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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 5, 2003 - Issue 84


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Promoting Sustainable Southwestern Cuisine


by S.J. Wilson - The Navajo-Hopi Observer


Winslow — The historic La Posada Hotel recently housed an impressive multi-cultural celebration featuring sustainable foods and farming traditions of the Southwest.

Co-sponsored by Slow Foods USA and the Turquoise Room of La Posada, Northern Arizona University’s Center for Sustainable Environments honored Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Hispanic and Anglo land stewards of the desert Southwest, which has also passed on their agricultural traditions to younger generations.

Entitled "Sustainable Foods from the Four Corners: Networking – Marketplace – Tribute," the event filled a full day on March 8 at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow.

John R. Sharpe, La Posada’s Turquoise Room chef, presided over the event. He encourages local farmers to grow foods for use in the restaurant.

Sharpe presented the menu that he and Chef Deborah Madison prepared — a cornucopia of Southwestern foods including piki bread, blue corn muffins, tomaya blue atole, camelthorne honey, sunflower sprouts, prickly pear, lamb and venison.

Madison has taught cooking in schools throughout the United States and Canada, and envisions teaching Southwestern cuisine in a home teaching kitchen. She has lived in Santa Fe, N.M., for the past 12 years.

Preserving culture
Mary Paganelli of Tohono O’odam Community Action (TOCA), a grassroots organization in Sells, works to help preserve O’odam culture, bringing back traditional games and foods. Offering samples of the people’s foods, Paganelli enthusiastically described the preparation of syrups and butters, and of efforts to preserve the fine basket weaving of this tribe.

The event honored 12 families/individuals as culture-bearers in their own communities. This included Terry and Ramona Button of Sacaton, for ensuring the survival of Pima white and brown tepary beans.

Dine’ Be’iina’ Inc, achieved recognition for preserving and teaching the Navajo tradition of churro sheep. Joan Delgai serves as president of this organization, which sponsors the annual "Sheep is Life" event.

Jim Enote, recognized for his extraordinary efforts in Zuni agriculture, is co-founder of the Zuni Organic Farmers Co-op and Zuni Sustainable Agriculture Projects.

Justin WillieJustin Willie teaches permaculture — a sustainable design system stressing the harmonious interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the Earth — at places such as schools near Leupp, Tolani Lake, Bird Springs and Flagstaff. As manager of Navajo Family Farms near Leupp, Willie has been instrumental in marketing the first native blue corn in Arizona.

He has dedicated his life to sustainable agriculture, having learned it as a child, and having taught it both on and off the Navajo reservation for the last 20 years.

"Basically, I am trying to reinvest in the children our knowledge," Willie said. "If we lose our agricultural practices, our culture, our land and our animals, we lose who we are as Navajo people, we lose our community.

"We preserve these when we get the kids back on the land."

Others honored included:

  • Barbara Kerr and Jim Scott of Kerr-Cole Sustainable Living Center in Taylor.
  • Kim Howell Costion of Ashokala Gardens in Snowflake.
  • Frank Martin of Crooked Sky Farms in Glendale.
  • Melissa and Bob Porter of Chama, N.M.
  • Corey Rade of Whipstone Farm in Chino Valley.
  • The Routson family/Rebecca Routson of Prescott.
  • Tim Udall of St. Johns.
  • Antonio and Molly Manzanares of Los Ojitos near Tierra Amarilla, N.M.

Chef Deborah Madison"We are working on a cookbook of traditional foods that will be distributed throughout the community," she said. "It is amazing the amount of food available in the Sonoran Desert."

Another program TOCA and community youth is involved in uses traditional native foods to treat diabetes — foods Paganelli said have proven to affect blood sugar.

A particularly moving quote from Christine Johnson, a Tohono O’odam elder, was displayed prominently at the TOCA booth.

"Every year I sang for the rain to come. This year – with TOCA’s help – I had a garden full of traditional foods. This year, I sang like I really meant it."

David Fiss, who coordinated the event, said that CSE hopes to make this an annual occurrence, moving it to the fall where more products can be displayed.

