Making the Gardens Grow on a Navajo Reservation

By Myra Saturen
November 26, 2012

Community service has taken biological sciences major Stacy Beaty to many places, including most recently, St. Michael Indian School in St. Michael, Arizona, Stacy Beatywhere she participated in a garden project as part of NCC's service learning program. 

Located on a Navajo reservation, St. Michael Indian School was founded in 1902 by Saint Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.  The K-12 school, based on Catholic and Native American principles, has embraced a garden project initiated by the Sunrise School for Ecological Living, a nationwide program that provides hands-on educational opportunities to Native American youths in exploring their connections to the earth.  The organization's purpose is to give students the experience needed to live with the cultural values of self-reliance and ecological balance. 

Beaty went to St. Michael during NCC's fall break.  There, she helped harvest lettuces, arugula, swiss chard, and broccoli to sell to employees of Fort Defiance Hospital on the reservation. "The hospitals on the reservation are almost entirely staffed by non-native people who have a taste for fresh veggies that are typically hard to come by on the reservation," she says. 

The goal of the St. Michael project, where Beaty worked with high school students, is to create gardens at the school that will supply produce for the cafeteria and remedy erosion on the school's land. Navajo Garden Ultimately, the sunrise project will teach the Navajo how to grow their own food, compost and maintain the land sustainably and to possibly create a profit source for the Navajo people through agriculture. "The aim of the garden work at the school is to get students involved and educated about growing their own food and the benefits of doing so nutritionally, economically and ecologically," Stacy says. 

In addition to helping with the garden project, Stacy helped students at St. Michael get ready for the ACT examination, prepare college essays and cheer for the girls' varsity volleyball team.  She also had time to hike window rock, a famous boulder with a hole in the middle, at night, with some of the teachers, a memorable venture.    

Beaty has long been passionate about community service and healthful nutrition.  

Before enrolling at NCC, she trained at Second Helpings, a non-profit culinary school in Indianapolis, and worked in food service for five years.  At NCC she founded the Vegetarian Club, initiated Meatless Mondays in the College cafeteria and participated in the Student Leadership Class.  In 2012, she presented "The Effect of Education and Stress Reduction Programs on Feelings of Control and Positive Lifestyle Changes in Cancer Patients and Survivors" at the Beacon Conference, a yearly event for community college students.

As part of service learning, she volunteered at the Cancer Support Community in Bethlehem, teaching a cooking class where she showed participants to prepare Mexican pizza among other nutritious dishes.  A handbook she wrote for the Cancer Support Community has been accepted by the Undergraduate Journal of Service Learning and Community Based Research. 

Beaty says she is still processing all she learned at St. Michael School.  One of these lessons was in intercultural communication.  "Because of the delicate relationship between Navajo people and non-natives based on the painful past, sometimes even the best intentions can be met with resistance."  Most importantly, Beaty's experience offered a rare opportunity to assist in an important project. 





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