December 2015

Tewa Women United Receives EPA Grant for Healing Foods Oasis Garden


Beata Tsosie-Peña


The New Mexico–based nonprofit, Tewa Women United (TWU), located in Española, has received a $30,000 Environmental Justice grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in support of a demonstration garden project that will be planted in Váldez Park, on a hillside behind Española City Hall. The hillside is currently a barren slope with erosion problems.

The Healing Foods Oasis, a partnership between TWU and the city of Española, will be accessible to Española residents, as well as to the surrounding tricultural communities of the northern Río Grande Valley. In addition to growing food, it will provide opportunities to learn about environmental, public health and climate-change issues. It will demonstrate how traditional, dry-land farming techniques can be combined with contemporary methods to improve water-use efficiency and adaptability.

The impacts northern New Mexico needs to prepare for and address center around seasonal water availability and conservation, long-term drought, regeneration of forests from wildfires, threat of more wildfires, storm water and flood events, vulnerability to crop pests and erratic or sudden changes in agricultural growing and weather patterns.

Participants will be able to learn strategies such as rainwater harvesting. The region’s Native peoples have remnants of ancient gardens and examples of how to slow the flow of water at the top of watersheds, minimizing erosion and evaporation through mulching and creation of berms constructed on contour lines. In the modern case of the Váldez Park hillside, water flow off buildings and a parking lot can be defined as a watershed, providing an opportunity to collect enough to establish a self-sustaining garden. Soil sampling will determine any remediation that may be necessary, a reality when adapting to growing in urban environments.

Resilience can be built through the nurturing of healthy soils, species diversity and symbiotic systems. Progressive modern applications like subsurface irrigation systems that minimize water evaporation can establish a garden that, over time, will not rely solely on drip irrigation. Planting practices need to be able to draw on both modern and traditional knowledge.

The garden is being designed as an outdoor classroom to support native food traditions and languages. Participation in the design, construction and caretaking of an edible, herbal, medicinal landscape can, for some, become a bridge to healing.

The garden is also intended to orient people to healthy, natural foods, a preventative approach to reclaim health and wellness. For many area residents, growing their own food without access to irrigation is not an option. Educational opportunities will also include earthwork construction of berms and swales, companion planting, identification of traditional foods, herbs and their uses, and language preservation through labeling plants in Tewa, Spanish and English.

The integration of traditional, cultural values and beliefs into the learning process and in forming relationships reflects TWU’s mission, which is to Provide safe spaces for Indigenous women to uncover the power, strengths and skills they possess to become positive forces for social change in their families and communities.

Many community members do not have access to land and natural spaces for growing and traditional learning. The project will help address that disparity and help people remember and relearn what it means to be a steward of the land. Taking pride in our cultural heritage and celebrating our connection to land are inseparable from our healthy, respectful relationship to plants, water, air, animals and each other. Studies have shown that active development and involvement with spaces such as the Healing Foods Oasis can decrease crime and model caring behaviors.

In addition to the EPA grant, $20,000 for completion of the first phase of the project has come from organizations and community members. Organizations, clubs, businesses and individuals are being sought to help make the project possible through tax-deductible sponsorships and donations of materials. A limited number of sponsorships are being offered for memorialized, living “guilds,” that is, interrelated earthwork systems. Volunteers and in-kind workers are also welcome. The goal is to have the irrigation system, grading and earthworks complete in preparation for planting through the 2016 season.

Española officials who have helped make the project possible include Mayor Alice Lucero, Parks and Recreation Director Mark Trujillo, City Manager Kelly Durán and the City Council, as well as some city employees.

The Healing Foods Oasis demonstration garden seeks to build community capacity by building collaborative relationships with local organizations and entities and by forming community partnerships. Initial collaborators include Christie Green, of Radicle, Inc.; Anchor Engineering; Four Bridges Traveling Permaculture Institute; Traditional Native American Farmers Association (TNAFA); Sostenga Center for Sustainable Food, Agriculture and the Environment; Santa Fe Indian School Agricultural Program; New Mexico Acequia Association’s Sembrando Semillas program; Honor Our Pueblo Existence; Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute; and the CARE Coalition, which includes New Mexico Breastfeeding Taskforce, Las Cumbres Community Services, TWU Doula Program, First Born, DOH-WIC, and Breath of My Heart Birthplace.

Please join us in this journey of linking tradition with technology, and help empower our communities to take proactive steps in addressing issues that we must come together on to ensure the well being of future and current generations.


Beata Tsosie-Peña is a poet, teacher, farmer, activist and mother from Santa Clara Pueblo and El Rito, New Mexico. She works in Tewa Women United’s Environmental Health and Justice program. She can be reached at




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