FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Far from the classroom, students shovel pungent layers of compost, manure and dirt to create a garden bed ready for planting.
They are part of CULTIVATE, a new internship program bringing Kinlani Dorm students to the Colton Community Garden at the Museum of Northern Arizona to learn how to grow, harvest, prepare and market healthy food.
The program also connects the students to the traditional farming roots that they may otherwise become disconnected from while living in a dormitory in Flagstaff to attend high school.
“The connection to farming for my generation is already very frayed. Especially here in the Southwest, a place with such a long and incredible legacy of growing, we have to make sure today’s youth keep that connection,” said Oakley Anderson Moore, the program consultant at Kinlani Dorm. We’ve told these eight CULTIVATE interns that they have a special responsibility — to be the keepers of this knowledge.”
Reviving farming on the Navajo and Hopi lands is important for the health of the people, the land and the planet, Tyrone Thompson tells the students as they prepare the soil. Thompson is a Diné farmer, but also an activist who works with schools across northern Arizona to develop gardens and keep livestock. His goal is to turn the reservation food deserts into food forests.
“We have the possibility of being the bread basket of Arizona,” he tells the Kinlani students.
Thompson is just one of many local and Native guest farmers who will instruct the students during the Cultivate program, teaching them how to grow and market hundreds of pounds of produce through traditional, low water and sustainable farming practices. The students will also develop a business plan based around a particular crop and work at the Farmers Market.
By the time their internship is complete, they will have learned important work force skills, including time management, marketing, interpersonal, math and business planning.
“These students have all kinds of dreams, from starting a restaurant to cleaning Uranium contamination on Navajo Nation,” Moore said. “These kids are the future, and this program is one way to help prepare them for the extraordinary things they will do.”
More than 25 students applied for the eight available spots in the first year. The Cultivate program runs for six weeks in the fall and then six weeks in the spring, giving students the chance to experience both ends of the growing season.
Through Cultivate they are connecting all parts of the food cycle, from gathering food waste from the dorm kitchen to add to the Colton Community Garden compost, to preparing meals from the vegetables they harvest in the garden.
After building the garden bed, the students harvested winter squash, summer squash and squash blossoms, from the garden. They brought the squashes to the Kinlani Cooking Class, where the harvest became stuffed squash blossom, roasted cushaw seeds and winter squash soup.
“Working with kids and teaching them sustainable things and healthy habits is the way that I feel I’m making a difference,” said Meg Kabotie Adakai, the education specialist for MNA. “It’s so important to get young people outside seeing the beauty of nature and also just seeing what the earth has to provide for us.”
Cultivate is funded for three years through a 21st Century Program grant and managed by Moore, Adakai, Colton Community Garden manager Carol Fritzinger and Rosemary Logan from Northern Arizona University.
Information provided by Museum of Northern Arizona
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