Navajo Corn Pollen, Young Ears of Corn for Knee-Down-Bread, and Neeshjizhi Marketing
This project has two objectives.
1. Establish a manageable market in the Ganado and local area for corn pollen, young ears of kneel-down bread and neeshjizhi, a form of dried, steamed corn kernel
2. Increase the yield of neeshjizhi by developing a nontraditional method of preparation
The three Navajo products for which this SARE grant will pursue niche markets – corn pollen, young ears of corn for kneel-down bread and neeshjizhi – were selected because of the family’s knowledge of managing and processing them and to sustain a part of the Navajo culture.
Because dryland farming methods are used in northern Arizona, the drought over the last three years resulted in a loss of the Navajo traditional crops, which means that the findings so far are inconclusive.
However, Teresa Showa, project coordinator, is continuing to conduct market research to develop a Navajo traditional corn marketing strategy. She has conveyed the research to high school students at career days, to other Navajo farmers and at local farm board meetings, conferences (the Southwest Indian Agriculture Association) and USDA site visits.
“Seeing Navajo farmers’ excitement and enthusiasm about marketing has motivated me to continue this effort,” says Showa.
Despite the drought and the attendant crop problems, the project counts five accomplishments with the anticipation of a productive crop year.
One accomplishment was a meeting with professors and agricultural staff from Utah State University to discuss crop and food processing as well as a visit to the food science department. An attempt to steam bulk corn in an oven steamer to achieve the same results as in a pit oven failed because the amount of Navajo corn available was limited. However, it did show that it’s possible to produce neeshjizhi using the method.
The second accomplishment was focusing on the “right” packing materials and supplies needed for the marketing project. An extension crop specialist helped Showa find and obtain a reasonably priced corn sheller. In recent years, she has met with several agricultural experts who understand small farmers’ difficulty in finding useful farm equipment.
The third accomplishment has been networking with other small farmers who understand the problems inherent in their size, and the fourth has been developing a small farmer business plan. Showa took a small business course with Northland Pioneer College from which she was able to develop the plan, which she will provide to Navajo farmers and others.
Showa says her fifth major accomplishment is her continuing development of a market pricing analysis. She and her father have visited local flea markets where they record the prices for various Navajo corn crop and food products. Her plan is to analyze the prices quarterly.
While the drought stymied the anticipated results of the project, Showa continues work to develop her products and to inform neighboring farmers and others about her plans and progress. She notes that one goal – to allow Navajo farmers to draw on traditional knowledge – found a positive outlet when she conveyed the message to high school students at a career day. She says the at-risk students were more in tune with such knowledge having spent more time with their grandparents.
Showa says the benefits from marketing traditional Navajo crops and food products on a small farming scale may provide supplemental income – an amount she estimates at $2,000 an acre or more.
FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
Farmer adoption is evolving and will be detailed in the final report.
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
These, too, will be addressed in the final report.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
A generalized Navajo small farm business plan will be developed and distributed to the Navajo Farm Board and farmers.
REACTIONS FROM OTHER PRODUCER
Showa says that she has received good reactions from small Navajo farmers, largely because the efforts covered in this grant are not typically addressed by the Navajo Department of Agriculture or the Division of Economic Development.