Current Projects

Native Farm to School Webinar Series

As part of First Nations’ Native Farm to School project, the Native Farm to School Webinar Series showcases best practices, shares available resources, and provides an open forum and Q&A sessions for discussing challenges. The series is designed to help individuals who have an existing model for a Native Farm to School initiative – or who are interested in starting one – connect with Native audiences.

The series is made possible by the Assistance Agreement No, NE-01F62801, awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Environmental Education and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). EPA Environmental Education allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take action to improve the environment. As a result, individuals develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and have the skills to make informed and responsible decisions. USDA FNS aims to increase food security and reduce hunger by providing children and low-income people access to food, a healthful diet and nutrition education in a way that supports American agriculture and inspires public confidence.

This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The contents of this presentation do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

About the Facilitators

Mary Adelzadeh, Webinars 1 through 5
As a consultant to Native-led organizations and initiatives, Mary Adelzadeh has over 20 years of experience working with tribal and federal governments and non-governmental organizations in project management, grant-writing, land and natural resource planning and protection, and facilitating collaboration. Mary previously served as a senior program officer at First Nations Development Institute. Prior to that she was a project advisor to the Maidu Summit Consortium and Conservancy where she supported efforts to restore Maidu Traditional Ecological Knowledge and establish a Maidu Cultural Park in California. Previously, she worked to protect tribal natural and cultural resources as the environmental director of the North Fork Mono Rancheria, a tribe in the Southern Sierra Nevada, and as a liaison between the Bureau of Land Management Lake Havasu Field Office and nine tribes in western Arizona.

Richard Elm-Hill and Leiloni Begaye, Webinar 6

Richard Elm-Hill

Richard Elm-Hill is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. As a program officer for First Nations, he supports the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative by providing technical support, training and advocacy to Native communities. Prior to joining First Nations, Richard was an Operations Analyst in the Internal Services Division for the Oneida Nation. There he supported the strategy and alignment for programs nested in technology, media and food systems. He established the Oneida Emergency Food Pantry, assisted in grants projects to develop and market new food products, and evolved the aquaponics farm-to-school program. Richard Elm-Hill holds a graduate degree in Applied Teaching and Learning from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he studied learning communities, oral tradition and mindfulness.

Leiloni Begaye

Leiloni Begaye is a Diné womxn from Dinétah, the homelands of the Diné people, an Indigenous womxn who is a farmer and rancher. Leiloni is a First Nations project coordinator based in the Albuquerque field office. Prior to joining First Nations, Leiloni worked as the New Mexico State Lead for FoodCorps, where she supported Farm to School initiatives, mentored 10 local FoodCorps service members, developed and implemented a state strategy through an Indigenous and K’e (relationship-centered) lens. She was a school garden coordinator with La Semilla Food Center in the Paseo Del Norte Region and an interpretative & education ranger and field paleontologist at White Sands National Monument. Leiloni has a background in natural resources from Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, and agriculture with an emphasis in rangeland management from New Mexico State University, and a Master of Arts degree in Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico.

Webinar 1: Cultivating Healthy Soils for Healthy Native Communities
Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at 12 pm Mountain
Download the recording and presentation materials here.

The Pueblo of Zia has a long tradition of agriculture, and the practice is still very much part of the culture. This webinar features “Showcasing New Mexico Environmental Education Project: Zia Pueblo,” a presentation by Pueblo of Zia, Department of Agriculture, which focuses on soil sampling, soil analysis, and soil amendments that incorporate the larger community of farmers and elementary to high school students, and teaches how healthy soils can increase growth potential. From there, the webinar  takes a deeper dive with New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group’s presentation “Joy of Soil Health,” which highlights water benefits, nutrition, and environmental health.

