In the northwest area of New Mexico, Zuni Pueblo residents are gaining more access to healthy fresh food through the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP), which, in combination with existing school and community garden programs, is helping revitalize gardening and, in the process, connecting tribal members to cultural and spiritual traditions of Zuni agriculture. Zuni is the largest of 19 pueblos in New Mexico and home to about 10,000 people in an area considered a food desert. The closest city is Gallup, 40 miles away.
Con Alma Health Foundation, New Mexico’s largest private foundation dedicated solely to health, is assisting this effort through its Healthy People, Healthy Places initiative. Con Alma is focused on supporting locally grown and culturally significant foods, as well as increasing support for the preservation of agricultural traditions and encouraging elders and indigenous people to share those practices with children and families. To leverage funds, the Zuni project is one of 31 mini-grants (totaling $161,000) Con Alma has provided to nonprofits that are working to increase people’s ability to get healthy food and be physically active in their communities.
The ZYEP, the lead for the gardening project, has a long history of partnering with agencies at Zuni. ZYEP’s A:ho’ A:wan Doyenkakya Dehwanne, or “People’s Garden,” has involved representatives from at least 10 local organizations. With prior Con Alma support, ZYEP created a garden with Head Start students, which was one of four school gardens and two community gardens in the pueblo. The intention was to demonstrate that home gardens are viable options for families who want to improve their health.
“In addition to the clear health benefits of fresh, local produce in a community where obesity and diabetes rates are high above averages, there are important personal and community benefits to maintaining the rich agricultural past that allowed Zunis to thrive in a very difficult environment for so many generations,” said Dr. Val Wangler, who works on these initiatives. “We believe in highlighting the benefits of traditional lifestyles and diets that were common long before processed foods and unhealthy government commodities contributed to declining health.”
The garden project was recently granted tribal land to expand. These projects have a way of creating ripples in communities that are invested in creating a healthier environment for families.
Originally ran in the August Green Fire Times