Indigenous Regenerative Agriculture: using soil microbes to grow nutrient rich foods, heal the soil and reverse global warming.
Healing the soil, Healing the soul; combining Native traditional farming and spiritual practices with modern regenerative methods.
I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
I am 18 years old or older.
Initiative's representative name
James Skeet, Executive Director of Covenant Pathways and member of Navajo Tribe.
Initiative's representative date of birth
August 14, 1962
Initiative's representative gender
Headquarters location: country
Headquarters location: city
Covenant Pathways is located on the Navajo Nation in Vanderwagen, New Mexico, USA. The Navajo Tribal Nation is over 27,000 square miles. The current unemployment on the Navajo Nation is over 40%.
Where are you making a difference?
The organization holds Indigenous regenerative agriculture workshops across the Navajo Tribal Nation, Zuni Tribal Nation and New Mexico. The demonstration farm is the same location as Headquarters.
Website or social media url(s)
Our website is www.covenantpathways.org. Blogs are posted periodically. We have started posting some information on facebook at Covenant Pathways sites. Social Media is an area we are currently expanding and developing this year.
Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan going forward)
Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?
1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.
James and Joyce Skeet both had high paying jobs with the Healthcare industry. Spring of 2015 we attended a local garden workshop that talked about relying on the soil microbes to grow nutrient rich foods. We began applying some of the principals with incredible results. Living in the dessert, attaining these results in prior years was quite challenging. We began to experience a huge disconnect with healthy foods in the healthcare system, our jobs didn’t make sense anymore. We realized that the answer for healing our Navajo communities was grounded in soil, not synthetic medicines. In 2016 we quite our high paying jobs to fully develop the demonstration farm on the Navajo reservation.
2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
One out of every five Navajo adults are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and one out of every two children is estimated to develop Type 2 diabetes within their lifetime. Engaging people in the production of their own food supply and connecting it to their cultural traditions and Mother Earth elevates farming to a spiritual/cultural practice. It establishes a resiliency that reduces the dependency on the very food system that is harming us. When we heal the land, we heal the people.
3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
The regenerative demonstration farm provides visual models and discussion opportunities with growers of methods that can increase the quantity and quality of their produce, as well as use less water, which is a critical step when growing food in our climate. The farm is located on the Navajo reservation and does not have running water. Inexpensive feeds (contaminated w fertilizers) for our animals (chickens, pigs, sheep, turkeys, and ducks) are cleaned up in order to produce clean meats. The manure is used to make 3 different types of microbial rich compost. We have a diversity of garden plots in which we use a combination of different growing methods (including traditional Native approaches), the different composts, a variety of compost applications, and cover crop mixes to not only increase diversity but to determine types of growing practices that increase soil microbes and nutrient rich foods. We share this working knowledge and methods from our farm with others in conversations and workshops. Our vision is to improve health of Native peoples and Mother Earth (soil) by using cultural traditions that change people’s attitudes and actions with regard to food and soil.
4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?
We are introducing new ways of amending soils, contaminated water and using compost in order to increase nutrient density. Using the microscope, soil biomass of microbes are recorded. The nutrient density of the produce is also tested with a refractometer and measured on a brix scale. Data confirms an increase in nutrient density with an increase in soil microbes. To increase nutrient density for the eggs and meats, animal feeds are fermented or sprouted using several methods to remove the toxins from low cost grains, AND increase the bio availability of nutrients for the animals. We are always researching new methods to execute. Then we make changes to adapt, improve, simplify and create low cost methods so anyone can implement.
5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?
Our organization has begun to build an alliance of like-minded indigenous gardeners and social activists to not only define regenerative intelligence but to mimic biodiversity in how we structure and strategize each of our organizations and farms programmatically and operationally. We have intended outcomes that allow us to bring variety and diversity of thought and practice into every opportunity in our gardens, workshops, and strategies with indigenous communities. We work bottom up by first addressing and interviewing our indigenous participants through facilitation and implementation. Collaboratively, we continue to strive to improve efficiency and effectiveness in regenerative agriculture in order to gain a competitive advantage to acquire and apply new ideas through collaboration with regards to healing the soil. Ultimately be an agent of change in communities to improve well-being, healthy communities and healthy environments.
6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?
Our demonstration farm hosts upwards of 300 folks every year. These tours create talking points and interest for indigenous and other peoples to grow their own food, create resilience, consider food as medicine, and host a workshop. We held 39 day long Healing the Soil workshops requested in many communities across the Southwest in 2019 with over 870 participants and assisted 26 families with small gardens. Our organization has shared regenerative agriculture information and developed a strategic plan with Navajo Nation Western and Kayenta Farm Boards, which provided them with the tools they need to impact policy change. They are up against policies that could enforce the loss of their water rights if they do not engage in agricultural activities. We have begun to implement a regenerative approach to farms that are no longer producing crops. The intention is to resurrect many of these farms in key located areas that would allow the water to be used for the farms and gardens.
7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?
Achieve a regenerative platform away from industrial farming by:
*Equipping potential regenerative trainers with the information of Indigenous regenerative agriculture and intelligence to carry the message and practices forward.
*Influence indigenous social activists who can lobby indigenous leadership.
*Collaborate with farmers locally, nationally, worldwide and those that with cultural knowledge.
*Efficiently build on existing infrastructures on demonstration farm and with indigenous growers.