About the Presenters

Yvonne Benton

Agriculture Manager Yvonne Benton (Navajo, Zia Pueblo and Spanish) has been with the Pueblo of Zia for three years. She works with one agriculture technician, and together they have several certifications, including the Sandoval County Master Gardeners, sponsored by New Mexico State University. Prior to her employment with the Pueblo of Zia, Yvonne worked in the engineering and electronics industry. After 25 years in this industry, she decided to change careers, which was a huge but worthwhile change for Yvonne. Yvonne enjoys working with the community and with plants.

Isabelle Jenniches

Isabelle Jenniches is a skilled community organizer with degrees in art, digital media, and theater design. She studied organic agriculture and permaculture and was lead worker at Casalegno Family Farm in Soquel, California. Isabelle has been involved in the agricultural non-profit sector since 2012, in capacities ranging from administration, to programming and development. At the Ecological Farming Association (EcoFarm), she worked with the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), established the organization’s regenerative agriculture initiative, and coordinated the annual EcoFarm Conference, bringing together up to 1,800 food system stakeholders from across the U.S. and internationally. EcoFarm is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2020 and has pioneered the farmer-to-farmer education model. Isabelle has been living in New Mexico since 2018, where — as co-founder of the New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group — she was instrumental in passing the New Mexico Healthy Soil Act. She is part of the National Healthy Soils Policy Network and serves on the board of the New Mexico Food & Agriculture Policy Council.

Webinar 2: Nurturing Indigenous Youth and Families in and Beyond the Classroom
Thursday, December 10, 2020, at 12 pm Mountain
Download the recording and presentation materials here.

Elementary through high school students are learning from awareness and exposure to application, through land-based pedagogy practices and by working with and learning about the land. The webinar features the Native American Community Academy’s presentation “Showcasing New Mexico Environmental Education Project: Native American Community Academy,” which aims to help both teachers and students explore, implement, and practice environmental awareness, challenges, and resolutions. The webinar also features Newcomb Schools’ presentation “Engaging Youth and Families in Native Farm to School Programs,” which highlights youth engagement strategies, innovative ways to engage families in Farm to School activities, and parent and family engagement in Farm to School programs.

About the Presenters

The Native American Community Academy (NACA) is a tuition-free public charter school serving students in elementary, middle, and high school (grades K-12), originally located in the Southeast Heights of Albuquerque, New Mexico. NACA’s student body is diverse with many cultural and ethnic backgrounds, including students from more than 60 tribes. NACA is a small school that focuses on identity through culture and language, holistic wellness, community and family, and academic preparation. NACA’s vision is of a thriving and dynamic community where students, educators, families, and Native community leaders come together, creating a place for students to grow, become leaders, and prepare to excel in both college and life in general. The NACA community and experience helps students incorporate wellness and healthy life practices, community service, and an appreciation of cultural diversity into their lives.

Augusta Alhm

Augusta Ahlm is the founding agriculture teacher at the Newcomb School’s Agricultural Program. In her time on the Navajo Nation, Augusta has supported the school and community in building a farm to school program that includes a greenhouse, indoor aquaponics system, livestock farm, and soon-to-be outdoor classroom. Augusta’s passion for agriculture started at home and was nourished through the educational programs of 4-H and FFA as a youth. Augusta followed this passion to New Mexico State University where she received her BS in agriculture extension education, specializing in international community development. Augusta then received her Master’s degree in agriculture from Colorado State University, where she did her thesis research with youth in a small farming and fishing community in Baja Sur, Mexico. Augusta is an advocate for inclusivity and equity for youth and education.

Webinar 3: Harvesting and Collaborating with Native Community Partners
Tuesday, December 15, 2020, at 12 pm Mountain
Download the recording and presentation materials here.

