said Kyril Calsoyas as part of his welcome to Navajo farmers and ranchers from across northern Arizona. "You are a people of strong culture and traditions. We brought complexity, roads and money - and you are all adjusting."

Calsoyas is non-Native, but has been a part of the Teestoh/Birdsprings community for a long time - he is married into the Walker family of Birdsprings, and is the father of two sons. Calsoyas has served as principal to Seba Dalkai, Tuba City High School and Greyhills Academy High School. He directs DINE (Developing Innovations in Navajo Education), Inc., which focuses on community development, education, farming, micro-enterprise, minority empowerment, nutrition, sustainable agriculture and more. DINE, Inc. was originally formed in 1997 to administer a multimillion dollar contract for a new elementary school - Seba Dalkai.

DINE, Inc. created the Navajo Southwestern Virtual Alliance, which equipped all 110 Chapter Houses on the Nation with wireless satellite Internet services. It is also involved in community food projects.

"I see two challenges for this community," Calsoyas said. "One is bringing in money locally, and the other is preserving the strength and beauty of the Navajo culture."

DINE, Inc. partnered with the Taos County Economic Development Corporation (TCEDC) and Wynette Arviso of JJ Clacs and Company to put on the first "From Vine to the Marketplace" workshop, designed to demonstrate the benefits of value-added production to Navajo communities.

"Working with value added foods (economically add value to an agricultural product by processing it into a product for sale to consumers) will allow Navajo farmers to have gardens to grow, and to preserve foods for your own family and to sell," Calsoyas said.

He described his own plans to start an industry in Teestoh

"I looked at Tooh Dineh Industries in Leupp," Calsoyas explained. "There are 50 cars in the parking lot and jobs for the community. I've also visited Eurofresh Farms, which has huge greenhouses in Snowflake and Wilcox - hundreds of acres of greenhouses. They have told me they have six million pounds out of 200 million pounds of tomatoes per year that they can sell at cost of 35 cents a pound. We might be able to start a corporation to deliver salsa around the country."

"The Diné people are experts in preserving food," Calsoyas asserted. "This kitchen is being set up as a test."

With this in mind, DINE, Inc. invited Pati L. Martinson and Terrie Bad Hand, the directors and founders of TCEDC, along with TCEDC Food Center Manager Elena Arguello to share their expertise at the workshop.

TCEDC has developed principles of community development that include involving the community, hiring the people one professes to empower, research and identify human and financial resources and maximizing public and private partnerships. TCEDC's Family Kinship Model of Community Development consists of harmony, unity, equity and opportunity.

The organization operates a 5,000 square foot commercial kitchen complete with equipment, services and support to assist community members in realizing their own food businesses.

Martinson is originally from the Pine Ridge reservation - she is Oglala and French on her mother's side and Yankton and French on her father's.

"Sometimes I wonder why I've been in Taos for 22 years," Martinson said. "Before that, I was in Denver, one of the major relocation centers after the Dawes Act. Terrie and I worked at the Indian Center there. We were invited by a family from Taos to do non-profit and community based programs."

Bad Hand is of Cherokee, Italian and French ancestry.

"We are excited to share with other nations what we've learned," Bad Hand said. "Value added food production is just a new term for what people have done forever. Our elders have told us that wherever you were put on the Earth, the Creator gave you what you needed to survive -and it is different wherever you are. Land-based peoples have deep relationships with the land."

Bad Hand and Martinson have worked with several different communities across the United States, and presented a slide show of that work. An historic photo showed a woman in traditional dress standing on a fish trap with a net suspended at the end of a long pole. She was from the Chickaloon Village in Alaska.

"In the past, the Chickaloon didn't do anything with the fish - they sold them by the boatload to the cannery," Bad Hand said. "People spent their whole lives providing fish to make money for others."

In the past, Bad Hand said, traditional people only harvested fish of the correct age - but as time passed economic hardship saw fishermen taking fish of all ages.

"The result was, their traditional food was disappearing," Bad Hand said. "Now Chickaloon is harvesting the fish, adding the value themselves, and sell only the surplus. They can protect the food source again. We are told that people and families have come back together. Food is a great connector."

Bad Hand explained their work with the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma, where elders decided to put on a traditional fish fry.

"In the past, all the people would wade out into the water and put a plant, similar to a nettle, into the water," Bad Hand said. "It would stun the fish, and they would float to the top. The needed fish would be chosen, and then cooked with traditional foods. Because they have checkerboard reservations in Oklahoma, they learned that everyone had to get fishing licenses. We used Oxfam funds to buy the fishing licenses."

At Tohono O'odham, TCEDC supported work with traditional desert foods such as tepary beans and cholla buds in battling diabetes, as well as preparing and packaging these foods for sale.

The Tsyunhehkwa, Oneida Nation, Wisconsin, has developed its own white corn and traditional medicines - and the three sisters - corn beans and squash.

"All around the country tribes are working to improve health and economic development," Bad Hand said.

TCEDC has become expert at what is needed to get food from the vine to market shelf. Arguello described the nuts and bolts as the steps to ensure safe products.

"Our grannies and aunties knew how to preserve food. Now we need to scale your product up. There are 200 products coming out of our kitchen in Taos - whatever you have as a product-a recipe that people like, you can market that product.

"People want food that is local, familiar to them. They want the convenience of opening a jar, but they want a delicious product," Arguello said.

"Bacteria are a reality of life," Arguello explained. "It's everywhere, and you must minimize its ability to grow. We use what nature provided - but how do you get the food to the consumer safely? If you are going to market your product, you can't use the home canner - and industrial pressure cookers are very expensive."

There are other ways to make a safe product - and salsa is an excellent model, Arguello said.

"We've done it at home by guessing, but now we want scientific assurance that our food is safe. It sounds complicated but it's not," Arguello said.

She joined Lechelle Gabriel in the kitchen for a hands-on, everyone involved demonstration of salsa production. There, Arguello led the group through the washing and peeling of vegetables, roasting them, sterilizing jars and rings, the hot fill and hold process of jarring the salsa - involving the proper heating of the product to kill bacteria, testing stability with a ph meter, and finally, allowing the jar to vacuum seal by cooling.

Arguello also led the group through labeling requirements, including nutritional values, eight, ingredients, and batch identification, as well as the process of certifying one's commercial kitchen.

Rose Mary Williams shared her experiences as a very successful farmer and rancher, as well as Navajo plant knowledge.

When Williams became a farmer, she met with resistance, but she persisted and experimented - even transferring dirt from Kerley Valley to her home near Rare Metals. She took care to immunize her cattle and to bring in new bulls when needed. She found that she was extremely successful - making more money than she had at previous jobs.

"No one can tell me that they can't do anything," Williams said. "If you teach your kids, they will know--be with your kids, garden with them, and you will know they aren't out behind the hills drugging out. I am always teaching my kids. I have them up on a chair making oatmeal. I tell them, 'What if I go tomorrow? What are you going to do? I am not going to be there to take care of you forever.'"

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