Thoughts of a Hopi Farmer: Seeds, Sustainability, Stewardship & Sovereingty

My final semester in graduate school at American University, I participated in a practicum regarding the U.S. Farm Bill and additional agricultural policies. I worked on a particularly moving and significant case of seed sovereignty amongst the Hopi. For anyone unfamiliar, the Hopi Reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajo Reservation in Northeastern Arizona. The Hopi,  whose ancient seeds make most heirlooms look brand spanking new, also descend from one of the earliest inhabitants of North America. For my final project, I created and produced a documentary short in which Hopi Farmer Michael Kotutwa Johnson discusses seeds, sustainability, stewardship and sovereignty in Hopi.

The Case of Hopi Seed Sovereignty

Seed Sovereignty is the right of every farmer to use, save, adapt, and share their seeds freely in the commons.

The Hopi, descendants of the ancient Pueblo Peoples, have inhabited what is now the American Southwest for more than 2,000 years during which time they have cultivated unique varieties of corn, beans, melons, and squash. These ancient crops are truly resilient, having adapted to the arid, high elevation climate in which the Hopi reside.

The Problem: Hopi seeds, like many heirloom seeds, are threatened by the modern, industrial agricultural practices such as the monoculture cropping of hybrid and genetically modified crops and the extension of intellectual property rights to plant genetic material.

Robust policies and programs are needed at the Federal and local levels to protect these seeds, the cultural heritage they represent and the food as well as spiritual security they provide to the Hopi people.

In March, I had the amazing opportunity to visit what is now the Hopi Reservation in modern-day Arizona with a fellow student and one of our professors. While there we learned what Hopi Farmer Michael Kotutwa Johnson is doing to promote traditional farming practices and preserve these seeds.

To the Hopi, these seeds are life.

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Pico De Gallo Slaw

Just over a week ago I received very exciting news!!! The exclamation points let you know how exciting 🙂

I received an acceptance letter from American University’s School of International Service. Starting in the fall I will be a graduate student working toward an M.A. in Global Environmental Policy!

I finally have some direction and that feels incredible. One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books sums it up, “But absolute freedom can be as paralyzing as confinement when you don’t know what you want” (Around the Bloc by Stephanie Elizondo Griest). I finally know what I want!

Interestingly, American was the only school to which I applied (Penn State was the only school to which I applied for undergrad). Thank the universe I was accepted (to both).

I visited campus the day I was accepted (I didn’t get my acceptance email until that evening) and have already started looking at apartments, short-term study abroad opportunities, thinking about part-time jobs (Whole Foods?), and internships in the city. Each class is only once a week, and the average graduate student course load is 9 credits (3 classes) so I may only be on campus 2 days a week.

Anyway, onto the food! I eat tacos at least once a week, if not more. I love them. Usually they’re filled with black beans, some combination of veggies, and some kind of salsa, and/or guacamole. Last night, Stephen made some amazing tofu tacos and the tofu actually turned out perfect! Almost restaurant style!! Oh dear, they were so good I’m drooling just thinking about them.

And I learned a new trick after some internet searching… thank you, Vegan Yum Yum. The tofu should be DRY FRIED. It leeches out more moisture so the tofu becomes more spongy & chewy while simultaneously giving it a crisper outer texture. After dry frying the tofu, he added Olive Oil, Jalapeño, Onion, and Bell Pepper & sautéed it all together with some Chili Powder, Cumin & Salt. I fried the tortillas a bit to make them warm & pliable. Then we added the slaw I had made around lunch & topped it off with some green leaf lettuce. Oh, and we never forget the Tapatío. They were seriously delicious. I will probably never get around to posting a taco recipe because not only are tacos easy to make, I am FAR more interested in eating them IMMEDIATELY than I am in setting up a picture of my favorite food while it begs to be consumed. Maybe, one day.

Pico De Gallo Slaw

  • 1 Cup Green Cabbage, Shredded
  • 2 Medium Sized Tomatoes, Diced
  • 1/4 of a Large Onion, Diced
  • 1 Large Clove of Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Jalapeño, Minced
  • Juice of One Lime (or to taste)
  • 1/2 Tsp Cumin (or to taste)
  • Dash of Chipotle Powder, for smokiness
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 Tsp Brown Sugar, Agave, or Honey
  • Cilantro (optional)

The addition of the cabbage actually came about because I didn’t have cilantro and diced tomato, onion & garlic just wasn’t going to cut it. The Mexican restaurant in Kutztown, La Cocina Mexicana, always serves their salsa with shredded cabbage and it’s dynamite. Thus, this slaw was born. Both the jalapeño & chipotle add a bit of spice to adjust to your preference.

In a medium/large bowl combine cabbage, tomatoes, onion, jalapeño and garlic. Toss together. Squeeze in lime juice. Add cumin & chipotle. Toss & taste. You may decide not to add sweetener or salt. I liked a little of both. Definitely be careful with the sweetener though. I accidentally added a touch too much the first time I made it.

If you have cilantro, absolutely add it. Let the slaw marinade in the refrigerator while you make the rest of your tacos. The flavor will enhance as it sits.

The slaw is fresh, bright, and adds a bit of crunch to your taco. It’s really wonderful and you could dress it up however you like.