USU Extension Assistant Professor Reagan Wytsalucy of the Monticello office is working to implement a project she has been fostering since before graduating from the University. Time, experience and her position in the Monticello office has enabled her to see that project come to fruition. Her dream of establishing Native community gardens in such places as Bluff, Navajo Mountain and Mexican Water are now on the verge of becoming a reality.
Her local knowledge of what will work is enhanced by the fact that Wytsalucy hails from Navajo Mountain and can claim lineage to Chief Hoskinini as her grandfather. Hoskinini never surrendered and led a small band into the Navajo Mountain area. He was critical in the re-establishment of agriculture and livestock production on the Navajo reservation when the Diné were returned to their lands following their internment at the Bosque Redondo in New Mexico.
The vegetables and fruits she proposes for the gardens are more than your usual varieties and a little more special than the term “heirloom” is able to impart.
Here is a quick Q and A with Reagan Wytsalucy on the subject of the Community Gardens:
What inspired the idea of the community gardens?
Rural communities often have high priced food items in grocery stores. Residents must also consider the distance to travel for fresh produce. If there was a garden space that could help supply the local demand for fresh produce and reduce the travel distance, there could be a better benefit to the producer and consumer by reducing overall expenses.
What are the indigenous crops that are being grown?
Heirloom vegetable crops are to be grown as they can have greater tolerance to drought conditions often seen in our county. Much of these can be found with some seed companies, but there are many more local heirloom varieties that have not been catalogued and are of interest to incorporate into the garden spaces. I am also beginning to grow some starts of Southwest peaches that have been gathered from the Navajo community during my research at USU to provide in these garden spaces for the gardens use and also to be a seed source location for the peaches.
What is the regional history of these crops?
The peach crop was grown abundantly with the Southwest Native American tribes for hundreds of years. Overtime, traditional agriculture practices diminished along with the historic orchard spaces. In Hopi, it is recorded less than 2% of their original orchards still exist to date. Similar circumstances can be seen across other Southwestern Native American tribes. I took it upon myself to begin studying the peach crop to preserve the traditional management practices. The heirloom vegetable crops have numerous stories to share but may not be as traceable as the peaches. There are lots of studies for corn, beans, and squash origins in the Americas as these are the staple foods for all Native American’s.
How can those in the community help to make the program a success?
The more community support through the process of beginning the gardens and keeping them functioning will be up the community. Volunteers, field managers, and consumers will be needed to keep the garden thriving and profitable to continue supporting the community. It will be a group effort!
Where would you like to see this program go?
I would hope to see this garden thrive and grow every year it is established. I am eager to see the support coming from the community as the community expressed interest in having a community garden space. To start, the garden will probably service family community groups. With time, perhaps the garden will begin supporting the local businesses and school systems in the area.
If you would like more information on how you may support or get involved with the community gardens San Juan County USU Extension office number. (435) 587-3239