*Access local markets and research direct marketing opportunities for growers to utilize.
*Leadership to research via literature, conferences, webinars, etc; develop and adapt new methods; and re-strategize annually.
8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?
Our priority is to Improve the health of all peoples by creating nutrient rich foods and creating educational access to learn how to compost and apply in their gardens. Our hope is to create an awareness for all communities of where their food is coming from, thus, instilling greater food ‘values’ in people. When regenerative agriculture becomes a way of life, it builds family and community resilience and puts nutritionally rich food on the table. We want to create a meaningful economic and social framework for our indigenous communities that have been saturated with governmental handouts. Our indigenous perspective points towards considering all life to have dignity and honor.
9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?
Short term - rely on outside resources to gain attraction while developing cottage industry/goods; manufactured Native foods, skin care products and farm commodities. Midterm - increase productivity towards a self-sufficient model by reducing outside resources through efficient operational activities as well as reducing costs throughout the organization. Charging affordable fees for training services, increase cottage industries and consider agricultural tourism. Long term plan - fully implement self-sufficient goals to become a reality. Incorporate consulting, expand farm goods/hubs and cottage industries through direct marketing. Administrate and imbed strategic analysis every year to accomplish short, mid and long-term goals.
10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
Our Board of Directors is 80% Native and 60% women. There are two full time staff, the Executive Director (male and Navajo) and the Program Director (female and Anglo). There are 5 to 8 additional part time staff that help with farm and gardens, workshops, consulting, bookkeeping and administrative (75% are Native and 60% women). The next growth phase for our organization is to hire a full time farm manager which will provide more freedom for other staff to increase in outreach areas.
11. How did you hear about this challenge?
Nourishment Economies Coalition contact
12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.
The Navajo reservation is a very challenging environment in which to start a garden due to compact soils and low rainfall. Dust blown from the overgrazed Navajo lands into the Rocky Mountains produces pink snow melting it at faster rates causing high rivers in Spring and little water for rivers and mountain terrain later in the season. In spite of these challenges, Healing the Soil techniques hold the answer. Adding compost to gardens makes soil softer and gardening easier while increasing the soil microbes and nutrients in foods. Mulching keeps moisture in the ground for longer periods requiring less water in an environment challenged with little moisture. City water is amended to neutralize the damaging chlorine to the microbes. Planting cover crops and intensive animal grazing are strategies used on the farm with plans to expand to other parts of the reservation to lesson the impact of pink snow, and improve the earth’s water systems so crucial to reverse global warming.
13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.
Sharing and using Healing the Soil principles that sequester water; value, arm, feed and protect the soil microbes; build a diversity of soil microbes and plants; and implement pollinators and animals to increase soil health; is a natural approach that is aligned with Native traditional farming approaches and presented in all our workshops. In addition to workshops we assist growers with their gardens. Every year we share our compost with growers. Two growers told us of their experience growing foods and winning first place prizes at the Navajo Nation Fair. They thanked us for the compost which they accredited for their prize winning produce. Another grower began making his own compost and entered his compost at the same fair. He not only took 1st prize, but had the agriculture community and judges interested in learning his composting methods.
14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?
Other Changemaker organizations have similar vision that address healthy soils and foods. Covenant Pathways differs in that it has created a closed system that incorporates both plants and animals to Heal the Soil and Heal the Soul. Manure is used for composting; composting is applied to gardens and fields; gardens are harvested and preserved; people consume the garden produce while animals forage in fields; food waste is composted or fed to animals. In this cycle of health, our goal is to create a healthier, nutrient rich system (we have access to every segment to make changes and improvements), which benefits well-being, education, provides examples of resilience and increases health. There is an inextricable link between the impacts of colonization and poor health (physical, mental and spiritual) outcomes across Navajo Nation. Eating more organic, nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables and meats can help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?
Two articles have been written in our local newspaper. One was composed of a day long Healing the Soil and Indigenous Cosmology workshop and the other written of a 4-day compost camp held on site. We had the privilege of hosting a visit from the Navajo Nation president's wife. She spent a whole day on the farm discussing opportunities. Navajo Nation policy makers met on our farm to get more information on regenerative agriculture.
16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.
Individual gifts - 5%
religious organizations - 5%
foundation grants - 80%
product sales and services - 10% - A large percentage of this funding source comes from consulting services to equip Indigenous trainers at a non profit farm on the Navajo reservation. After assisting with the transition of their conventional farm to a regenerative farm, we began intensive Healing the Soil workshops. The organization is now impacting other farms, schools and numerous growers in their area with this information and assisting new growers.
17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?
1) continue creating awareness through workshops, increase indigenous growers and provide tools and resources for them to expand, and creating more resiliency to be more prepared for difficult times. Resilient approaches include foraging wild plants, starting small gardens and chicken/animal farms in rural areas, etc
2) influence tribal leaders, state and federal policy representatives to increase funding for regenerative agriculture, and increase regenerative amendments on lands to increase the nutrient levels in plants and reduce the pink snow dust originating from Navajo lands.
3) research the impact and methods of removing toxins from inexpensive feeds and the correlation to nutrient density of eggs and meat. Research has been completed on the benefits of fermentation and sprouting in regards to increasing the bio-availability of grains, but little or no research on removing toxins from grains.
4) continue to monitor nutrient density and promote foraging and food as medicine.