Cultural Preservation through Agriculture

Name: Bryce D. Townsend

Location: San Felipe Pueblo, New Mexico

Topics: Farmer, Agriculture, Organic, Community, Language

Quote: “We have the largest agricultural land base, but agricultural land use is low. You can’t be a sovereign nation if you don’t have your own food supply.”

Listen: Bryce_SoundCloud


Between Cultures & Pueblos

My name is Bryce Townsend. I am from San Felipe Pueblo and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. I’ve lived in San Felipe most of my life and I participate in Ohkay Owingeh as well. I kind of live in both places, you can say that. My mom is from Ohkay Owingeh and my dad who passed about ten years ago is from San Felipe Pueblo. I took over his farm. I have not been farming all of my life. I just committed about five years ago when I started doing it consistently. This year I got into organic farming and it’s the first year that I am doing it. It is the direction I envision for building up the agricultural base here in San Felipe. One of my big goals is to re-establish the agricultural fields in the pueblo communities not just here in San Felipe, but also our neighboring communities and throughout the “Rio Grande Valley,” even some of the Spanish communities. We have Algodones that is to our south and the next one would be Peña Blanca to the north. And there is Santo Domingo and Santa Ana which is the pueblos that are nearby, and so the idea is to think about building that local economy up through agriculture is one of my goals.

I lived in San Felipe on and off. My parents divorced when I was eight years old. I lived in Bernalillo then but I still had my connections back here. This experience was challenging by itself. What made it most challenging was learning the language. Language barriers is a challenge I have had all of my life. When thinking of re-establishing agriculture here (San Felipe Pueblo) I see it as a medium to re-establish language. It’s not just me, but also the youth that struggle with language. The language is fading out, and I am thinking that this (agriculture) can be a school for language. I went to Santa Fe Indian School for high school, and there I was able to meet natives from not just the local pueblo or the pueblo communities but also from other tribes throughout the United States. Building networks and having a community sense prepared me to start creating that network to making it work right and efficient. There is not much trade through agriculture, it’s kind of a lost art.

When I would visit San Felipe Pueblo I would visit my grandma, one of my aunts, and my cousins were around a lot, and I think that gave me a lot of the language, education to be able to survive here, and that is a big memory. I remember that my auntie she would be here at the fields and farming, so I got glimpses of farming since I was very young. My dad was one of the few to own a tractor and I grew up learning to drive it. I did not grow up farming, but it is definitely something I have taken on more recently. I still hold on to those memories and trying to think back to the things that I might of not realized I learned back then, but not try to understand what he (father) was trying to teach me. It may be in an abstract sense, but also concretely. Being exposed to the farm has always been central to me even though I was apart from it at certain time, I was still rooted in that growing up. I don’t really participate in the dances or ceremonies here, but I do in Ohkay Owingeh. In some way, that’s one way I balance living in both places].



Language & History 

The language here is Keresan and there is seven other tribes that share it; Cochiti, Santa Domingo, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Zia, Laguna, and Acoma. In Ohkay Owingeh it’s Tewa language. There is five tribes that share that. They are different languages, so that was part of the challenge for me growing up. English was the common language spoken in my house. My mom’s native tongue was different then my dad’s native tongue, so they communicated in English. I was primarily brought up in the English language and I would just get tidbits of the native tongue from each. That just boils down to where you spend your time and whose raising you. I remember taking language classes when I was in elementary school but I am not too sure if they still teach it. They might have a class. I don’t think it’s an integral part of the schools. They do offer a language class here in the village. It’s a start I guess, but it’s not enough. I believe that in order to learn the language you have to be almost fully immersed in it.

From a historical aspect, San Felipe Pueblo people came from the Anasazi people, from Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, and that region of the state. Those people migrated down here thousands of years ago. The whole dating thing can be controversial, it can never be pinpointed. When the Spanish came through, that’s where the name comes from. They put the mission there in the village. It’s been built and rebuilt since. It’s build out of adobe, so you always got to redo that. It’s tied to the religions and ceremonies that go on today. This has been a challenge in itself in realizing the history and why would a people continue to keep that church here in current times considering what happened in the past. I have always thought about that. There was a revolt that took place in 1680, and thinking about the church still being here is a big question to me. But there is a lot that goes into that. For me that ties back into agriculture because back then our people used agriculture to build their civilization to be able to have a deep, rich culture, and a complex society. They had clan systems. Those were ways they were able to carry on traditions and language to this date. We are not one of the largest land base in terms of land, but we have the largest agricultural land base of all the pueblos. But our utilization of agricultural land base is very low. I would like to optimize our land base use. If we are able to do that, we would be able to sustain ourselves through that practice. That ties into being a sovereign nation. You can’t be sovereign if you don’t have your own food supply and food system in place. That’s a big thing that I think about.