"There are so many unique products that attract national and world interest in Southwestern cuisine," Fiss said. "It is fitting that those [who have preserved these foods] should benefit. This allows traditional people to continue to be stewards of the land rather than having to move to the city."

Part of the work of the center is to teach the respect of cultural products as an intellectual property, working with people who "know what the legacy is" and to protect those resources from commercialism.

Suitable Site
Kids WormsThe La Posada Hotel, favorite of Southwestern architect, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, was a fitting backdrop to the event. Opened in May of 1930, the hotel enjoyed an important role in the Winslow community.

Like the native foods and repatriated seeds presented at the celebration, La Posada faced a decline and threat of extinction. Open for only 27 years, La Posada closed to the public in 1957.

In 1997, Allan Affeldt and Frank Randall purchased the hotel. David Lutzick, manager, has joined the partnership, which saves a truly grand old hotel for future generations.

Groups involved
Slow Foods, a food education organization encouraging people to "enjoy the table," co-sponsored the event. According to Patrick Martino, the National Executive Director of the organization, Slow Foods is the exact opposite of fast food and counts work with spreading knowledge of indigenous turkeys and churro sheep as huge successes.

Native Seeds/SEARCH, an organization also represented at the event, was just one donor of dozens of repatriated seeds presented to the Hopi Natural Resources Department. This gift, coordinated by the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office and CSE, offers seed varieties, some of which have been unavailable since World War II. Micah Lomaomvaya accepted the seeds on behalf of the Hopi Tribe. Hopi farmers will plant some of the seeds this season; others will be preserved at tribal offices.

The Center for Sustainable Environments describes itself as a catalyst for collaborative conservation, bringing together the talents and expertise of people ranging from scientists and educators to students and community members seeking creative solutions to environmental problems. Research, education, outreach and stewardship are some of the tools CSE uses in this search.

Gary Nabhan, PhD, the Director of CSE, served as host and master of ceremonies for the event and the banquet, which featured foods from the Four Corners region. Nabhan, widely recognized as a leading voice in ethnobiology and conservation biology, has worked with more than a dozen indigenous communities on cross-cultural initiatives to protect plants, habitats and agricultural traditions.

Slow Food U.S.A.
Slow Food U.S.A. is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to supporting and celebrating the food traditions of North America. From the spice of Cajun cooking to the purity of the organic movement; from animal breeds and heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables to handcrafted wine and beer, farmhouse cheeses and other artisanal products; these foods are a part of our cultural identity. They reflect generations of commitment to the land and devotion to the processes that yield the greatest achievements in taste. These foods, and the communities that produce and depend on them, are constantly at risk of succumbing to the effects of the fast life, which manifests itself through the industrialization and standardization of our food supply and degradation of our farmland. By reviving the pleasures of the table, and using our tastebuds as our guides, Slow Food U.S.A. believes that our food heritage can be saved.


Native Seeds/SEARCH
Native Seeds/SEARCH is a nonprofit conservation organization based in Tucson, Arizona. NS/S works to conserve, distribute and document the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seed, their wild relatives and the role these seeds play in cultures of the American Southwestern and northwest Mexico. Our mission began in 1983, springing from the nexus of cultural longing and impending loss of genetic diversity. Today we safeguard 2000 varieties of arid-land adapted agricultural crops. Some, like watermelons, were adapted from seeds brought by early Europeans. Most of our collection consists of varieties of indigenous crops developed over centuries or millennia to suit the needs of their human partners. We promote the use of these ancient crops and their wild relatives by distributing seeds to traditional communities and to gardeners world wide. Currently we offer 350 varieties from our collection, grown out at our Conservation Farm in Patagonia, Arizona. We also work to preserve knowledge about the traditional uses of the crop we steward. Through research, seed distribution and community outreach NS/S seeks to protect biodiversity and to celebrate cultural diversity. Both are essential in connecting the past to the future.


Center for Environmental Research
CSE brings together the talents and expertise of scientists, educators, independent scholars, business leaders, government agencies, non-profits, students, and community members to seek creative solutions to environmental problems. These challenges are addressed through initiatives that safeguard natural and cultural values and resources. By combining technical innovations with the knowledge, values, and practices of local communities, we generate long-term environmental solutions that enhance the lives of those they impact.

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