Agriculture in Our Region
By Be Sargent
As children, Rita and Angelita used to water their grandmothers’ waffle gardens every other day. Back and forth from the well, next to the Zuni River, they would go with a galvanized bucket in each hand.
Cilantro, onions, carrots, radishes, beets, tomatoes, chilies, potatoes, garlic and cabbage grew in the waffle gardens. “I never liked cabbage,” said Angelita. Long narrow gardens along the fence were for climbing squashes.
In those days locally grown vegetables were a staple in Zuni. They were usually cooked in stews started with a small amount of mutton.
Wheat and corn were also staples. They both remember riding the threshing horses round and round. “All work was done in community, feed and share.”
We got started talking about the temptations of processed food and I asked what a treat was in the old days. “Parched corn, heated up with sand, then sifted out, mixed with roasted piñons in the shell and sprinkled with a corn cob salt shaker, a cob dipped in salt. “
Two thousand years ago Zunis farmed way into Arizona. Experts in floodwater irrigation, they knew every watershed in detail. Good places varied with the year. There are still Zuni ranchers raising cattle and corn, but Zuni, like Gallup and everyone else in this modern food desert are dependent on food trucked in.
Marie and Joe Lee grew corn for many years on a bend in route 602 just south of Gallup. Both have died since I painted the mural and the field lies fallow. Of course this year was unusually dry and I have hopes that next year it will be in corn again.
Tim Nelson partnered with Pat Butler at Rocky Ridge Goat Dairy. Their cheese was a local treasure. Pat still has 70 goats, and occasionally shows, but all the milk is going to the kids.
Work in Beauty, Inc., a Gallup non-profit, would like to revive agriculture in our region. Founded in 2005, Work in Beauty, the name respectfully borrowed from the Navajo Prayer, Walk in Beauty, was formed to create livelihoods that sustain, heal and harmonize with the environment. The three murals on the jail are meant to illustrate that concept.
In 2007, Steve Heil and Amy Halliday formed a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. It has been expanding ever since. The Work in Beauty/CSA buys produce from local growers and distributes it weekly to subscribers. To join you can call Amy at 979-2693.
Zuni vegetables, Navajo corn and Gallup goat cheese could all be big time. Now is the time. People know the benefits of locally grown as opposed to the commodities and processed food.
“We would like to truck it OUT,” says Michael Smith of La Montañita Co-op.
We have challenges, like drought, frost, and mean March winds.
But as Rita said about her grandmother’s waffle garden, “When the seedlings froze or were blown away in the spring we just put in the seeds again.”