It is the hunting season, but the approach to how we go about hunting or harvesting animals, medicinal plants, or any living thing can be quite different depending on the culture we adhere to. For example, when hunting deer, there is a temptation to take the first or the biggest. A pueblo person might take a different approach, letting the first one pass; if it is meant to be, another will come along. This makes sure that there will be others to reproduce in the future. Or maybe not take the biggest, leaving that for others in the community or for reproduction. Every part of the deer is seen as a gift and used by the community.
Harvest is meant to be shared; it is not for us individually. When we think from the point of scarcity, we miss the ebb and flow and are inclined to hoard. Nature’s cycle has times of abundance and scarcity. That is how nature works. The system as a whole keeps the balance.
Growing up with pueblo ways, you respect all life and recognize the interdependency of land, air, and water as essential to life. There is always the potential that we don’t know how we effect the environment. Humanity has great power, but this comes with great responsibility and the need to be mindful. Our power can do good and also make mistakes. For example, there are impacts by structures we create, such as dams. (See Issue 8, Elephant Butte Dam)
Sustainability is an all-encompassing word, but when the word is broken down to the actions of respect, balance, gratitude, they have a similar number of syllables and remind us of the process that will ultimately sustain us.
Phoebe Suina shared pueblo insights which made this article possible.
Those living in the mid Rio Grande flyway await the honking of Snow Geese and the gurgle of Sandhill Cranes as they begin arriving in October. We look up to see them flying in their familiar V formation. But how does that V formation come about?
The farthest out wing feathers of the lead bird generates air movement on the wing’s down beat, which then spirals backward. Number two bird, flying diagonally and slightly higher, catches an uplift from this. Their downward wing flap then sets up the same dynamics for the bird diagonally behind them, and so on. The birds behind the lead bird don’t have to use as much energy this way. When the lead bird tires, they drop back and another takes their place, and the lifting power of the V formation continues.
It is thought that the continuous honking of the geese and the gurgling noise of the cranes keep them from hitting each other and also encourages the lead bird.
Ristras hang in front of homes throughout the mid Rio Grande valley in the fall. Stringing the chilis together with twine when freshly picked is a useful way to dry them. After dried, they can be crushed into a powder and used in recipes calling for red chili pepper. Chilis are not actually peppers, but instead are in a genus and family related to tomatoes, eggplant, and tobacco.
Chilis are a “New World” plant. They have been grown for millennia by Indigenous people in both North and South America and used for seasoning and as medicine. Capsaicin, found in chili, is particularly useful to treat pain and is in many of our current over-the-counter creams.
The “heat” of chilis is measured in Scoville units and felt by the capsaicin receptors in our mouth, nose and stomach. If you want to gauge how hot a chili might be, cut one open and look at the lining. If it is pale, the chili will be milder than if the lining is orange.
The mid Rio Grande lies in the northernmost part of the Chihuahan high desert. With climate change, there will be less predictable rainfall and warmer temperatures leading to greater desertification. Desertification is magnified by urban sprawl. While regenerative agriculture has been talked about in many circles for years, interest is increasing, and its various components are being studied and applied both separately and as a whole. Decreasing greenhouse gases by limiting use of oil and gas is necessary to tackle climate change, but this will not be enough. Carbon has to be sequestered as well. In the US, agricultural practices account for 10% of greenhouse gases, so by replacing chemical fertilizers, heavy dependence on machinery, etc. and instead adopting regenerative agricultural practices, we can increase sequestration of carbon. Regenerative agriculture is a key practice. Here are some of the best practices.
Building healthy soil is a critical starting place. Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungus play an important role as they do all the things needed by soil, including pulling in nutrients. In the past their role was often ignored. This is where adding organic matter in the form of compost is important.
Minimizing disturbance to the soil and plant life is called ‘no till agriculture.’ This allows existing root systems to grow deeper and continue their sequestration of carbon. Microorganisms are not disturbed. This requires modifying the practices of plowing, or ‘turning over your garden.’
Keeping soil covered with plant life decreases heat and can add nourishment, especially if nitrogen-fixing legumes are used. They may be planted seasonally or between rows which then can be rotated. On open range, planting heat-tolerant grasses for forage is another way to keep soil covered when combined with herd rotation or limited herd size.
Maximizing biodiversity or intercropping has been an indigenous practice around the world. This decreases insects and the need for insecticides, can fix nitrogen during the growing season, provides shade for other plants who need it, and better holds soil in place from wind and water events.
Integrating animals including livestock and birds into land management provides organic matter and decreases insects. This practice has also been done for millennia in places such as the Iberian Peninsula. There it is called silvopasture and is ranked ninth globally in importance for decreasing carbon. Its overall effectiveness in carbon reduction is greater than changing to electric vehicles and LED lighting. It has a huge economic benefit to farmers as well.
New Mexico has six sub climates with different soils, precipitation and temperatures. What is being tried here?
A large research project is being implemented by NM State University (NMSU) Extension Services. They are using different regeneration strategies at their 12 experimental stations across New Mexico. Some examples of their research include: the agricultural station in Clovis experimenting with desert-adaptive cover crops for farms and rangelands; the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center looking at growing more native grasses and legumes alongside cattle operations; the Los Lunas research station studying different plant species for use in urban landscapes and vineyards; and the Mora research station focused on forest management and reforestation.
Stabilizing the watershed is an important piece of restorative agriculture. According to research done by NMSU researchers, acequias help to recharge groundwater. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority is recycling wastewater to recharge the aquifer, but it is hard to find specific information about their monitoring wells. Where possible, wetlands are being increased. Green stormwater infrastructure is being promoted by Arid LED and Bernalillo County using, among other things, principles of permaculture.
Not-for-profit organizations such as Quivira Foundation have been working on a variety of sustainable range management practices for years. NM Healthy Soil Working Group’s niche is in advocacy and education, and they have a well laid-out website with upcoming regenerative agriculture workshops. American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has been working with small farmers for years and among other things, trying to extend small farmers growing season and diversifyng income streams. Chispas Farm is one example of a small local farm adopting regenerative practices and has an informative website. The Traditional Native American Farmers Association works to support family oriented scale farming and the preservation of heirloom seeds.
Sequestration of carbon using regenerative agriculture practices will take everyone working together, be it on an urban lot, small farm, or ranch.
Information for this article is from NMSU as reported in the Albuquerque Journal (10/18/21), AFSC, Quivira Foundation, Sandia and Santa Ana Pueblos, NM Healthy Soil Working Group, Office of State Engineer Fifty Year Plan.
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