Santa Fe New Mexican - Healthy Living - - NEWS -


Clay­ton Brascoupe, 65, re­mem­bers his grandma’s sto­ries, es­pe­cially the ones that taught him the im­por­tance of help­ing and car­ing for his fam­ily and com­mu­nity. He’s fol­lowed that prin­ci­ple through­out his life — and farm­ing made it pos­si­ble.

Brascoupe, a Mo­hawk and Anish­naabe, born on the Tus­carora reser­va­tion in New York, mar­ried his wife, Mar­garet, and in 1973 moved to her home­town of Te­suque Pue­blo, where he con­tin­ued his life­long work as a farmer.

“I al­ways wanted to have a farm. To me it’s re­ally tied to liv­ing a good healthy life,” said Brascoupe, who talks slowly, thought­fully con­sid­er­ing his words. “That’s where you have a com­mu­nity life, a fam­ily life. You have se­cu­rity. You know you’re go­ing to be fed and warm.”

Brascoupe and his wife raised their four daugh­ters to work hard grow­ing heir­loom crops, in­clud­ing dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of corn, beans, mel­ons, toma­toes, cu­cum­bers and squash. They fo­cused on re­vi­tal­iz­ing tra­di­tional seeds, plant­ing older va­ri­eties of pro­duce that are su­pe­rior in nu­tri­tion and re­learn­ing health­ier ways of cook­ing. They make tamales from an old va­ri­ety of blue corn that they grow, roast and mill to a fine flour. It is high in nu­tri­ents, with­out the usual added fat.

“We try to man­age the kinds of food we eat, and farm­ing al­lows us to do that,” he said. “Dur­ing peak times in the sum­mer, ev­ery­thing on our ta­ble is fresh from the fields.”

The num­ber of small fam­ily farms in the re­gion is on the de­cline though. Na­tive Amer­i­can farm­ers are con­cerned that few young peo­ple are go­ing into farm­ing. And di­a­betes rates are ris­ing, jeop­ar­diz­ing the health of many Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

Brascoupe re­sponded to those con­cerns by found­ing the Tra­di­tional Na­tive Amer­i­can Farm­ers As­so­ci­a­tion about 25 years ago. He teaches work­shops about seed preser­va­tion and sus­tain­able, or­ganic farm­ing, in­spir­ing peo­ple around the re­gion to pur­sue agri­cul­ture as a vo­ca­tion or to serve their fam­i­lies’ needs.

To­day three of his daugh­ters live nearby with their chil­dren. They all farm to­gether. Elevenyear-old Jeremiah grows food and cooks, pop­ping by Brascoupe’s house with home­made dishes or his freshly grown toma­toes.

“We all share in what we pro­duce, and it pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for us to spend time to­gether,” said Brascoupe, who wears his gray­ing hair in two braids that rest on his chest. “We work three-four hours and just talk.”

Brascoupe re­peat­edly uses the phrase “peace of mind” to de­scribe what farm­ing has meant to him and his fam­ily. He has that peace about the food they put in their bod­ies, know­ing it is healthy for them and it doesn’t con­trib­ute to pol­lu­tion or ex­ploit peo­ple and an­i­mals. He has peace know­ing that farm­ing re­in­forces their com­mu­nity sup­port sys­tem, that the phys­i­cal la­bor keeps them strong and that their fam­ily is to­gether, safe and se­cure.

“Peace of mind is part of good health,” said Brascoupe. “In to­day’s mod­ern world, it seems like fam­ily struc­tures are more frac­tured than they were. Farm­ing is one way that strength­ens it.”

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