The Global Water Institute, Ohio State Extension, and Partners Host Navajo Nation Community Gardens Workshop

adavey General

In late March, representatives from the Global Water Institute and Ohio State University Extension traveled to the Navajo Nation in Arizona to host a “Community Garden: Soils, Water, and Diné Workshop,” in collaboration with the Kayenta Chapter House and the Alliance for Navajo Sustainability partners.

The two-day workshop brought together representatives from four Navajo Chapters, with more than 40 participants engaging in mutual learning on the benefits of and requirements for a successful community garden. Ohio State Extension Agent, Brad Bergefurd, shared his experiences supporting community gardens and practical techniques for managing soils for healthy plants. Jim Hunt, from the Agricultural Division of Netafim, shared best practices for managing water resources using drip irrigation systems. Representatives from each of the Chapters shared their challenges with growing food, the most critical being limited access to water.

“We know that it will be hard work, and we are ready for the challenge,” said Patterson Yazzie, Rock Point Chapter House President. “We just need to be given the chance.”

The chance Mr. Yazzie is referring to is reliable water access. Like much of the Southwestern United States, the Navajo Nation has been under extreme drought conditions for many years. To assist with the deepening water constraints, last summer the Alliance for Navajo Sustainability partners installed five community gardens with drip irrigation systems and water tanks at four Chapters.

The community gardens will also provide a critical source of fresh foods for the Chapters. The Navajo Nation, at 27,000 square miles, currently has just 13 grocery stores, and so fresh produce is a scarcity. This is reflected in the high rate of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, which is estimated at about half the adult population compared with 9.4% of the adult U.S. population.

“We want to build this garden for the community and especially the youth, as a way to motivate people to go back to farming,” said Rose Begay, Kayenta Chapter Farmboard Vice President.

In addition to the in-class training, the Workshop included hands-on demonstrations in composting and managing drip irrigation systems at the Kayenta Chapter Community Garden. Mr. Bergefurd led the group in building a simple compost system with chicken wire and metal posts. He explained that the compost bin will not only provide healthy soils full of organic matter needed for plant growth, but also an on-site way for disposing of excess plant material after the growing season, household waste, chicken manure, grasses, and cardboard.

The highlight of the workshop was site visits to each of the community gardens. With an average driving time of one hour between Chapter Houses, community members do not often have the opportunity to visit each other’s sites. At each garden, Mr. Hunt helped the community plan for how much land they can cultivate based on their existing water supply and pump capacity. The communities started plot-plans and received seed packets for corn, beans, squash, sunflower seeds, and radishes. New synergies arose from cross-community sharing and members from two Chapter Houses made plans to help each other build compost bins for their respective gardens.

The Alliance for Navajo Sustainability will continue working in partnership with the Chapters to make the growing season a success, with plans for a fall harvest festival already underway.

The Alliance for Navajo Sustainability is a consortium of partners working in collaboration with the Navajo Nation to address critical water access needs along with agricultural training and development of sustainable business enterprises. The consortium includes Assist International, Netafim, Duke University, Suez WTS Systems USA, Inc., WorldServe International, and Ohio State’s Global Water Insitute.

Brad Bergefurd, Ohio State Extension Agent, explains the benefits of compost for building healthy soils at the Kayenta Community Garden. Photo Credit: Jackie Holgate

Jim Hunt, from the Agricultural Division at Netafim, at the Shonto Community Garden explains the simple technique of adding fertilizer to the water tank, which will then efficiently feed the plants through the drip irrigation system. Photo Credit: Jackie Holgate


Rose Begay, Vice President of the Kayenta Chapter Farmboard, opens the workshop with a traditional Navajo prayer. Photo Credit: Brad Bergefurd.