By Chili Yazzie, Diné farmer, Regenerate AmericaTM Leadership Council
My name is Chili Yazzie, I am a farmer in Shiprock, NM. Recently, we formed a farmers group named Toohnii Binaneest’ą’ Ałtaas’éí Alliance, which translates to “the many varied produce grown by river edge people”. The acronym is ToohBAA, which in itself means “river edge”. Our community is situated along the perennial San Juan River, from which we draw our irrigation water.
We have six Navajo communities along the river with 10,500 acres of irrigable farmlands. The sad fact is that, currently, only 15 to 20 percent of this land is being farmed. There are many factors as to why this is the case, including inadequate irrigation water supply in some areas and soil degradation.
Three challenges farmers face are the availability of farm labor, unwelcome weeds, and pests. In an effort to find ways to minimize these problem areas, we started using Regenerative Agriculture. We like the concept because it is making an impact. The cover crops we plant have seed mixes that crowd out unwanted weeds and repel certain pests. And with the lush ground cover, it keeps the ground moist longer making for less frequent irrigation. We want to apply these methods to revitalize fallow acres. Potentially, we are talking thousands of acres we could impact with regenerative farming.
Regenerative Agriculture, permaculture and organic farming were commonplace practices of our Indigenous people before the advent of modern farming in the 1940s and 1950s. Prior to that, our farming was essentially what “Regen Ag” proposes today. In a way, we are reverting to those traditional practices with a modern spin that we are learning through our efforts with collaborators in the Regen Ag movement. So Regenerative Agriculture is not a stranger to us as Native farmers.
We began our Regenerative Agriculture endeavors by talking with friends at Agri-Cultura in Albuquerque. Helga Garza of Agri-Cultura introduced us to the Restorying Agriculture program of the Regenerative Agriculture Fund. We received funding to purchase cover crop seeds. We planted cover crops on 15 acres to start and we are continuing with new acres. The cover crop is a mixture of seven to ten types of seeds, with separate and different concoctions for alfalfa, pasture, specialty crops and corn.
I have stepped into national policy work with Regenerate AmericaTM of Kiss the Ground and the NM Food & Agriculture Policy Council. We are making efforts to continue spreading the word to other farmers. My concentration is with Indigenous farmers in our area and our Pueblo farming relatives along the Rio Grande. Our effort is to get people to understand the larger effort, that Regen Ag helps heal the Earth. We want to revitalize our fallow acres using Regen Ag on Native farms and throughout farming communities across the nation.
Regenerate AmericaTM is an unprecedented coalition of farmers, businesses, nonprofits and individuals from every corner of our country and of all political stripes. Together, we are elevating the voices of farmers and ranchers, demanding that the 2023 Farm Bill include resources that will support Regenerative Agriculture. Help us take action by signing the petition and spreading the word.
Sign the Regenerate America Petition
Together with farmers, ranchers, and good food allies from around the country, Chili Yazzie is headed to Washington, D.C.
on March 7, 2023 to Rally for Resilience. Sign the petition and make sure Congress knows that they have your support!
CLICK HERE to sign.