GROWING A GOOD, HEALTHY LIFE
“PEACE OF MIND IS PART OF GOOD HEALTH”
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.”