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McKenna Bean & Mariessa Fowler
Graduate and Junior undergraduate
According to the Navajo language, Ch'ishie means "dirty or ashy." This is a perfect name to give a farm that grows food in the desert landscape of the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. This Friday, the permaculture class had an opportunity to escape the late September chill in Flagstaff and ventured east to Ch'ishie Farms. We arrived at Tyrone's home, which was built with permaculture design in mind, and explored his property, which offered chickens, sheep, hoop houses, and a geodesic dome. The space also serves as a growing space for seed starts, as Tyrone grows about 40,000 seedlings yearly. He showed us his different hoop house models and described the pros and cons of different types of shade cloth and how they facilitate growth throughout harsh conditions. One of his hoop houses uses plastic and shade cloth to insulate the space and allow for a longer growing season, allowing his tomato plants to grow well into November. This hoop house also serves as a windbreak for the rest of the property, as the plastic-reinforced structure does not let wind permeate it. The other hoop house on Tyrone's property incorporates a different shade cloth, allowing outside air to get in through the fabric's holes. This space has fruit trees and premature plant starts and is connected to a geodesic dome. Tyrone is in the process of retrofitting the roof of his home to harvest rainwater to hydrate his at-home garden, which is crucial in this case as everything is hand-watered and this property is off-grid. Finally, we ventured into the garden, where Tyrone and his family built beds made of cinderblocks and other materials. After the tour of his family home, we piled into our vehicles and made the trek down a dirt road to Ch'ishie Farm.
Tyrone's community field is based 11 miles away from his family home. The field runs alongside the Little Colorado River, a lifeline for the Leupp community. Tyrone began this portion of the trip by describing a recent flood that affected this land. It affected infrastructure and some of their equipment was damaged. Every once in a while, the Little Colorado River will flood, submerging the Ch'ishie farm in feet of water. After taking it all in, we began helping Tyrone by picking up and tidying the drip irrigation lines and harvesting corn and squash. We harvested many tubs and wheelbarrows full of corn and squash to be sold at the upcoming Indigenous market held at the Colton Garden, almost filling up the bed of Tyrone's truck! The squash grew massive and it was exciting to weave through the vines for these surprises. Eventually, it was time to head back to Flagstaff and reflect on what we had learned that morning.
The dramatic landscape where the desert meets the Little Colorado River mixed with the Lush fields of corn and squash was awe-inspiring and reminded us how resilient agriculture can be. Tyrone is a steward of traditional knowledge and a leader in the local food sovereignty movement. We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from such an influential teacher. Tyrone does a great deal to help his community and during the pandemic, he was able to garner funding to build hoop houses. This encouraged many community members to practice food sovereignty. He mentioned how several other community members utilize the fields during the growing season and grow their intergenerational squash and corn varieties. Many of these farmers also practice dry farming techniques because of the dry and arid environment in the Leupp area. Tyrone also funded a project for solar pumping groundwater for the field and possible future freshwater resources for Leupp. The water was stored on top of a hill and many residents often harvest the water for agricultural or livestock purposes.