Native Americans Use Dry Farming To Fight Climate Change

monument valley is an area where dry farming techniques have been used
Monument Valley. Photo credit: Wolfgang Staudt at flickr cc


Fighting climate change can take on many different forms. Some of the best advocates don’t use the latest scientific data or high-tech methods to enact change. Rather, they use the practices of their ancestors. Such is the case with a group of Native Americans who are using an unexpected approach to protect natural resources. The Colorado Plateau InterTribal Gathering is using dry farming techniques to demonstrate how to preserve knowledge and land. Their work is on display at an exhibit called “Preserving our Seeds and Farmer Knowledge.”

Getting Back to the Roots of Knowledge

Some of the best wisdom and lessons come from American Indians. They have been a historically marginalized people, while struggling with a lack of resources and support. Despite this, they strive to preserve their roots, and are some of the strongest advocates for the environment. Tribes have come out protesting against drilling and mining, and many have fought to keep sacred sites free of construction. Now, these Colorado Plateau tribes are using an ancient tradition to grow food and resist GMOs.

Dry farming is planting crops without irrigation. Instead, it uses the moisture stored in the soil. After a rainy season, there is a process that compresses the soil so the water does not evaporate. The desert region of the Grand Canyon is a climate where this indigenous tradition is wise to learn. Apparently, the food has a more potent taste, and is used for grapes in some wines. Navajo and Hopi tribes have a history with the land, and farming was always a part of it. For American Indians, corn was sacred. It is vital to continue growing food, and keep pesticides and GMOs out.

The exhibit displays years of work by leaders and elders determined to keep their heritage alive. It is at the new InterTribal Learning Center, and will be open by appointment from March 16-September 31. Along with seeing the agriculture, visitors will be able to learn about the practices, take workshops, and even get hands-on experience. The farming represents a remarkable cultivation of crops, and perseverance in spite of circumstances.

Ancestral Knowledge for Modern Problems

colorado plateau
The Colorado Plateau. Photo credit: Mike Beltzner at flickr cc


The farming is one component of what this group does. They are a network that uses their knowledge and ancestral roots to preserve their culture. Among their activities include teaching stories, protecting sacred places, and promoting Native businesses. It is an organization promoting the interests of the tribes, helping farmers use traditional techniques. Tony Skrelunas, InterTribal Gathering facilitator observed, “Our young farmers are totally confused by rising temperatures, drying springs, volatile wind patterns, and genetically modified seeds invading our communities. Our best at survival is to preserve our ancient knowledge.”

It is also a smart move to promote this ancient form of agriculture. Climate change has altered weather patterns, creating challenges for farmers to sustain food and water. This could lead to shortages of produce and grains in the future, affecting people and the economy. It is already apparent around the world. Dry farming is being used in California, where droughts are a major ongoing issue. The practices used by America’s ancestors are making a comeback, and it may provide an asset to dealing with the fight against climate change.

With different forms of growing food, dry farming can be added to the mix. It could be used in regions grappling with water shortages, and the ancestral knowledge could help people interested in the tradition. Climate change isn’t going away, but there are ways to counteract the erratic weather. The ancestral practices of the Hopi and Navajo tribes have survived the test of time. They can help us in sharing food and strengthening communities.

About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.