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Native Food Sovereignty: Growing a Food System at Taos Pueblo
As a result of historical trauma, a succession of treaties, forced assimilation and federal underfunding, Native Americans continue to experience higher rates of health, educational and economic disparities than the general population of the United States.
Taos Pueblo has not been immune to these effects. In addition to loss of land, water and language, we have endured countless dietary changes since European occupation. And we have witnessed a steady decline in our traditional agriculture and its role in our daily lives. This has impacted our economic structure, our traditional ways of knowing and our culture. At Taos Pueblo we practice purposeful acts to maintain our lifeways and the pathways of our ancestors through prayer, reflection and religious practices.
Traditionally, food is more than just sustenance or a dietary or health concern; it is sacred. It is directly linked to our identity, our spirituality, our land, water and familial systems. It is a huge consideration as we keep in mind our future generations. Through dances, songs, food processes and feasts that coincide with planting and harvest seasons, we practice and continue our way of life.
Yet we still have to contend with disruption and loss.
The Red Willow Center
Red Willow Center (RWC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit demonstration farm, located at Taos Pueblo. The center’s goal is to “revitalize the agricultural heritage of the Taos Pueblo community and re-establish food sovereignty by regaining control of and rebuilding its food system.” RWC seeks to accomplish this and support the health of our people by demonstrating sustainable farming, providing community and youth education and increasing tribal members’ access to local healthy foods.
Red Willow’s educational activities include observing and discussing agricultural and food system disruption, federal food policy and its effects on our community over time and how we can develop youth and community activities, projects and programs to address these issues. To encourage positive change and a return to traditional agriculture, we provide farmers and the community access to resources they need.
RWC operates a diverse vegetable farm and a small orchard. It includes four greenhouses (two heated for winter production), a seasonal 1½-acre field, an outdoor and indoor year-round farmers’ market (Wednesdays, 11 am to 6 pm), full-site drip irrigation, cold storage for produce, a biomass district heating system that serves three onsite organizations in three buildings, solar-thermal and 3.2-kW solar photovoltaic systems, an additional subterranean phase-change heating/cooling system in one greenhouse, an online, real-time data readout system for important operating parameters (still being refined) and a compost site.
The Heart of Red Willow Center is youth. Youth involvement is vital to the success of the center’s mission. Traditional growing practices are integrated with modern technology to teach our future leaders. Youth participants are fully engaged in the entire process—from seed to sell—with the hope of inspiring and creating farmers and agricultural business people. In an outdoor classroom, valuable skills taught include practical math, communication, responsibility and cooperation, environmental responsibility and Tiwa language and its application to farming and community. Students are offered opportunities to gain life and job skills through hands-on farming. They also develop an understanding of healthy nutrition, Taos Pueblo’s traditional food system, native food sovereignty and how to create a sustainable community. All the interns have year-round paid positions that offer the youth an opportunity to grow, sell, donate or keep their own produce.
The Red Willow Center partners with local high schools and the University of New Mexico/ Taos to provide credit recovery and experiential training. RWC also collaborates with several Taos Pueblo programs: Healthy Hearts (via incentive bucks), Headstart (school garden), Senior Center (garden and orchard care) and Community Health (recipe sharing, fresh produce and logistics planning). The center also works with the town of Taos’ Holy Cross Hospital Cancer program and with the Regional Farmers Market.
Through providing education and cultivating awareness, we believe that we can help reverse the effects of historical trauma in our community. Demonstrating that farming is a viable way to make a living is crucial for the success of our programs, along with the understanding that a return to our traditional agriculture is a step in the right direction in order to maintain, preserve and pass on this heritage to future generations, as well as a means to protect our land and water.
Addelina Lucero is executive director of Red Willow Center/Farm at Taos Pueblo.
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