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Taos Pueblo Education & Training Division’s

Sustainable Agriculture Initiative

Begun in 2002 with the volunteer construction of the Red Willow Education Center (RWEC) on 3.3 acres of land assigned by Tribal Council, the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) is a holistic program with several interrelated elements focusing on the revitalization of community agriculture:

  • Sustainable Agriculture
  • Education & Training
  • Renewable Energy
  • Grassroots Economic Development
  • Health Through Food Nutrition
  • Culture
  • Food Security

Sustainable Agriculture

For at least 1,000 years, agriculture was the basis for sustaining community life at Taos Pueblo; life depended on it. Even today, although agriculture has been in a declining trend, the greatest strengths of the Pueblo continue to be its people, land, water, and culture. That full heritage is intentionally supported by this Initiative. Recognizing the changes in lifestyle due to the modern wage-based economy, SAI integrates traditional, community agricultural practices with compatible modern practices that, together, ease the workload of farming and gardening that once involved whole families in an agrarian lifestyle. At the Red Willow Center, Red Willow Growers is developing ~2 acres of land into simple yet state-of-the-art greenhouses, fields, orchards, and berry plantings to (a) produce a diversity of fresh, local produce; (b) demonstrate new possibilities for healthy food production; (c) stimulate agricultural economic development; and (d) be financially self-sustaining.

Education & Training

Since 2003, when the high-school-accredited Summer Sustainability Institute was created, the Education & Training Division (ETD) has been working steadily toward creating a new approach to Native American agricultural education, one that re-utilizes the abundant land and water resources of Taos Pueblo. Disenchanted with conventional Westernized education that focuses on abstract, intellectual, nonphysical learning approaches and assumptions, and which utilizes a completely different worldview than indigenous peoples (as opposed to Earth-based, applied, practical approaches), ETD is working toward integrating the best of the old and new. It is widely recognized that Native Americans, by their modern living circumstances, live in two worlds, and ETD is working actively to bridge the two. This is being accomplished by:

1) Conducting an annual Summer Sustainability Institute that enrolls high school and college students each summer for a ½-credit elective course focusing on aspects of sustainable living.

2) Building, since 2002, an outdoor classroom for applied (hands-on) learning with a half-million dollar infrastructure.

3) Developing a modern curriculum that utilizes the outdoor classroom for practical science and sustainability instruction, while grounding learning in a more Native American/Taos Pueblo worldview.

4) Demonstrating to the broader community appropriate technologies and culturally compatible approaches oriented to modern sustainable living.

5) Conducting site tours, workshops, and seminars on a diversity of SAI topics.

Renewable Energy

Although considered a modern high-tech development based on an understanding of energy and properties of materials, Southwest Puebloan cultures have long utilized the Sun for heating, drying, etc., demonstrating ingenuity and a clear understanding of the 

fundamentals of passive solar energy, green building materials, 

environmental-ecological principles, and much more that was beyond a materialistic focus. SAI education intends to ground a modern renewable energy curriculum in Native American sustainable living principles, another example of blending the best of old and new, or living in two worlds. To date the SAI has installed, and is demonstrating:

1) Basic passive solar building design

2) Biomass radiant floor heating

3) Innovative passive solar/phase-change greenhouse heating & cooling

4) Biomass heated greenhouses—radiant ground & above ground

5) Solar thermal heating

6) Solar-powered irrigation (photovoltaic sun tracking)

7) Attached-to-building passive solar greenhouse

In planning or in construction are projects to demonstrate:

1) Earth-sheltered, passive solar greenhouse

2) Mobile season extender (on tracks)

3) Trombe wall heating.

Grassroots Economic Development

The SAI is focusing on developing grassroots economic opportunities in agriculture, i.e., farming and gardening. We consider this to be the most direct route to the revitalization of community agriculture. In September 2007, the Red Willow Farmers Market (RWFM) opened on the basis of “If you build it, they will come.” Within three weeks from opening, the RWFM, which is solely for Taos Pueblo growers and value-added producers, grew from three to eight vendors who set up shop in the permanent, traditional-style market structure. Even though most growers had not known of the opportunity before planting time, and therefore had not necessarily planted for the year, several who had planted participated. Others have indicated that they “will plant my fields (or gardens) next year, like I used to.” Almost instantaneously, neglected fruits, berries, and herbs took on new value, and several vendors brought them in for sale. In June 2010, RWFM became a service of the Red Willow Center, Inc., a nonprofit whose purpose is to model and promote the revitalization of Taos Pueblo community agriculture.

Health Through Food Nutrition

It is possible to supplement or even bypass scientific “nutrition education” by making local, sustainably grown, affordable, fresh and whole foods available to a public predisposed by heritage to place-based foods. Programs to reach youth, seniors, and the entire community, include:

• Early Childhood Department food service (ages 1½ to 5, year-round)

• Senior Citizens Center food service (beginning at age 60, year-round)

• Taos Day School food service (ages 5 to 14, K-8, school year)

• Red Willow Farmers Market (July to mid-October, all ages)

• Red Willow Farmers Co-op (Winter) Market (mid-October to July, all ages)

Culture & Food Security

Strengthening people’s health and place-based traditions strengthens culture. Traditionally, seven years’ food storage was maintained in the event of prolonged drought or perhaps other unplanned disruptions of the food supply. The revitalization of Taos Pueblo community agriculture will contribute significantly to annual food security, and can provide the basis for a long-term food storage program that could contribute substantially to regional food security, health, and economic well-being.