NMSU helps Zuni youth revitalize
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.
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
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
“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
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
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.