Infrastructure is a big issue here in San Felipe. Transportation is a big one. We have had the train tracks that go through here for over a hundred years, but we never had a train stop here. Now that we have the rail runner here, I believe that is something the tribe can benefit from. Housing here in the pueblo has always been an issue. We have a lot of sprawl that is happening with housing here. Since we don’t have a large land base area here, that has potential to affect agriculture since housing is encroaching into the fields. That is starting to happen, or it’s been happening maybe for about 20 or 25 years. I think as far as education we have a pretty high dropout rate. There is also a lot of people on welfare. That is another way that I think having a strong agricultural base might help out by providing a place where people can get fresh food and healthy food. Those are the three things that stand out to me the most as challenges to living in San Felipe Pueblo.

I have not seen an agricultural networking amongst neighboring communities. I don’t remember one being in existence. Santa Domingo and San Felipe have a considerable population where a grocery store can be sustained and where those populations can be fed. Building that network would be important. Getting down to the metrics and being able to quantify how much produce you would need to sustain those populations. I think it is possible if we all work together and hit those numbers to have that local basis.



I met Arturo Sandoval in… I was in a class at the University of New Mexico, I am a Master’s Candidate in Community, Regional, and Planning working on a thesis based on agriculture. He (Arturo) was one of our guest lecturers and he spoke about the Indo-Hispano potential for creating an agricultural network. He gave a heartfelt presentation, no fancy slides or anything like that, he just spoke from his heart. And that really stood out to me. I don’t normally approach people after a lecture, and I had about eighty lecturers throughout that course, and Arturo was the one who stood out. It was about the middle of the course when he came in. After the class was over I went up to him and introduced myself and told him what I was trying to do. It pretty much took off from there. And that was last semester, so it has only been about a year, but it seems like it has been a long time. It was in April of last year when I met him. We met in his office, and he has been out to the farm and he said, “Let’s start working together.” He gave me a few supplies and seeds last year to get started.

Last year we had trouble with grasshoppers, some of the different farming difficulties. And so, we were not too successful in growing organics last year, but he said we are going to keep at it and continue again. This year we established a drip system, so this is my first year doing that. I did a lot of organic vegetables; carrots, turnips, radishes, char, things that I have never grown before. I would say that generally speaking, pueblos would grow beans, chilies, corn, white corn, melons, and squash. I think trying to diversify the food selections is getting to that next level of providing for our people. Working with Arturo has been a tremendous help, I wouldn’t be where I am right now without him. Even though I have been at it for five years, this is the sixth year, I wouldn’t be producing the vegetables that I have this year. It’s been successful. It is a lot of work, but it’s enjoyable. Having that support is key to being able to do this stuff. The materials that they support me with, the seeds, and just knowing that I have that backing is a tremendous help. We are just going to try to move it forward.


Final Words 

For anybody at any age, because farming can be for anybody in any age, the one piece of advice that I would say is just get out to the farm and just go do it, try something. Start planting something. Plan a tree, a fruit tree. You have to be there and do it. That’s the only way it’s going to happen. There is no other way around it, you can’t grow food without planting it, without taking care of it, without weeding it, without watering it, and making sure it has the right soil. In the end, you just have to be out there and do it. Just commit to it. It’s not easy, it takes determination, dedication, and desire to do it.

Let’s try to build this economy through agriculture. Plant and grow our own food locally, and support each other locally. Buy from your farmer, buy from the man that has his food stand by the roadside selling peaches or apples. Start thinking locally and things will just happen naturally on its own if we just keep it centralized and local.




One Comment Add yours

  1. gustavowoltmann101 says:

    Well written information. Glad to know about this one and this is very important things that every country needs because agriculture is one of the keys to having a successful country.

    Liked by 1 person

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