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The American Indian Producer in the New Economy

Cornstalks in Washington, CT field with ears of corn ready for picking

Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP), Jeannie Benally, Shiprock Cooperative Extension Office

FRTEP agent Jeannie Benally (now retired) provided leadership in educational outreach and cultivated partnerships with other agencies for work in the Navajo Shiprock community.  Alexendra Carlisle – the new FRTEP agent, is furthering the goals established by Benally and the Navajo Nation.

Enhancing the attitudes, knowledge, skills and behavior of Navajo Nation agricultural producers, both adult and youth is a primary objective of this program. This is accomplished through delivery of intensive training, technological adaptation, agri-business projects and development of food policies. Shiprock Cooperative Extension office encourages producers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices which are attainable through intensive training and technology.  With this guidance, producers are able to develop agri-business projects and address food security within the Tribe.

The Extension office conducts classroom sessions with hands-on demonstrations and techniques, and utilizes professional experts from the Universities, Tribal and Federal programs. Through collaboration with partners locally, statewide, nationally and internationally, the team has initiated pilot projects for agri-businesses and established focus groups to address food security on the Navajo Nation – resulting in the development of food policies.


Handsome and rugged traditional Navajo Man portrait outside in Monument Valley Arizona with scenery viewModel Farmer Program: Following a survey, revealing that few producers practiced safety on their farms, a safety prevention program was initiated to address farm safety. Benally was involved with three projects dealing with this issue and gave presentations out in the community.  Some of the topics included pesticide safety, how to effectively spray weeds and livestock handling. The Model Farmer program divided 120 farmers into treatment and non treatment groups where participants were able to see a vast difference in how they applied practices.  Grant funds were used to purchase cattle working systems that consisted of chutes, panels and equipment for improving herd health and handling.  Every 4 years this equipment is rotated amongst the communities so that everyone has a chance to use it.

“Agriculture is just one part of our drive to economic prosperity {and} Technology is the other.”
– Ben Shelly, President Navajo Nation

Bi-Lingual Program Delivery:  Benally says that “…being able to converse with my own people has great value – especially when talking to and helping the elders.”  Programs were much better received as a result and especially because grazing permit holders are often elderly. Also, because funding no longer exists for bi-lingual education in private and public schools, speaking the native language is particularly important. With more parents not passing language down to their children it helps to preserve and sustain tradition.

4H Youth Program: 4-H youth convene at chapter houses in the summertime and also participate in the fair presenting on different topics.  Close to 150 youth from 5 different clubs and clubs associated with schools participate in the fair.  Seeking out committed volunteers can be challenging – yet in spite of that, the youth program continues to be successful.

Livestock Management Program: Benally worked closely with elected grazing officials from 20 communities in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah; as well as with the farm board that included representatives from 7 communities along the river.  At quarterly meetings participants received record keeping training, which is a requirement for receiving compensation for government programs.  The program also provided instruction on nutrition and care of livestock, and the benefits of having a herd health program.

Native Rancher Shortcourse: This  shortcourse evolved with a focus on native food.  Farms were being transferred to women who were not familiar with production. The women gained marketing skills and learned how to make Native foods from blue corn and other traditional crops – all of  which helped to add value to their products.

The shortcourse addressed the very important topic of living wills and what happens when the older generation passes without transmitting their permits to their heirs. Additionally, the women learned how to develop conservation plans which are required for the renewal of grazing permits.

Traditional Authentic Navajo Elderly Woman Posing in Traditional Clothing in a Hogan in Monument Valley ArizonaNavaho Farm to School Project: Ten to fifteen farmers were selected to grow traditional vegetables on their land for the Red Valley Chapter School.  Half way through the project it was discovered that the irrigation  water was contaminated and as a result the water was shut off.  Water was delivered in tanks to the fields and some crops suffered; but farmers that had planted earlier were able to sell their produce to the school.  Spoilage was another issue  with the vegetables that were delivered to the school cafeteria.  This led to efforts by the Navaho Nation to begin to work on and put in place food policies for farmers to be able to sell produce to schools.

A farmers market in operation for 8 years  from 2006-2014 had a market manager who was a producer herself, and whose husband was a chef.  Their goal was to provide a diverse array of veggies in addition to squash, melon and corn. They introduced beets, cauliflower and a variety of root crops; along with cooking demonstrations to encourage customers to try the different vegetables. As a result, growers became more diverse.  Another success was the creation of a community garden in Shiprock with a market that was part of the New Mexico Farmers Market Association.  Through this association, they were able to get senior enhancement vouchers to attract more customers to the market.