Hello, my family and relatives. My name is Leiloni Begaye. I am from the Coyote Pass Jemez clan. I am born for the Water Flow Together clan. My maternal grandfather is from the Red Running into the Water clan. My paternal grandfather is from the Red Bottom clan. This is how I present myself as a Diné (Navajo) woman. I am from the Navajo Reservation in Greasewood Springs, Arizona. In 2015 I served with FoodCorps at La Semilla Food Center in Anthony, N.M., and currently I am in the second year as a FoodCorps-NM Fellow, based in Albuquerque.
My traditional upbringing instilled in me a great appreciation for my tradition, culture and language. I was constantly taught to take care of Mother Earth and that in return, she’ll take care of me. I witnessed my elders utilizing Traditional Ecological Knowledge in ceremonies. There is a story and teaching behind every ceremony. As a Diné woman who is inspired not only by my children, but also by my elders and parents, my sincere passion is to teach and inform my community how to become sustainable through food sovereignty and to take ownership of our health.
That leads me to this: Have you ever crossed paths with a visitor who says, “What can grow in New Mexico? It is dry, hot and desert”? If you think about it, New Mexico’s ecosystem is actually very diverse. New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment. You may ask, “How does this relate to FoodCorps-NM?” FoodCorps-NM has been dedicated to equipping our community partners with the skills, knowledge and experiences to address root causes of food injustice, while also providing hands-on training and technical assistance to communities engaged in farm-to-school work.
The FoodCorps-NM program is a state partner with the UNM Community Engagement Center and Farm to Table-NM. Both are nonprofit educational organizations working collaboratively to manage and direct the state FoodCorps program. The Community Engagement Center provides expertise in social justice perspectives, community capacity building, civic engagement and leadership development. Farm to Table provides expertise in promoting locally based agriculture through education, community outreach and networking, food and nutrition policy development and social enterprise facilitation.
Community partners are essential to the program at the local level. Each organization is dynamic, community-led and -owned, and sets the foundation for their FoodCorps service members, who serve at places such as La Semilla Food Center in the Paso del Norte region, La Plazita Institute in the South Valley of Albuquerque or Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health at Santo Domingo Pueblo.
In my time with FoodCorps, I’ve seen each cohort bring a wealth of knowledge and a sense of identity. In this Program Year 2017, the New Mexico cohort is even more diverse. I say this with great respect because they are all serving the communities where they reside. These 10 service members are on the ground, creating positive change and impacting their communities one step at a time.
This takes me back to tradition, culture and language. Implementing tradition is a way for students to connect to Mother Earth, Father Sky, Grandfather Fire and Grandmother Medicine and Moon. Through languages such as Diné and Spanish, the FoodCorps-NM team is able to intentionally and strategically design the program around diversity. Culture understands how to undo racism and discuss history and context in a manner that is appropriate to address and identify.
Paul Soto and Anthony Shemayme will be serving in a detention facility with detained youth, utilizing connection and tradition to mentor the youth. Ryan Dennison from Dinétah and Anahi-Mena Hernandez from México will implement language in a way that creates identity and individuality. Mallory Garcia is serving with the Albuquerque School District, the second largest in the country. That district has eight school gardens. Stefany Olivas and Brandy Montaño, serving with SouthWest Organizing Project, will be teaching students in Albuquerque’s International District how to start gardens in schools and gardening’s relationship to the realization of gender and racial equality.
As a statewide network, FoodCorps-NM members reached 3,090 children, worked on 29 garden projects, harvested 2,346.5 pounds of produce and worked with 416 community volunteers in Program Year 2016.