In the Pueblo of Acoma, the Acoma Ancestral Lands Farm Corps is connecting traditional culture by continuing ancient agricultural traditions and providing healthy food for the community. The webinar features Acoma Ancestral Lands Farm Corps’ presentation “Showcasing New Mexico Environmental Education Project: Acoma Ancestral Lands Farm Corps,” which focuses on restoring the knowledge of Haak’ume’ food systems that incorporate experiential learning opportunities in the Haak’u Community Academy. Webinar presenters then move to the East Coast with Native community partners from Indian Township at Peter Dana Point, Maine, on the ancestral lands of the Passamaquoddy people. The Indian Township’s presentation, “Building Partnerships in Native Farm to School Programs,” highlights the connections of community-based initiatives toward building and reclaiming Indigenous food systems in Native Farm to School programs through partnership building.

About the Presenters

Aaron Lowden

Ancestral Lands Program Coordinator Aaron Lowden (Pueblo of Acoma) is a life-long farmer, land-based skills instructor, and seed caretaker who has been leading the effort in Acoma Pueblo to restore the traditional food systems of the community. Aaron has been a student of the traditions of Acoma, having been mentored by his mother and uncles who were raised in the self-sustenance lifestyle, and he has dedicated his life to revitalizing these ways. Aaron and Ancestral Lands’ “agri-Cultural” efforts are achieved through an experiential and holistic program called the Acoma Farm Corps, in which local youth learn field preparation and design; dryland, irrigated, and drip irrigation techniques; seed selection, saving, and banking; and traditional food preparation. Every component of the program is contextualized through the traditional haak’umeh world view to pass on the place-based knowledge of Acoma. Aaron established a community seed bank that currently holds 57 Indigenous varieties of corn, squash, beans, tobacco, gourds, melons, and chile, which are available free of charge to the community and local Indigenous groups.

Brian Giles

Brian Giles is a special education teacher, FoodCorps site supervisor, after-school garden coordinator, and a member of the orchard, pond, and garden planning committee at Indian Township School at Peter Dana Point in Indian Township, Maine. He has worked in special education for almost 10 years, primarily with children with emotional and behavioral disturbances. He has been an active member of the Passamaquoddy community for most of his life. A homesteader, Brian lives in a solar-powered house with his partner and children on sixty acres in Maine. Brian has learned that to be an effective teacher and a member of the community, one must open their heart and embrace each child as one’s own, and thus he shares the same enthusiasm for sustainability, self-reliance, health, the garden, the woods, and the environment with the children at school that he does with his own children at home. He harbors a strong desire to bring the hopes of our planet to the forefront of students’ minds and help them realize that they can attain self-reliance and philanthropy simultaneously through education in ecology and agriculture.

Webinar 4: Mastering Strategies to Accelerate Native Farm to School Efforts: Evaluations and Grants
Thursday, January 14, 2021, 12 pm Mountain
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This webinar features the presentation “Evaluating Farm to School Programs: Assessment Tools and Strategies.” Using Choctaw Fresh Produce as an example, the presenters focus on evaluation effectiveness, assessment tools, and strategies for how to address social impact and how students, teachers, and stakeholders can all collect data as a best practice. Participants will learn about Farm to School evaluation requirements and expectations for grant recipients, as well as how to communicate success stories and accelerate Native Farm to School efforts.

About the Presenters

John Hendrix

With over 20 years of experience, John Hendrix is the Director of Economic Development for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. He is responsible for managing the tribe’s social impact investments to create wealth for the Choctaw community and generating revenue for the tribal government and job opportunities for tribal members. John has also provided technical assistance to more than 20 tribal communities pursuing food sovereignty initiatives, and he is currently coordinating the tribe’s investment and ongoing analysis of the video game industry, in which he is engaging tribal students and the Choctaw Boys & Girls Club to encourage S.T.E.M. education. John received his BBA from Millsaps College and his MBA from Duke University.


Andrea Alma

Andrea Alma is the USDA Farm to School Regional Lead for the Mountain Plains Region based in Denver, Colorado. She works with schools, farms, and partners to get fresh, local food to school children, and she particularly enjoys serving the many Native Farm to School programs around the region. Prior to joining the USDA, Andrea was the Farm to School Coordinator for Minneapolis Public Schools. Her career began in Washington, DC, where Andrea founded and directed the DC Farm to School Network. Andrea earned a BS in Environmental Engineering from Tufts University.

