The Cochiti Farmer

By Vena A-dae Romero, White House Champion of Change, Co-Founder of Cochiti Youth Experience, Inc., Granddaughter of a Pueblo Farmer


I come from a 1000s generations of farmers. Cochiti people, my people, farmed in New Mexico, now in the arid Southwest United States for centuries.  Much like other Pueblos in the Southwest, Cochiti people are as much part of the land as the land is part of us.  We cultivate the land while the land cultivates us. This relationship that has supported my people since time immemorial is remembered daily when we place our fingers in the dirt, pull the weeds from our fields, or plant our seeds with water, prayer, and hope, cook the food which we grow, and ingest the world with each bite of food we eat.  We honor this relationship when we teach our children the beauty of growing and eating food, the same foods that were eaten by our grandparents, our great grandparents, and all generations before them.  The importance of the Cochiti farmer is no less than the bearer of generational knowledge that connects our people to our lands and the life that is sustained on it and by it, and the protector of that world for all future generations of Cochiti people.

I come from a 1000 generations of farmers. When in one generation, my small community was faced with the question of who we would be without farming, Cochiti resoundingly responded that we would fight for our grandchildren to farm or perish in attempting to assert that right; a right that was neither granted to us by modern legal systems but by virtue of our very creation. In the early 1980’s, a poorly constructed dam began to leak and flooded much of the fertile farmlands that sustained Cochiti for generations. Cochiti grandfathers and grandmothers who were faced with losing an entire agricultural way of life in one single generation collectively responded that they would fight for future generations of Cochiti children to farm and be connected to our lands.  Even if that fight was with the single most powerful government in the world, the United States. While the government tried to persuade and compensate for loss of land, Cochiti farmers would not settle for less than the restoration of our farmlands.  The Cochiti farmer is warrior and protector.

I come from 1000 generations of farmers, who long before economies functioned well were able to sustain entire communities on scare resources through famine and drought.  Many of these well-established resource systems such as water and food management that were developed in Pueblo histories are still practiced today and still function as a guide for social interaction and community development presently.  The current modern industrial agricultural system seeks to replace old Pueblo farm ways with new modern ones that may involve systemic technologies, fewer people, more synthetic soil additives that produce greater yields.  Yet, it is still often heard from traditional Pueblo farmers, “I farm for my family and my community. What I have left over, I may think about trading or selling.”  The simplicity of such a statement embodies a world of knowledge and acknowledges our relationship with the earth in that sustainability begins with how we view crops and how much we are willing to take to sustain us.  It is neither too much or too little, but often disregarded in industrial agriculture.  The Cochiti farmer is an economist of sustainability.

I come from 1000 generations of Cochiti farmers whose faces and lessons are reflected in the faces of the young Cochiti children who begin learning the tenets of our collective responsibility with the first tastes of foods grown from our lands.  The children, like the foods grown from our lands, our part of an age old cycle that predates any farm- a cycle that will continue throughout time, a cycle that is filled with laughter, dirt, relationships, love, sky, rain, and verbal and non-verbal language-A cycle in which grandmothers and grandfathers and children are vitally important to the present.  The Cochiti farmer is a keeper of happiness.

My people are indigenous farmers, distilled to the most basic of definition of a family farmer.  Perhaps, because, in so many ways, we are the farmers of the world- our family. We are the farmers of the earth- our family. We are the farmers of the four legged, the two legged, and the no legged-our family.

What is the family farmers importance? First, what is the family farmer? The man or woman who dedicates his or her life to tilling and responding to the earth? Or the man or woman who dedicates his life to producing yields?  Farming, today, has come to encompass a binary definition where one has to choose whether he or she is farming to produce or farming to profit because they are no longer one in the same.

And second, to which is his family? A family defined, in the 20th century, is 2.5 children, a dog, mortgage, and spot plot of land of which can be derived an income. Yet, traditionally, my family is that of the earth, the soil, the trees, the animals, the generations to come, and the footprints of culture and tradition to which my off-spring can follow to derive a positive existence for the next generation. So what is the importance of a family farmer? And I ask, to whom?

To those children not yet born? Who will inherit an earth depleted of natural relationships between soil and sun, earth and air, wind and rain because synthetic fertilizers inhibit the natural language of a farmer and his land, his plants and his abilty to cultivate and protect. For thousands of years, the farmer has responded to the call of nature. From the first seed of corn that required the incidence of human interaction to ensure its fertilization to the current crisis of over-production that seeks to create attention through food bourne illness and supsetience to crop failure due to drought, due to pest infestation, due to a milieu of other attacks that plague monocultural agriculture.

So what is the importance of the family farmer?  To the American agriculture system? Who seeks so desparelty to create a food culture that is sustainable and national so that when disaster stikes, our American community is fed.  Yet, corporations seek to invest in human, natural, and intellectual capital so they can profit on the most of basic of human needs- to eat- to gain profit from the most fertile lands of earth?

What is the importance of the family farmer to the world? A nostalgic composition of human evolution, the most basic building block of community, the tie that binds people with place?  The family farmer is the ideal. The definition of society. The premise on which entire civilizations become viable and begin to imagine a history that could withstand collapse, that could withstand time’s attempt to erase any trace of existence.

Or what is the importance of a famiy farmer to the land in which he tills? The universe and the relationships to which he contributes from his toxic waste that becomes the food for plants.  Or his or her presence that shall become the nexus for fertilization.  That single stroke in time when the natural world reminds the farmer that he or she is both natural and he or she shall return to dust.

Or what is the importance of the family farmer to a community? To which he provides both bread and produce, prayer and comfort that when all else fails- the farm will provide. The family farmer in the community is he who sustains and produces when market mechanisms fail, when science refuses to believe, and when governments try to condemn. 

Vena A-dae Romero (Cochiti/Kiowa) is born and raised in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico as a granddaughter of a Pueblo farmer. In Cochiti, she co-founded the Cochiti Youth Experience, Inc., a non-profit organization that is dedicated to creating positive opportunities for Cochiti Youth with a special focus on strengthening Pueblo agriculture, which serves as the base of economic, political, and social institutions. The idea is that if a community can strengthen agriculture, then the stability of other institutions will follow. While working with Pueblo farmers, she realized the needs of Indigenous farmers and Tribes are often over-looked in the promulgation of agricultural law, programs, and regulations so she attended the University of Arkansas College of Law Food and Agricultural Law Program, where she received her LLM and worked with Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative where she wrote extensively about Indigenous farmers and food/agricultural law with a special focus on Food Safety law.  She was recognized as a Fulbright scholar for her work on Indigenous food law in America and New Zealand.  Now under First Nations Development Institute, whose mission is to strengthen American Indian economies to support healthy Native communities, Vena works on monitoring food and agricultural law and its affects on Indigenous producers, writes extensively about the inclusion of Indigenous Farmers in Federal programs and laws, and works with Indigenous farmers across the country to strengthen agricultural economies and develop health food and agricultural businesses.  Her late grandfather, who taught her about Pueblo agriculture, jokingly said, “My granddaughter has completed all this schooling to become a farmer.”

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published this page in Learn 2014-10-16 09:22:51 -0400