Native Village Youth and Education News
October, 2009


NMSU helps Zuni youth revitalize traditional agriculture

Writer: Christina Pheley

Condensed by Native Village

New Mexico: Zuni High School horticulture students won four ribbons in this year's New Mexico State Fair.  The class won first place for both their comb honey entry and their green onion entry. They won third place for their junior garden display and for their filtered honey entry.

The students' produce entries came from their traditional Zuni “waffle gardens.” These gardens are a series of parallel, square or rectangular depressions dug into the ground to create a waffle-like pattern that maximizes use of water.

The produce was displayed in student-made traditional Zuni pottery pieces. The jars of honey were collected from the class’s two beehives.

The ZHS horticulture class collaborates with New Mexico State University, the New Mexico Department of Education, Twin Buttes High School and Zuni Middle School, and the larger Zuni community.

“A major goal of the Traditional Zuni Agriculture Revitalization Project is to stimulate the local Zuni economy by working through the Zuni public schools to re-introduce traditional Zuni agricultural practices, which have been declining in use since the early 1900s,” said Michael Patrick who brought together the project’s many partners.

Lee Watts is hopeful that getting kids involved in their agricultural heritage will encourage more Zuni adults to explore traditional agriculture. A century ago nearly 30% of Zuni adults were gardening. Today, that number is only  1.5% .

“This project is not only an economic development tool,” Watts said. “It is also helping tie Zuni youth back to their cultural heritage by actively engaging them in horticulture and other ag-related classes, where they learn about traditional farming practices more than a thousand years old. Using traditional Zuni farming practices, the students are actually going out and building waffle gardens and planting fruit orchards, in many cases using native seeds handed down through generations of Zuni farmers.”

The project also envisions selling  traditionally grown Zuni produce, fruits, poultry and honey to generate income for the community.

Another goal is to make locally grown traditional Zuni fruits and vegetables available to community members.  As consumption of these traditional foods has declined, diet-related conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease have increased.

The Zuni High School horticulture teacher, William Becker, considers this year's winnings a major triumph because this is only the program's first year.

“I think the entire community of Zuni will be proud of what our students have achieved,” Becker said. “Winning at the state fair in our first year demonstrates that we can put out a quality product, not just any product. We’ll be back next year and will be entering in more categories.”

Becker plans for the horticulture course to be completely self-funding with revenue from the class’s beehives, which, with the addition of more hives in the coming year, are expected to bring in as much as $5,000 a year.

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