Preserving A Way of Life
Adae Romero is being honored as a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change.
My grandparents were my teachers. They taught me how to watch the seasons, interpret the clouds, and how to feel the earth so it would produce.
I was born and reared in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, as a granddaughter of a Pueblo farmer. At an early age, I realized the needs of Indigenous farmers and tribes are often overlooked in the development of agricultural law, programs and regulations, so I attended the University of Arkansas College of Law’s Food and Agricultural Law Program, where I received a Master of Laws degree, an advanced law certification, and worked with the Indigenous Food and Agricultural Initiative.
Now I consult for First Nations Development Institute, a leading Native American nonprofit whose mission is to strengthen American Indian economies. There, I monitor food and agricultural law and its effects on Indigenous producers, write about the inclusion of Indigenous farmers in federal programs and lawmaking, and work with Indigenous farmers across the country to strengthen agricultural economies and develop healthy food and agricultural businesses.
Cochiti Youth Experience, Inc. (CYE) started out as a conversation around a table after a traditional Pueblo feast. The mothers, daughters, sisters, and grandmothers sat together, speaking of their grandparents, times passed, and connections that they hoped to pass down to Cochiti young people. Those gatherings, when people sit and eat, talk and laugh, no matter how often they occur, have their way of changing people. After that night, we took action.
Two months later, we were incorporated as a non-profit, with a six woman board, and began conversations with the Tribe about how to administer community programs focused on food and agriculture and how to best incorporate Cochiti values into programs. None of the original board members, aside from one, were seasoned in non-profit operations, but each one of the original board members knew Cochiti and wanted to ensure that Cochiti children knew that same place. All our best stories and favorite Cochiti stories occurred in the fields. We wanted our children in the fields.
We were all the daughters and granddaughters and wives of Pueblo farmers. The board consisted of one lady who was considered the most knowledgeable traditional Cochiti cooks, knew Cochiti prior to the construction of roads, and remembered it as a place that was completely self-sustaining. Another board member ran a 4-H program for over twenty years before 4-H existed as a national program. Another was the first ever state director of health that came from a Pueblo. Another was a young high school junior. I had just returned from law school. Together, we made CYE work.
After Tribal Council approval, CYE began to grow farmers. We began farmer mentorship programs that paired young people with traditional Pueblo farmers over the course of a growing season. We began traditional cooking programs so young people know how to harvest, store, process, and cook the traditional crops. CYE has worked with Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC), a Montessori language immersion pre-school, to begin a farm to pre-school program. We conducted a food assessment of our community, the state of Cochiti agriculture, and our basic food economy. Today, we are in our third year of work and have supported twenty new farmers in Cochiti. Most importantly, we have demonstrated to others outside Cochiti that our Pueblo producers have timeless value to not only Cochiti, but the nationwide agricultural community.
Undoubtedly, Cochiti would have thrived and continued without the existence of CYE. But now with CYE, the conversation about agriculture, food, and its importance to the future of our small Pueblo is a much more conscious one. The times have changed our small community tremendously, but CYE hopes to ensure that our commitment to agriculture, our farmers, our children, and our lands does not change but is strengthened one seed, one conversation, and one growing season at a time.
Much like my grandparents who offered me lessons about the world, Cochiti, and my responsibility through each seed sown and each word spoken, I hope to demonstrate to future generations of people that the timeless lessons of our Indigenous ancestors inform both our world today and our future.
Vena A-dae Romero (Cochiti/Kiowa) is the co-founder of Cochiti Youth Experience, Inc., on her home reservation located in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico. She currently consults with First Nations Development on Indigenous Food and Agricultural projects including that in Waimea Hawaii and throughout the United States. She resides on the island of Lanai, Hawaii.