Pueblo of Pojoaque Energizes Local Food Economy
Located in the Rio Grande Valley, the Pueblo of Pojoaque’s agricultural land is irrigated naturally through snowmelt and rain that runs down the surrounding mountain peaks. Residents of the area have practiced sustainable agriculture for centuries.
However, in the mid-2000s, local agriculture did not produce enough for all community members to access fresh, affordable healthy foods. The closest retail grocery store to the pueblo was 15 miles away, contributing to community members’ food insecurity.
The pueblo began a two-year Administration for Native Americans grant in 2009 to improve tribal members’ nutrition and expand the local food economy by developing the pueblo farm. To carry out the project, the pueblo hired an agricultural director and a farm operator with extensive experience. Despite a devastating series of fires that produced a water shortage in 2011, the director impressively expanded the farm. Together, they planted around 490 fruit trees and vines, and harvested more than 3,200 pounds of tomatoes, zucchini, watermelon, cucumbers, jalapenos, and onions.
Project staff consulted elders and farmers in the Rio Grande Valley to deepen understanding of dry season and traditional farming. Through this research, the pueblo implemented traditional cultivation methods, such as waffle gardens and terraces, and Heirloom and traditional seeds. This method enabled the community to enjoy the same crop varieties as their ancestors.
Additional innovative techniques included using organic pest repellents and rotating crops to keep the soil safe and nutrient-rich. Passing on lessons learned, project staff coordinated Growers Outreach seminars at locally owned farms, providing experiential learning to community members in sustainable agricultural practices.
In addition to expanding community food production, project staff provided guidance on nutritious food preparation. Through weekly classes in healthy, ceremonial, and traditional cooking, tribal members learned a diet full of fruits and vegetables is a powerful tool against diabetes and obesity.
Lessons on healthy eating resonated strongly with 200 community youth who learned through the Edible Classroom project how to work in the orchard, plant and harvest garden vegetables, plan a menu, and cook lunch with harvested produce.
As a result of this project, the entire community has greater food security, the pueblo farm has expanded production, and families have started home gardens. Agricultural director Frances D. Quintana said, “The time is going to come when you grow your own food.” The pueblo has invested in the farm and in nurturing generations of future growers; they will be prepared when that time comes.