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Zuni Youth Enrichment Project Celebrates 2021 Growing Season, Looks Toward 2022

ZUNI, NM (Jan. 25, 2022) — With funding from the Native American Agriculture Fund, New Mexico Department of Health, Notah Begay III Foundation, and the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project supported another successful growing season in the Pueblo of Zuni. Not only were hundreds of Zuni tribal members able to grow and harvest their own food, they collectively saved more than 15,000 gallons of rainwater.

Last year, 100 registered families received garden kits, rain barrels, and encouragement from ZYEP’s new Agriculture Support Team. Now, as the youth project celebrates the successes of 2021, its staff is preparing to provide even stronger support in 2022.

“We define food sovereignty as our community’s ability to grow, share, and be nourished by our Native foods, contributing to the health of our people and the continuation of our traditions,” explained Jessica Quinlan, ZYEP’s food sovereignty coordinator. “Our little motto that we use to explain it to the youth is, ‘We Grow, We Share, We Eat, We Save.’”

Quinlan noted that the ZYEP staff is proud of young Zuni farmers, whose enthusiasm and talents made the 2021 growing season very special. Calista Hannaweeke is one of those young people.

“What motivates me to farm and garden is to grow crops and get fresh air, ” Hannaweeke said. “My experience with ZYEP was awesome. You get to grow your own crops with your family.”

Another highlight from the 2021 growing season was the leadership of ZYEP’s first-ever Agriculture Support Team: Jocelyn Edaakie, Michael Vicenti, Jacy Edaakie, Vanessa Eriacho, Junior Haloo, and Gaylon Westika. Working together with ZYEP Food Sovereignty staff and Agriculture Committee, the Ag Support Team connected with families throughout the growing and harvest seasons to share knowledge, celebrate all the little successes, and offer encouragement during difficult moments. The team also visited each family to deliver rain barrels and offer “Proud to be a Shiwi (Zuni) Farmer” photo gifts.

Vanessa Eriacho has a diverse background in graphic design and healthcare, with personal interest in food sovereignty and food system resilience. She said her favorite part of being an Ag Support Team member was meeting the families.

“I loved seeing their interests in gardening, and how all ages were included, from children to elders,” she said.

“Being an Ag Team member allowed me to be more involved in the community than I was before,” said Junior Haloo, a young local artist with a passion for revitalizing Zuni traditions who now works for ZYEP part-time as a food sovereignty leader. “I really enjoyed seeing how happy people were about planting and saving rainwater.”

Jocelyn Edaakie, who joined the Ag Support Team with her spouse, Michael Vicenti, shared that while the 2021 growing season did have its ups and downs, it was meaningful to be part of a team dedicated to supporting gardening youth and families.

“My favorite part was just being able to interact with families, just knowing that we were going to be there for the community,” she said. “With Covid, it was harder to create a bond and connect with families, but it was all worth it. I loved seeing kids and families take pride in the gardens that they took care of, and I was happy that we were able to help them get that reward.”

Throughout the year, the ZYEP also facilitated various workshops and events for gardening families. In particular, the nonprofit youth project hosted four Family Cook Nights, which included in-person and virtual participation. During these popular events, families learned how to make nutritious, plant-based recipes such as burrito bowls, harvest stew, chickpea sandwiches, blue corn bread, zucchini noodles with black-bean meatballs and marinara sauce, and more.

“We loved hosting Family Cook Nights, which took place once per month from August through November,” Quinlan said. “On average, we cooked and ate with about 65 participants each night, with four families joining in our kitchen and another 10 or 11 families participating at home through Zoom. We supplied cooking kits in advance with all the ingredients, recipes, and equipment lists. Parents, grandparents, and kids learned and enjoyed the food together, which was really fun.”

In preparation for the upcoming growing season, Quinlan said Zuni gardening families have shared constructive feedback with her and her team, and this feedback is helping ZYEP chart the course for 2022. For example, families expressed the desire to gather even more rainwater.

“We had a lot of rain in 2021, which was a good problem to have,” she said. “The 100-gallon barrels were overflowing; each family collected at least 150 gallons, and some collected 300 or more. In the future, we need to distribute some sort of connecting kit, so when one barrel fills, the water will automatically go to a second barrel.”

Families also expressed interest in having more gardening workshops and activities. One topic of interest was how to save seeds. Acknowledging the cultural significance of this activity and the level of local interest, ZYEP co-hosted a virtual fall 2021 seed-saving workshop in collaboration with Native Seed Search in Tucson, Arizona, the A:shiwi College, and the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center in Zuni. ZYEP would like to collaborate again in 2022 with these same partners to facilitate more gardening and seed saving workshops for Zuni youth and families.

For the 2022 season, ZYEP wants to provide more ways for Zuni youth to enjoy the gardening process and further opportunities for community members to get involved. “We enjoy going through the growing season together and helping each other. We want the gardening families to make good memories and to share experiences and stories. The growing season is so meaningful,” Quinlan said. “In 2022, we hope to have more opportunities to connect, both in-person and virtual, so we can all continue to learn and grow together.”

Specifically, ZYEP will be hiring for 2022’s Agriculture Support Team and preparing another round of garden kits and rain barrels in early spring. Another important development to watch for is ZYEP’s first ever Zuni Agriculture Grant process, during which ZYEP will be investing funds from the Native American Agriculture Fund into local Zuni farmers and agriculture programs.

“These mini-grants will enable ZYEP to invest in Zuni community farmers as the next essential step of our Food Sovereignty efforts,” said Joe Claunch, ZYEP’s executive director. “The grant process will provide Zuni farmers with funds and opportunities for knowledge-sharing, and it will strengthen Zuni’s food system long-term. By uplifting Zuni’s tradition of agriculture, ZYEP is able to positively impact the health of Zuni youth, now and in the future.”

To learn more about the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project and its programs, and for information about making donations, partnering with ZYEP, and volunteering, call (505) 782-8000 or visit And, to stay up to date on the latest news and events, follow the nonprofit youth organization on Facebook (/zuniyouthenrichmentproject), Instagram (@zuniyouthenrichmentproject), and YouTube (/ZuniYouth).

Founded in 2009, the nonprofit Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is dedicated to promoting resilience among Zuni youth so they will grow into strong, healthy adults who are connected with Zuni traditions. ZYEP fulfills its mission by providing positive role models, enriching programs, and nurturing spaces that contribute to the healthy development of Zuni youth. ZYEP strives to provide every child with the encouragement and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.