Born and raised in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, Kenzi Bowekaty joined the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project in 2019 as an agriculture and nutrition intern. She says it was the perfect opportunity for her; not only did she want to work with children, she grew up farming.
“Family members shared information about the job with me, and I was shocked, because it was my thing!” Kenzi recalls. “I grew up planting with my mother. It’s rooted in me. When I was Miss Zuni in 2017-18, I promoted agriculture in our community. It’s part of who we are.
“I wanted to carry on that work, so I applied for the position,” she continued. “It was everything I envisioned and more, teaching the kids about our language, our culture, and planting. It’s been so rewarding.”
Kenzi, now 21, has watched ZYEP grow and expand its programming since she first attended its Summer Camp as an elementary-school student. Agriculture and nutrition programming, in particular, simply wasn’t available in Zuni when she was small.
“I loved learning to plant with the other kids at Summer Camp, because it was the only place we did that together,” she says. “Today, ZYEP is doing a lot of good work in this area, which makes me so happy. It’s amazing to be part of the team.”
Kenzi works closely with Food Sovereignty Coordinator Jessica Quinlan and Zachary James, her fellow intern, on agriculture and nutrition programming. Together, they create and deliver meaningful lessons strengthened with Zuni culture, values, and traditions.
“I love expanding our work into the community, and demonstrating how it ties into who we are as Zuni people,” Kenzi says. “We teach our kids how to take care of themselves, each other, and the earth. I didn’t have learn that in school when I was a child. These kids are more open to what self-care really is, and they will have the resources and knowledge they need. I’m thankful for that.
“Look at me — I was a kid in Summer Camp, and now look what I’m doing!” she added. “If we can reach even one or two kids, that means positive change for our community.”
As an intern, Kenzi focuses primarily on ZYEP’s nutrition initiatives, while Zach focuses on the agricultural components. They also prep and distribute wellness kits to the community; teach and cook with the youth, encouraging them to stay active, try new recipes, make healthy choices, and have fun; and communicating with families about their gardens and rainwater collections.
ZYEP distributes rain barrels to families and encourages them to collect as much water as possible. Each family has to submit an application to receive their barrel, submitting photos of their garden and a short essay describing why rainwater harvesting is so important.
“It always blows my mind when our young people speak,” Kenzi says. “I reviewed the essays they sent with their families’ rain barrel applications, looking for key themes and messages. They talked about the importance of conservation for the sake of our Mother Earth. They said rain is what we pray for, because it gives us life. I was mind-blown, because this is what we’ve been trying to teach them.”
In her role as an intern, Kenzi has had the opportunity to work with young people through the Zuni Public School District as well. She says the kids are always excited to see the ZYEP team.
“They’ll run up to us and give high-fives and hugs,” she says. “That’s the best energy to receive from our target audience.”
This spring, Kenzi is pursuing coursework toward a bachelor’s degree in early childhood and multicultural education. She intends to use her education and experience to continue serving her Zuni community.
“I’m rooted in our culture,” she explains. “I’m so attached to it, and I want to help instill cultural teachings within our youth.”