Organizers Heartened by Young Attendees at Annual Sustainable Agriculture Forum

* By Jerry A. Padilla
The Taos News, Oct 2, 2008

There are times when young people are not encouraged enough to become involved in activities in which adults take part.

Therefore, it was very encouraging for future generations to see the numbers of young people actively participating and, in some cases, leading presentations on sustainable agriculture at the Third Annual Symposium for Food and Seed Sovereignty at Tesuque Sept. 28-29.

Several schools with programs specifically teaching organic and sustainable farming were in the forefront.

Louie Hena - an advocate and activist who has worked with Paula Garc'a, Miguel Santistevan, Clayton Brascoupe and Estevan Arellano, among others in the region, on acequia and farming issues - was excited about the youth involvement at the symposium.

"I have worked with young people described as 'at risk,' and I have seen how they make a turn around when they are encouraged and guided in working with the earth," Hena said. "Some have been some pretty tough young people who at the beginning claimed all they needed was what they had in their current lifestyle. But when you guide them with patience and understanding, it is really encouraging to see the change in them."

Hena continued:"We teach the youth by our example. I have been with this Pueblo style farming all my life. We practice the sacredness of the seed planting, we have our own acequia, and we get the seeds from our Grandmother Earth. We don't depend on anyone for our seed. If the seed is not from our area it can impact the entire lifestyle.

"We teach our youth how to practice our lifestyle and culture we've been doing here all along. Landrace seeds have memory and we teach our kids that, and to also be careful with seed from elsewhere, because sustainable agriculture has always been our way of life."

School projects varied

The Santa Fe Indian School Agri-Science class of 200809, which included Native American students from various New Mexico Pueblos, led the way on student presentations. They took turns explaining how they are learning to use science in ways that are Earth-friendly, yet still help revitalize traditional agriculture.

One of their projects involves developing GPS maps for people at Cochiti Pueblo in order to identify abandoned farmlands and work to restore them. One of their speakers explained that while not all science can be applied to Pueblo agricultural traditions, some innovations are good, and that soil analysis science is fine.

The students work closely with tribal councils, plant and maintain gardens, have attended a Bioneers Conference, and worked on issues of Native American Seed Sovereignty. They are also actively involved with Pueblo communities in traditional crop seed banks - learning from elders how to collect, preserve and store seeds so they remain fertile. The students cooperate with other school programs in related disciplines as well.

Based in Santa Fe, and nearer Espa-ola, the Camino de Paz Montessori School and Farm for grades 6-9 is actively farming with an egg and chicken program, angora, La Mancha and Nubian red goats, sheep, horses, and crops and starter sets in greenhouses. They produce some 900 eggs a week, and also work closely with the Espa-ola Fiber Art Center.

From Las Vegas, N.M., the R'o Gallinas School also works with an Outward Bound program. Their Green Machine Program connects with community leaders and elders to learn how people used to farm. These students have completed or are working on designing, making blueprints and constructing functional geodesic dome greenhouses, and part of their requirements are to showcase their designs. One group has created a selfsustaining greenhouse that can be lived in. The Friends of the R'o Gallinas helps and inspires them, they said.

Sandra Santa Cruz from the San Lu's Valley and the program coordinator of Sembrando Semillas(Planting Seeds) - a program, she explained, that was begun in Taos by Miguel Santistevan - was riding herd on an enthusiastic group of young people from Fort Garland and San Lu's, Colo., who were participating in the program, which is directed by Devon Pe-a.

"These students are very motivated to learn the farming methods of their grandparents and ancestors, and we got our start with help from Las Comadres de San Lu's, a women's group concerned with the well being of the community," Santa Cruz said.

"We also get help from the Acequia Association, and I am working with the students to prepare a novella, a creative project about the oral history of the San Lu's Valley, farming and agriculture, and researching our cultural traditions. I would like to eventually turn it into a play, on the lines of something the students can research, create and present for the Santa Ana Fiesta in the summer as part of their educational experience."

The students worked this year helping harvest habas and peas, and learned how to make chicos from fresh harvested corn. Their mission is "to help restore the values of homegrown food," they explained over a meal of locally produced Tesuque chile , beans with chicos, calabacitas and oven bread deliciously prepared and served by the culinary staff at Tesuque.

Another youth group from Monte del Sol in Santa Fe also participated in the agricultural forum. They are involved with the International Youth Group and the New Mexico Young Farmers Association. One of their sponsors explained, "Something happens to young people when you put them in touch with the earth. You see a difference in their attitude and ability to work together and problem solve."

"Young people given the chance to learn how to respect our Mother Earth, even some real hard cases I have met, showing them how to respect the seeds, to work the land with respect, appreciate that knowledge and also become a positive influence on their peers," Hena said. "They are our future."

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