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Sacred gardening

University of New Mexico interns Aaron Kie of Isleta Pueblo, left, and Malori Johnson of the Navajo Nation prepare a patch of land at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, where native crops will be planted. The garden will supply fresh produce for the center's restaurant and will teach native farming techniques to the center's summer camp participants.
University of New Mexico interns Aaron Kie of Isleta Pueblo, left, and Malori Johnson of the Navajo Nation prepare a patch of land at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, where native crops will be planted. The garden will supply fresh produce for the center's restaurant and will teach native farming techniques to the center's summer camp participants.
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Interns Malori Johnson, left, and Aaron Kie get tools to work on the farm in preparation for planting, which could happen in the next few weeks. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Interns Malori Johnson, left, and Aaron Kie get tools to work on the farm in preparation for planting, which could happen in the next few weeks. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

When Aaron Kie talks planting, he’s thinking three sisters, the skin of Mother Earth and the waffle method.

When Michael Giese talks planting, he’s thinking three radishes, yields of the Earth’s bounty and box gardens.

Kie, 27, an intern who will work with Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s summer campers, and Giese, the executive chef at the center’s restaurant, will find common ground as they work together in coming weeks to plant a garden to benefit both diners and campers.

With funding from a $10,000 PNM Resources Foundation Grant, they are creating a garden from which campers can learn native farming techniques, and patrons of the Pueblo Harvest Café & Bakery at the center will get vegetables picked that day in their meals.

“This particular project helps us to fulfill our mission in sharing pueblo culture, history, our way of life, not only with our campers but our restaurant patrons,” said the center’s executive director, Travis Suazo, who is from the pueblos of Laguna, Acoma and Taos.

Kie, a Native American Studies student at the University of New Mexico and an enrolled member of the Isleta Pueblo, will be a main resource at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center Summer Day Camp, where about 50 kids ages 6 to 13 will learn native cultures throughout the month of June.

He began his internship in November, and it runs until the camp ends. So far, he has set up a grid about 20 square feet that looks like a giant waffle, with raised channels going horizontally and vertically, and depressed portions that are a little larger than 1 square foot.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center intern Aaron Kie prepares the waffle grid. Each student who comes to the center's camp this June will have his or her own portion of the grid for learning Native American farming techniques. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center intern Aaron Kie prepares the waffle grid. Each student who comes to the center’s camp this June will have his or her own portion of the grid for learning Native American farming techniques. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Each square will be assigned to a camper, who will learn to farm it using a Zuni-inspired technique created for places like the Isleta Pueblo, where the nearest water hose is sometimes 2 or 3 miles away, Kie said.

“The water soaks into the ground farther down and keeps the roots moister,” Kie said. “You don’t have to water it as much. It takes two, two and a half weeks to be dry enough to re-water.”

He plans to sprinkle in words in Keresen, his native language, to tell stories involving butterflies and bees, and to plant what he calls “the three sisters:” corn, beans and squash, vegetables that team up and grow like a family when in the same plot.

“It’s known throughout Indian country that they look out after each other when they’re growing,” said Kie.

The hardy squash would be on the outside, protecting the corn and beans from bugs. The beans use the corn stalks for trellises as they grow up, and nitrogen released from the beans’ root system helps the corn and the squash get nutrients from the soil.

He will also show campers how to pray before planting. “It’s Mother Earth’s skin,” he says of Earth’s surface. “We’re just asking, ‘Is it OK to grow?’ We’re asking for her to help us out with the corn, asking the Earth for its healing properties.”

He wants the students, many of whom will come from Native American Community Academy, to “get the gist that it’s more than just corn.”

A patch of land in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center's farm will be shaped into a medicine wheel, above, where each quadrant will have a different crop planted. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

A patch of land in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s farm will be shaped into a medicine wheel, above, where each quadrant will have a different crop planted. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The other intern, Malori Johnson, who is studying Environmental Studies at UNM and comes from the Navajo Nation, is less familiar with Native American farming methods, and will learn from Kie while also helping teach the youngsters, she said.

Prayers showing respect for the Earth as they begin the project are part of native culture, the IPCC’s Suazo said.

“As native people, it was the way we were raised, to be respectful … When we ask, we believe our prayer will be answered in a bountiful harvest and plentiful crops.”

Bountiful harvests and plentiful crops are the same thing Chef Giese is hoping for.

Giese, 38, who is not Native American, will work 18,000 square feet of land at the site, using slightly different techniques, to enhance the vegetable choices at the café.

Adjacent to the waffle grid Kie has already set up, Giese has put in place some 12-foot-by-12-foot box gardens made of wood and lined with plastic, which will allow him better control of the soil, he said.

He plans to grow several types of tomatillos, eggplants and radishes, among a wide range of other produce. By the beginning of March, he said, he will begin planting spring mix and other greens. “My enthusiasm’s at an 11 on a scale of one to 10,” he said.

He wants restaurant patrons to see his staff outside picking vegetables and the wait staff talking farm-to-table with customers, since he feels that too many people have too little information about where the produce they are eating comes from.

He is also planning to purchase a beehive from a beekeeper in the East Mountains. He is not only looking forward to serving new vegetables to his diners, but also seeing the campers learn about types of produce they might never have heard of. “I want to show the kids, ‘Hey, this is what a parsnip is.’ ”

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