ZUNI, NM (May 26, 2022) — With vital support from the Native American Agriculture Fund, New Mexico Department of Health, Newman’s Own Foundation, and Whole Kids Foundation, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project’s Food Sovereignty initiative is underway for 2022. This initiative incorporates mini-grants, family gardens, community gardens, rainwater conservation, in-school education, agricultural workshops, and more.
Prep work for this growing season actually began during the winter months, when the nonprofit youth project joined forces with NAAF to make 2022 Zuni Agriculture Mini-Grants available to local farmers and organizations. According to Jessica Quinlan, ZYEP’s food sovereignty coordinator, these mini-grants are an important investment.
“When we support our local farmers, we’re uplifting Zuni traditions and strengthening the connection the youth have with their culture,” she explained. “This year, we received 24 applications and awarded a total of $22,000 to 13 grantees. It was incredible.”
Shortly after that, ZYEP recruited and hired its 2022 Agriculture Support Team: Jocelyn Edaakie, Junior Haloo, Tyler Sice, Liam Simplicio, and Michael Vicenti.
Edaakie, Haloo, and Vicenti are returning to the program after serving during the successful 2021 growing season; they and their fellow team members will support and encourage Zuni gardening families throughout the growing season.
“Being an Ag Team member allowed me to be more involved in the community than I was before,” said Haloo, who also works for ZYEP as a food sovereignty leader. “I really enjoyed seeing how happy people were about planting and saving rainwater.”
“My favorite part was just being able to interact with families, just knowing that we were going to be there for the community,” said Edaakie, who joined the team with Vicenti, her spouse. “I loved seeing kids and families take pride in their gardens, and I was happy that we were able to help them get that reward.”
In April, ZYEP enrolled more than 80 families in its 3rd annual Family Garden and Rain Harvest Initiative and hosted three Doye:nap’she Garden Kit Events. At each event, Zuni youth and their families received their 2022 garden kits through a variety of “Walk n’ Learn” fun stations set up in Ho’n A:wan Park.
“During the events, families learned about the blue corn, cilantro, pea, basil, and sunflower seeds they received,” Quinlan said. “They also learned about soil basics, companion planting, Zuni waffle gardens, and how to rain harvest from the barrels they received. In addition, they received a large bag of Zuni tree soil, a gardening book, and a child-size garden tool.
“It was a busy spring,” she continued. “We hosted our first in-person Family Garden Workshop, teaching 47 attendees how to prepare their gardens using interactive learning stations. They learned about traditional Zuni planting as well as modern practices like composting and fencing. It was so much fun, and we all learned from each other.”
Quinlan noted that the ZYEP staff is especially proud of young Zuni farmers, whose enthusiasm and talents make each 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, ” said said Hannaweeke, who participated in the program last year. “My experience with ZYEP was awesome. You get to grow your own crops with your family.”
Also this spring, ZYEP’s Food Sovereignty team presented a special in-school curriculum in conjunction with Shiwi Ts’ana Elementary School’s Specials staff. Called “Rooted in Healthy Traditions,” the curriculum is based on Zuni traditions such as farming, water conservation, care for Mother Earth, dancing, and art.
“We incorporate Zuni language, and we’ve been collaborating with the school to give students a chance to make waffle gardens outside at the Zuni Public School District greenhouse, view historic photos, and learn about nutrition through the lens of Zuni agricultural traditions,” Quinlan said.
Throughout the growing season, ZYEP will be facilitating additional workshops and special events focused on food sovereignty, including a Family Garden Workshop on the last Wednesday of every month. The May 25 workshop will focus on caring for your starter plants and transplanting.
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 zyep.org. 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.