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Anti-Hunger Initiatives Help Older Native Americans

Poverty and poor food sources combine to hit Native American communities hard

Native American tribe member work in their community garden

Community farms provide nutritious food year-round. — First Nations Development Institute/Sipaulovi Development Corporation, Inc.

Amos Hinton, director of agriculture for the Ponca City Tribe, reports that his program has bred, processed and distributed more than 6,000 pounds of free-range pork since 2012. “Commercial agriculture has gone so far away from the way animals were intended to be raised and grain was meant to be grown,” says Amos, who frets that many of his neighbors subsisted on “low-end processed lunch meats from cans” if they could afford meat at all.

When Amos delivered locally raised, hormone-free pork to an elderly woman shortly after launching his project, he remembers being told, I’m so glad to see you, because I didn’t know how we were going to eat for the rest of the week. “That bothered me -- really, really bothered me,” admits Amos, who is in the process of breeding four more pigs.

The AARP Foundation grant enabled the Pueblo of Nambe to buy a second-hand tractor, tools, and seeds, and to pay for some labor to build a 20-by-40-foot hoop house. The structure, made of flexible plastic over a wood frame, harnesses solar radiation to extend the growing season. Before the hoop house was built, George Toya, the Pueblo’s farm manager, estimated that his growing season started in May and ended in late September. After completion, the season doubled and now lasts from late February until November. The farm produces lettuce, spinach, beets and carrots, as well as the venerated chili pepper. “Chilies are everything here,” notes George, who donates much of the harvest to the community’s senior center.

See Also: Learn how to start a community garden

When George was growing up, he remembers cutting wheat by hand with a sickle along with his father, grandfather and many neighbors: “When one field ripened and was ready to cut, [local] farmers came over and helped.” His family gladly returned the favor. “The work went really quick,” says George, who believes Nambe’s community farm has revived a communal spirit. “It’s starting to come back again.”

The Pueblo of Santo Domino’s Traditional Food Systems Revitalization Project grows not only traditional crops but also relationships, says Harley Coriz, who oversees the local senior center. The grant they received enabled the tribe to build a greenhouse, where vegetables for seniors grow during winter. The venture connects tribal elders and youth who plant and harvest corn, melons and tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. “The seniors teach youths the names of plants in the native tongue,” says Harley, who points out that the program yields an unexpected benefit: empowering women volunteers. “Mainly males did the farming, so a lot of the older ladies have never planted before and they were really enthused,” he notes.

“Everything is centered around agriculture in our society,” Harley continues. “We plant as a community, we harvest as a community and -- they tell us growing up -- life begins with putting seeds into the ground.”

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