Friday, August 17, 2012

NDEE BIKIYAA or "The People's Farm"

The People's Farm Logo

The People's Farm is in Whiteriver, Arizona in a part of the community we call Canyon Day. It is situated on what used to be a farm that I remember seeing when I was just a kid about the same age as my son or younger. As a chef and community member this farm is indeed something special. We have had the time to develop working relationships with the farmers and I can say that they have the best interests of the people in mind. These farm workers understand the 'cosmological relationship' with our food relatives and with our Mother Earth. Sitting down to a conversation with the farmers is very interesting. They speak of the foods with a special fondness, the nurturing element is heard loud and clear. The way they speak about agriculture is very much like I speak about cooking.

We planted onions in May that we now use in our kitchen.

In this photo (left) as the Farm Manager, Mike Henry, planted onions with us, he told stories that had been passed to him from elders. He spoke of the time before vehicles and tractors to plow fields. He talked about work ethic in the Apache way, that despite the lack of modern equipment, the fields still were plowed and the cattle still tended. The moral of the story that day was that there was no excuse for us to be lazy today, that our elders possessed the tenacity and work ethic then and we have no excuses today.

What a profound story that resounded with me because I tell similar stories in our kitchen. We constantly reinforce Apache values like tenacity, work ethic and working together. I knew from this first day I volunteered at the farm to help plant onions, that this group of people were as passionate and serious about their work as I was about being a Chef. It was a powerful realization to know that and understand what they were talking about, their struggles with social misunderstanding were very similar to ours as Apaches in the Kitchen. 

Historically Apaches have not been "chefs" so to speak but we have been cooking since time immemorial, well this also applies to Apache Agriculture in my opinion. The perception of Apache as farmers in the past may not strike someone as being historically accurate but in reality agriculture has also been a part of our lives and culture since time immemorial. So we push forward with work that we believe is extremely important. I think we recognize that our culture and the entire world suffer from a profound disconnection with the land and where our food comes from and who nurtures it. Food does not just appear, someone in the field has planted, been in the dirt, devoted their time and labor to the care of crops. Someone has cultivated an intimate understanding with the land, wind, water and seasons to bring healthy and fresh food to you and your family. I think the gift of agriculture that it is something that teaches many life lessons, and I have adopted a belief from one of our NACA Indigenous Food Culture Conference presenters that, "Plants and Trees are our first teachers." What a profound statement that speaks to humility and understanding the world in such an interconnected way. They have this mindset in place at The People's Farm in Whiteriver.

This image to the right of the farm staff planting onions was taken months ago. Today, the onions are being sold to the community at a local Farmers Market and now we 'Apaches in the Kitchen' are fortunate to be cooking dishes with their foods. Today the farm has corn about 6 feet tall and sunflowers that tower at similar heights. There are vines filled with scallop squash, patty pans, zucchini and yellow squash. Green beans, chilies, tomatoes, lettuce, melons, potatoes, and asparagus in its first year all are nurtured daily by the staff. I ensured them that we would take care of "their babies" in our kitchen.

In conversations with the farm staff they spoke of "talking to the plants" revisiting them and saying "hello" each day. They poked fun at themselves saying that they never thought they would be talking to plants. "They are really like our babies", one farmer said. That's when I told them that I would make the circle complete by feeding them in our restaurant with their own vegetables. They accepted and came to our kitchen and I treated them to a "Farmers Chef Table" in our kitchen, but first we had to pick our own vegetables.
Ari and Nephi Craig

This is an image (left) taken during the second week of August. My son Ari and I picked vegetables for a filmed pilot project on Native American Cuisine and Apaches in the Kitchen. I was adamant about bringing attention to the farm so we went there. The dialog with the farm staff was great. I had not been back there since I volunteered in May so to see the growth was a treat. I picked some of the same onions I planted. What a treat.

The People's Farm is an amazing place and coming from a Chef's perspective, it is such an honor and blessing to be able to support this farm and in turn they support us. By using the produce from the People's Farm it makes our cooking more unique and I know exactly who is growing our food and where it comes from. Simply knowing that we are cooking at a high level with vegetables grown by Apaches, for Apaches in the sacred soil on the White Mountain Apache Tribe produces a gratifying feeling I have not yet experienced in my pathway as a cook.

The People's Farm Produce ready to be prepared for the Farmer's Chef Table

This is a photo during our "Farmer's Chef Table" in our kitchen after picking our own produce. I'm explaining the dish we created in this photo. 

Meat Course:
Roasted Venison Loin, The People's Farm Smoked Potatoes, Wild Lambs Quarters, Pinons and Sauce Nana.

It was such an honor to be able to host the farmers in our kitchen and cook for them dishes that had evolved over time, dishes that reflected our White Mountain Apache Tribe, culture, heritage while expressing hopes for our collective posterity. We served them 5 courses and I personally invited them back for a much more in depth "Tour of Native America through Cuisine". They gladly accepted and we are excited to host them again.

Happy Farmers Clayton and Darlene with Apaches in the Kitchen Crew after the Farmer's Chef Table on August 10, 2012

Native American Culinary Culture Building 2012


No comments:

Post a Comment