Zuni is very rural, high desert not much access to produce. It is a challenge to get fruits and vegetables; it is a ‘food desert’. Our strategy was to build off a previously successful program—a summer camp with about 65 children and 17 counselors—and create a traditional Zuni waffle garden, which is an ancient way to preserve water. The children plant, tend, and harvest the garden and learn about Zuni culture while learning about healthy eating. We took the produce that wasn’t ready to be harvested by end of camp and created a farmer’s market and also invited local farmers to make their produce available. We also set up health-related booths for taking blood pressure, etc. In exchange for visiting the health booths, people received food vouchers to use at the market. The program identified what was missing in the local community and environment.
The ZYEP Farmers' Market had a very successful first year with 5 weekly markets this fall. The markets greatly increased access to fresh, local produce in Zuni where other food options include the 1 grocery (which does not carry local produce) and 2 gas stations. We were able to showcase the excellent produce from the ZYEP summer camp traditional Zuni waffle garden as well as from local residents growing their own produce. Market visitors were able to purchase produce at very low cost (i.e. 4 fresh tomatoes for $0.50) or could participate in educational activities for which they were given a voucher to select produce without charge.
There is a lot of support on the community level for making environmental changes. There is some inertia, and it can be a challenge to get people to think about doing things differently. People readily understand that there are environmental limitations. We developed close collaborations with agencies, such as the museum, WIC nutritionists, nurses, schools, etc. The School district for example – for the farmer’s market, let them set up in soccer fields, lots of help with facilities. The Tribe lends office space and Internet connection. Each collaborative organization contributes something - resources, supplies, and/or personnel help. People are committed to making Zuni a healthy community and we are able to build on collaborations with other entities.
Our biggest accomplishment was getting people thinking and talking about healthy living. The farmer’s market helped a local grocer get involved in improving the health of the community. Getting the conversation started was more important than just giving people vegetables to eat. The lack of resources and isolation make changes difficult. Being patient with the process and putting in time to build relationship and collaborations is important. Native American communities are in a good position because of a long history of looking out for each other and putting community first.