NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center




NMSU, University of Washington promoting gardening in Navajo Nation

SHIPROCK ? Gardens are sprouting in the northeastern region of the Navajo Nation thanks to a multi-year project by New Mexico State University?s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.


Child and adult watering garden
Desiree Deschenie helps a girl water the school garden at Dream Diné Charter School in Shiprock. The New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences employee is the coordinator of the Yéego Gardening project ?Where Health and Horticulture Intersects: A Navajo Collaboration.? (Courtesy photo)

Commonly known as The Yéego Gardening! project, ?Where Health and Horticulture Intersect: A Navajo Collaboration? the project is working to promote more gardening in two Navajo communities ? Crownpoint and Shiprock.

The project is a collaboration between NMSU, University of Washington and the Navajo Nation. Funding is from a U-54 Partnership for the Advancement of Cancer Research grant, and is a partnership between the National Cancer Institute, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and NMSU.

?Poor access to nutritious foods, departure from traditional diets and reduced physical activity are associated with a rise in type-2 diabetes and certain types of cancer among the Navajo,? said Kevin Lombard, NMSU associate professor in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences and superintendent of NMSU?s Agricultural Science Center at Farmington. ?Diabetes in particular is of concern because of its increased prevalence among Navajo youth.?

Gardening can successfully address issues of poor availability of fruits and vegetables and offer many other social and health benefits that come from the physical activity of gardening.
The project began initially targeting community and family gardens as a viable way to learn about gardening in two hosting communities.

?We are providing educational opportunities around gardening and to introduce community gardens as a learning space at our two locations,? Lombard said.

NMSU teamed with various institutions and county entities such as Mark Bauer and Felix Nez of Diné College, a Navajo land-grant institution, and Jesse Jim, NMSU tribal and county extension, to host a series of workshops covering different aspects of gardening and Navajo cultural components during the project?s initial phase.

?We?ve been able to show in the study that the gardens and gardening workshops help increase gardening among adults in the communities,? said India Ornelas, assistant professor of health services at the UW and an assistant member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

?The cultural aspect is probably the most important for long-term change,? said Desiree Deschenie, program coordinator for NMSU. ?By learning how the land works and how you interact with it, and seeing what ways work to grow your garden ? that?s another major link to Navajo beliefs and culture.?

Navajo Nation leadership is contributing to the change by passing the Healthy Diné Nation Act that includes a ?junk food tax? on snack food sold in the Navajo Nation.

Leonard Chee of Vice President Jonathan Nez?s office said the revenue will be distributed to chapter houses to plan for community originated wellness projects such as farming and vegetable gardens, greenhouses, farmers? markets, healthy convenience stores, and fitness activities, such as the Just Move It campaign.

Chee also said the tribal government is encouraging grocery stores within the reservation to purchase fresh produce from local growers.

Navajo Agricultural Products Industry is also contributing to the change by designating acreage to raise fresh produce, according to Wilton R. Charley, NAPI chief executive officer. The corporation is also transitioning some of its acreage from conventional farming to organic.

As a continuation of the initial project, the researchers are now measuring gardening behaviors and fruit and vegetable consumption, and hope to show a change in behavior among schoolchildren and their parents.

The NMSU/UW/FHCRC team is collaborating with Dream Diné Charter School in Shiprock to develop a school garden and curriculum for elementary school children.

Twelve lessons were developed, six to be taught in the spring and six in the fall,? Deschenie said. ?The lessons will include gardening skills and nutrition education, which will include taste testing the produce we raise.?

Entering the third growing season, the children raised corn, tomatoes, chile, basil, sage, chard and cabbage in six, 3-foot-by-10-foot raised garden beds after the 2016 season.

?The children will see the plants beginning to grow before summer vacation. Then when they come back to school in the fall they will help harvest the produce,? Deschenie said.

?The benefit of having the garden at the school is that the students are exposed to gardening and they start asking their parents why they don?t garden,? she said. ?A couple of the families are gardening now.?

In addition, the Dream Diné Charter School is planning to host monthly garden fairs as community events, interactive hands-on gardening workshops.

?I like that we are impacting the awareness of where the food is derived from and how interconnected it is with health,? Lombard said.

To learn more about the project view video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dG4NmpKlpM&feature=youtu.be