Zuni, New Mexico, is the largest traditional Pueblo in New Mexico -- a sovereign, self-governed nation with 12,000 residents and its own school system. The Zuni Public School District, as explained on the ZPSD website, "is the first Indian-controlled, independent public school system in the nation, established by the Tribal members to meet the needs of their children...It is a unique and progressive educational system that has been undergoing extensive restructuring in organizational and instructional areas so educational needs of all children can be effectively met." But progressive as it may be academically, the school system hasn't matched their advancements in the way they run the cafeteria. At Twin Buttes High School, lunches have always had limited and rarely fresh fruits and vegetables, and offered no vegetarian options, a cause of widespread but rarely expressed dissatisfaction among the students -- until one kid took a stand. An article from the non-profit youth media and advocacy organization, What Kids Can Do, tells the story of 17-year-old Alex Jamon's leadership in uncovering the concerns of his classmates about their own nutrition, and developing a solution that feeds the student body in more ways than one:
"Traditionally, Zuni food has a special quality," Alex says. "There are no preservatives in it and it is all done organically"—a far cry from a frozen pizza in a Styrofoam box...
Rather than dwelling on the problem, however, they decided to invent a solution. That spontaneous act launched the student body into an adventure in sustainable agriculture. Five months later, they’ve won grants, demolished an abandoned building, developed their own agriculture management curriculum, designed a plan to combine traditional Zuni waffle gardening with modern greenhouse methods, built a greenhouse, and won a promise that their fresh produce may be sold in the community grocery store—the produce they don’t eat in the school cafeteria, that is.
The use of the traditional waffle garden technique enables efficient use of water in the desert region, a necessity the students addressed further by building a rain catchment system. They've also constructed their own greenhouse with their own hands. The teacher who supported the establishment of the project, Alicia Fitzpatrick, sees the process doubling as a means to both healthy food and lasting self-empowerment for the participating students.
"The students are totally designing their entire units. They have complete decision-making and voice. They choose their topics, determine their objectives, and decide how they're going to study and reach those objectives. I'm just allowing them the space. It's radical to see what they can do when they are allowed to."
In addition, this represents a return to old agricultural traditions of the Zuni tribe that have been fading over time, resulting in a rise of food- and weight-related illnesses like diabetes. The students have readopted the practice of growing their own food, and have chosen to integrate other native traditions around planting and harvest. They envision the possibility that their school garden project might become one of the attractions that draws tourists to the area and demonstrates their successful use of long-existing practices to address and solve modern problems.
wow, this is amazing. the first thing that jumps to mind is a series of plots, one for each year of a school. ie a high school might have five or six plots. one of which is cleared every year so that the newest students can take ownership. a plot would then become the property of that class for the remainder of their education there.. one wonders as to what could come out of their technologies.
socially, how would a child respond to instituted gardening and construction? this rare occurance of children claiming their own territory is inspiring but how could one mine that motivation and find a common drive that could be transferred into courses around the world? would it become another schlep that youngsters would rather avoid?
on a fundamental level, a course along these lines could provide an alternative to common physical exercises which are often overshadowed by ill formed heirarchies within a class. these are based on aggressiveness and governed by fear of bodily harm. i know because i spent school trying to avoid all such activities. how would these heirarchies translate in a nurturing environment such as this?
Thanks so much for bringing this infomation to the readers. I am so excited about the whole move to edible schoolyards over the last few years. I am a chef myself and I know that cooking can really be a great way to get kids brains working on real life problems and create great problem solving abilities. I would really like to know more about Zuni traditional foods as well. Do you know how I could get connected?