Garden expert wants to create oasis in food desert


Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
West Begay, helper to Joe Pacal, checks on the health of a plant growing inside a greenhouse at Good Shepherd Mission on Jan. 16 in Fort Defiance.

Joe Pacal is looking to the Navajo Nation in hopes of receiving funds to hire interested gardeners to train under him and learn ecologically sustainable gardening methods.

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control began an initiative known as Partnerships to Improve Community Health, a three-year initiative to improve the health of communities and reduce chronic diseases. With the CDC behind the project, Tsehootsoi Medical Center received an $824,823 grant to build gardens at schools and communities. Pacal was hired as a gardening consultant in the second year of the project.

The project ended before all the gardens could be completed. So, in hopes to continue work on the gardens, Pacal is looking to the president’s office to help find a way to get funds to hire new trainees.

“It is not so much about finishing these projects, it’s about making the gardens an integral part of what students and teachers do at school,” said Pacal. “The gardens will, hopefully, never be ‘finished.’ They will continue to grow and develop. “They could expand into the school or chapter house landscape with edible native trees and shrubs and fruit trees,” he said, “and they could inspire parents and community members to start their own gardens.”

Pacal has been developing garden projects in the Window Rock, Fort Defiance and St. Michaels area for the past 18 years. Raising money for materials and supplies has always been a time-consuming challenge, he said. The PICH project was a well-funded program that purchased a lot of the materials and supplies and distributed them to more than 20 schools and chapter houses.

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Categories: Community

About Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council, Business, Fort Defiance Agency, New Mexico State politics and Art/fashion. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at