Kenneth T. Romero
The Cochiti Youth Experience (CYE) incorporated as a nonprofit in 2008 and reorganized in 2010 as a way to promote healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices, create opportunities for youth and address health-related issues at the pueblo of Cochiti. Diets high in refined sugars and processed and fast foods have taken their toll. As in many Native communities, obesity, diabetes and other problems are common, due in part to the lack of local fresh fruits and vegetables and consumption patterns that have diverged from traditional ways. Over 50 percent of tribal members living at Cochiti make a daily commute—20 to 60 minutes each way—to jobs off the reservation. Most households make the same commute at least once a week to purchase groceries.
CYE’s main initiative, Project Hii Hii’ Kah (Laughing Corn), is organized around two objectives that support the goal of creating a local, sustainable food economy for the pueblo: revitalize traditional cultural practices of agriculture and food production; and bring elders and youth together in meaningful mentoring relationships. The project is in homage to Hii Hii’ Kah, a historically significant symbol in the Cochiti tradition of joy and abundance, which includes cultural and personal well-being. The preservation and revitalization of community knowledge and practices in growing, producing and consuming local and traditional foods are necessary for ensuring the pueblo’s cultural survival, physical and spiritual well-being and for increasing economic self-sufficiency.
This year, the project has 10 adult farmer-mentors, four elder mentors and more than 24 youth participants. Some previous youth participants have become mentors themselves. All attend monthly classes to learn hands-on farming methods and to be introduced to scientific data. In partnership with a local beekeeper, beekeeping training is also offered. The honey produced has been given to our elders.
Our plans are to increase not only our participant base but also the percentage of acreage within our ancestral homeland that produces fresh fruits and vegetables. Crops grown have included white and blue corn, red and green chile, squash, watermelon and Indian melons, pinto beans, radishes and tomatoes. At the end of the season, harvests have been sold at the Youth Farmers’ Market in the pueblo. The majority of the money generated goes to the youth farmers. A portion—decided by the participant—is given to CYE to support the following year’s program.
We intend to help enable our program participants to travel to farmers’ markets in surrounding urban areas so that the produce they grow can be a sustainable economic opportunity. We also hope that a permanent farmers’ market can be created and maintained on the reservation, providing surrounding areas with traditionally grown Pueblo fruits and vegetables.
Other Cochiti Youth Experience Initiatives
CYE has partnered with the pueblo of Cochiti Governor’s Office and Education Department and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) to provide a free nutritious lunch to all children in the community during the summer. The Summer Food Service Program is administered by CYFD and funded through the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). CYE has also assisted the pueblo’s Administration Department in supporting youth and their parents in the preparation of traditional foods for ceremonial use and in having a Cochiti youth participate in the Native Youth Leader Conference, “Revitalizing Wellness Through Food,” at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
Plans include the creation of an Elder Garden close to the senior center to help bolster the physical and emotional well-being of our elders, who may not be physically able to work in tribal fields. This will also provide opportunities to partner younger children with elders. Creation of a Children’s Garden at the Keres Children’s Learning Center could be a foundation for planting seeds of interest in traditional agriculture in younger children. Proposed plans also include a centrally located orchard to grow apricots, apples, cherries, plums and peaches. There was once an orchard on the eastern edge of the village; however, due to drought, it has been lost.
Our tribal council and tribal community recognize the importance of Project Hii Hii’ Kah and are supportive of CYE’s work. The Cochiti Youth Experience is seeking funding. Our programs are solely funded by foundation grants and private donations.