Coffee Pot Farms reconnects Dine to land and heritage
Coffee Pot Farms
For centuries, the Dine people lived with a deep connection to their land – farming and agriculture flowed through their veins like water through roots. But over the years, many Dine communities have lost this connection, particularly in more rural and isolated regions like the Teesto Chapter of the Navajo Nation. Once a thriving trade outpost on the border of Navajo and Hopi land in the craggy volcanic fields of northern Arizona, Teesto has become further disconnected since the construction of Route 87 bypassed the town in the 1960s, leaving the small community to fend for itself in the middle of a vast food desert.
Fast forward to today and the community has now been designated as a low-income and low-supermarket-access census tract by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – you’ll find only one small grocery store and an even smaller convenience store 15 miles away in Dilkon. With hardly enough food to support the population, and much of it lacking proper nutrition, chronic disease rates have risen dramatically: diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension, and cancer are becoming more prevalent, especially in the younger population. Faced with this situation, one Dine woman, Cherilyn Yazzie, decided it was time to act.
Yazzie spent 13 years heading up the nutrition services department of Navajo Country Public Health, seeing firsthand the negative impact that a lack of food sovereignty was having on her people. Classrooms full of children asked her to explain their diabetes diagnosis to them; Yazzie’s grandmother lost her leg to the disease. Tired of the bureaucratic barriers keeping her from effecting real change, one day Yazzie decided she needed to act, to get her hands dirty. And so, the seed for Coffee Pot Farms was planted.
Coffee Pot Farms is a 36-acre farm located in Dilkon, Arizona. Yazzie says she founded the farm on the belief that “food is the first medicine, as it comes from Mother Earth, and that food sovereignty is the critical first step to creating healthy communities and healthy families.” Comprised of her grandparent's cornfield, a passive solar greenhouse, and several additional acres of land, Coffee Pot Farms is growing healthy, nutrient-dense foods for Teesto and the surrounding communities. Beyond that, Yazzie, and her team are working to educate residents on how they can begin growing their own healthy foods as a means of reconnecting the community with its indigenous roots.
“The environment is so different from when my grandparents were running the farm… we’ve had to reevaluate how we do a lot of things. Moisture levels are different, and there’s been a lot of erosion on what used to be dry planting ground. We’ve had to learn how to grow things differently.” '
They’ve risen to the challenge and are now consistently producing a variety of healthy foods: chilis, tomatoes, garlic, white corn, cabbage, kale, broccoli, squash, radishes, peppers, lettuce, bok choy, brassicas, sweet and hot peppers, onions, spinach, and beets. Coffee Pot Farms offers its harvest at the local farmer’s market, and there are plans to partner with the local convenience store to make their produce even more accessible.
Organizations around Arizona that support the development of healthy communities have taken notice of Coffee Pot Farm’s hard work. Vitalyst Health Foundation brought them into their Live Well incubator cohort, where they're paired with a mentor, Adrienne Ubarbe, to help them develop a sustainable business model. With the help of Vitalyst, Coffee Pot Farms was recently awarded $9,000 from Arizona State University Stardust Center. They also received a $40,000 grant from First Nations Keepseagle. These funds will allow Coffee Pot Farms and the team to continue to provide access to nutrient-dense foods, and to educate the neighboring communities of Dilkon, Leupp, Greasewood, Ganado, and Sun Valley on the importance of growing local, healthy foods by demonstrating how to build hoop houses, set up rain catchment systems, build healthy soils with hügelkulturs (a type of raised bed), berms, swells (shallow ditches used to redirect or remove water), check-dams (an ancient technique to create a small, temporary dam), and how to repair fences for agriculture uses.
Yazzie and her team at Coffee Pot Farms continue to expand the scope of their amazing work while maintaining their focus on improving and educating their community. To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/Coffee Pot Farms or send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.