The Apache people were hunters and gatherers. Their food offered much variety…wild herbs, fruit, berries, wild game and pinto beans. They also relied on hunting, mainly wild turkeys, rabbits, deer, bears, and buffalo.
Once settled into villages, they began to grow their own food, primarily corn and squash. Corn, squash and beans—supplemented by the meat that the hunters provided—was a healthful combination.
In Arizona, families of the San Carlos Apache people settled on 2-3 acre plots, many near the San Carlos River which runs through the reservation. Here they grew the traditional Apache foods. But in the 1960s the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), in order to provide additional housing, broke up those small 2-3 acre plots to make room for more homes.
“For 100 years the Apaches had been losing the culture of growing and harvesting traditional crops. As a result, obesity and heart disease became rampant on the reservation. The loss of those small family gardens also changed eating habits. The San Carlos youth no longer had access to the traditional foods… nor to the lore about those foods and plants,” said Sabrina Tuttle, associate extension agent at the San Carlos Apache Reservation.
Recently officials from USDA presented a $5,000 grant to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension for a People’s Garden project for the San Carlos Apache people. The grant will be used to create five plots—four in the community of San Carlos and a fifth one in the neighboring Apache community of Bylas. Gila County Supervisor Shirley Dawson and her husband San Carlos Apache Chief Tribal Judge Edd Dawson attended the funding event.
Tuttle accepted the grant on behalf of the project. She hopes that the gardens, and the education programs and community outreach that will go along with them, will help improve the quality of life on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.
Tuttle noted that each of the plots will be under the direction of a project manager. In an attempt to re-introduce sustainable gardening to future generations, several of the plots will be worked by youth, including a 4-H group, a preschool and the Mt. Turnbull Academy.
Alan Stephens, Arizona State Director for USDA Rural Development, made the presentation on behalf of the Department of Agriculture. He said that although the grant was small, the benefit will be great. “I’m impressed that so many other community based organizations are providing additional manpower and assistance for this project,” he added.
Arizona State Conservationist Keisha Tatem with USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) noted that Arizona was one of only ten states that received People’s Garden grants this year.
According to Robert Piceno, Executive Director of Farm Service Agency in Arizona, the grant was provided by USDA’s National Institute of Food And Agriculture (NIFA).