Webinar 5: Exploring Strategies and Best Practices: Lessons from the Southwest
Wednesday, January 20, 2021, 12 pm Mountain
Register Here 

Nambe Pueblo has a long history of farming in the Southwest that ties in with their traditional Pueblo lifestyle. Traditional farming strengthens and bonds the community, and Native farmers integrate cultural values into growing foods. The webinar features the presentation “Native Farm to School Marketing and Communication,” which provides practices and strategies implemented by the STAR (Service to All Relations) School on how to build a strong program and engage Native producers in Farm to School efforts. The presentation, “Integrating Native Producers into Your Farm to School Program,” presents examples of building producer capacity so schools and organizations are better prepared for Farm to School opportunities, as well as strategies on how to overcome or address potential issues and challenges in engaging Native producers.

About the Presenters

George Toya

George Toya is a self-taught artist from Jemez Pueblo, NM. His art career spans over 48 years, and he is noted for the bold, colorful Pueblo designs that depict Pueblo life. He is of Jemez Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo descent and was raised in the traditional Pueblo lifestyle. George has a mechanical engineering background, was a small business owner, and managed the Grammy Award-winning group, Black Eagle. He served on the Board of Directors for the Southwest Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) and on various arts and development boards. George has been a lifelong farmer and now the farm manager for the Nambe Pueblo Community Farm, a grantee of First Nations Development Institute.


Mark W. Sorensen

As the lead administrator of Navajo schools and Native-led non-profits serving Navajo, Hopi, and Apache students and families, Mark W. Sorensen has been deeply involved in community-based Native American education for over 40 years. Dr. Sorensen is co-founder, CEO, and Board President of the STAR (Service to All Relations) School, the first off-grid, solar and wind-powered school in the United States, located near the southwestern edge of the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. For the past 10 years, STAR students have learned how to garden in the several greenhouses at the school, producing many vegetables that are served in the school cafeteria.

Webinar 6: Finding Educational and Funding Opportunities for Farm to School Programs
Thursday, January 28, 2021, 12 pm Mountain
Register Here 

This webinar examines the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Education Program, which works to increase awareness and knowledge about environmental issues so that the public can make informed decisions and take responsible action. The presentation “EPA Environmental Education Program and Current Opportunities” provides an overview of the EPA Environmental Education Program, funding opportunities, program updates, and resources, as well as how it relates to Farm to School programming. The webinar concludes with the presentation, “Overview of Native Farm to School Programs,” by representatives of First Nations’ Farm to School initiative, which serves to build and strengthen a Native network to collectively improve Farm to School opportunities for Native students.

About the Presenters

Mary Adelzadeh

Mary Adelzadeh is a member of the Navajo Nation. As a consultant to Native-led organizations and initiatives, she has over 20 years of experience working with tribal and federal governments and non-governmental organizations. Mary previously served as a senior program officer at First Nations Development Institute. Prior to that she was a project advisor to the Maidu Summit Consortium and Conservancy. Mary serves as an advisory board member to the University of California, Santa Cruz, Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program. Mary earned a Master of Science degree in resource policy and behavior with a concentration in conservation biology from the University of Michigan. Mary also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental biology and management from the University of California, Davis.

Michael Band

Michael Band is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Education Grants Specialist. He is responsible for coordinating operations for the Office of Environmental Education’s national competitive grant program. Prior to joining EPA, Michael spent nearly five years at the U.S. Department of Education where he was a member of a bilingual team within the Office of Communications and Outreach. His career in the federal government began in 2011 as a Peace Corps volunteer where he served as a teacher trainer in Colombia. Michael has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Wittenberg University and a master’s degree in global environmental policy from American University.