Native American Community Academy Breaks Ground on a New School Garden
November is Native American Heritage Month and a time to celebrate Native culture and traditions. That includes highlighting traditions that connect people to land and promoting the use of local foods. A school in Albuquerque, New Mexico is using its school garden to enhance both its nutritional and cultural curriculum while intersecting with history. The Native American Community Academy (NACA) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, sits on the grounds of the old Albuquerque Indian Boarding School, originally opened in 1881. Today, these grounds are still home to a school, but it is a school that embraces and encourages exploration and celebration of Native culture and traditions.
NACA, established in 2006, is a charter school that connected with more than 150 community partners to focus on the education and support of Native American children attending the Albuquerque School District. Today, 94 percent of the school’s roughly 460 students are Native American, representing over 60 different tribes.
NACA’s Executive Director, Anpao Duta Flying Earth, explains that the current school garden started as a collaborative effort with another local organization, the La Plazita Institute. Duta Flying Earth acknowledged that there was room for improvement in their school lunch program, and this needed to be addressed quickly. “As a school, we have a mission to address the holistic wellness of our students, and when the rate of diabetes and heart disease in our community is atrocious, we have an obligation to tackle these issues.” The experiences created for students, through this partnership with La Plazita, were aimed at developing a relationship with the healthy food being grown and instilling lasting change for the whole family unit through the student.
The school’s partnership with La Plazita started small and flourished quickly. Using buses and shuttles to transport NACA students out to the La Plazita grounds, 11th and 12th graders participated in a curriculum that teaches nutrition education using crops that have a strong connection with the heritage and culture of their ancestors.
The next step will be to launch a new school garden site nearby. NACA is now in negotiations to lease land that was originally part of federal trust land held by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, then transferred to the local Pueblo tribal conglomerate. “The students are working on the planning of the new layout," says Duta Flying Earth. "They are involved in the soil testing to determine if we can plant directly into the ground or if we need to build raised beds, everything. They are really getting their hands dirty,” explains Flying Earth
As to where he would like to see their program in five years, Duta Flying Earth would love to see the new garden completely sustained by students and the community, in partnership with organizations like Food Corps and La Plazita, so the facility can be productive year round. They would also like to establish a kitchen facility on campus that can handle processing fresh produce on-site and to move away from the pre-packaged meals that they currently receive for their school lunch program. But for today, the program, with its unique blend of nutrition education and the celebration of Native heritage, continues to move forward.
The Office of Community Food Systems has two fact sheets that promote and encourage Farm to School activities in Indian Country, among many other resources. The fact sheets Bringing Tribal Foods and Traditions into Cafeterias, Classrooms, and Gardens and Gardens in Tribal Communities can be downloaded on the FNS website