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Workshop teaches sustainable farming, building techniques

Joshua Kellogg The Daily Times
The Daily Times

HOGBACK — Residents from around the Four Corners gathered on a farm here Tuesday to learn more about sustainable farming and how conservation efforts affect the health and access to water of those living on the Navajo Nation.

Approximately 38 people attended a one-day workshop hosted by the nonprofit organization Capacity Builders Inc. and the Shiprock Chapter held at Larry Emerson's farm located along U.S. Highway 64.

The event was held to help provide technical assistance to those in the Navajo farming community and help people learn to harvest the resources on their land, Capacity Builders project director Connie Falk said.

She said the idea to talk about sustainable farming and building practices was based on an idea from Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie, who suggested they explore a more innovative take on conservation.

A series of work sessions was held to discuss topics related to permaculture, a conservation philosophy that focuses on use of soil, water and energy in agriculture and home building.

Grant Curry led the first workshop discussing what a swale is and how it could benefit an arid region like the Navajo Nation by providing water and food.

Curry led the attendees through the process of digging a swale — a water-harvesting ditch — to help create a zone where water accumulates to grow plants/trees with no irrigation water. Several plants and tress were planted afterward.

"Water will come down here, it'll accumulate under the ground and the trees will grow into the ground," Curry said.

The swale helps trees and other perennial crops that require no irrigation or maintenance to thrive.

He said in about five to seven years, the swale could help springs of fresh water form on Emerson's land and provide a new source of water in a drought-stricken area.

Durango, Colo., resident Katrina Blair led a tour around Emerson's property as she looked for plant life that could be harvested to make lunch.

Blair made lunch including a wild pesto with tumbleweeds, a lemonade using leaves from an elm tree and a cherry-peach cobbler using cattail flour.

"I just love sharing the abundance the earth gives us freely," Blair said.

Emerson briefly talked about the relationship between traditional Navajo practices and permaculture before his nephew Sean Lowe spoke about the farm's structures built using sustainable construction practices.

Lowe led the attendees through a house constructed of clay, sand and straw, and a building that houses a solar shower and composting toilet.

He said the cost of constructing the house was about 10 percent the cost of building a traditional house in the Farmington area.

"We're born in an area where there are a lot of materials around us," Lowe said. "So we want to use what we have around us to our advantage."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.