Challenges of farming for Hopi people through 2 decades of drought
Through two decades of drought, Mike Koiyaquaptewa and other Hopi farmers face challenges using their traditional method of dry farming.
David Wallace, Arizona Republic
KYKOTSMOVI — In the spring, as Mike Koiyaquaptewa prepared to plant corn, gusty winds whipped across the land, sending dust and sand billowing.
He waited for a morning when the winds had died down, then returned to his family’s field carrying a pail filled with white corn kernels and a metal rod for planting.
Following the Hopi traditions he learned from elders as a boy, he kneeled and dug the planting rod into the earth. He loosened the sandy soil with his hands, letting it slip through his fingers.
Examining the dirt, he shook his head.
“The ground’s a little hard,” he said. “It’s dry, hard, clumpy.”
The Hopi Tribe’s lands in northeastern Arizona, like much of the Southwest, have been desiccated during one of the most severe droughts on record. The winter brought a little rain and snow, but not nearly enough to wet the ground several inches down, Koiyaquaptewa said, where the corn seeds need moisture to thrive.
“What was moist is all dried up,” he said. “The wind is another factor because it dries it out.”
Taking a few paces, he dug another hole, pounding the metal rod into the ground. He dropped corn kernels into the hole and, with his hands, gently swept the soil over them.
“I’m having to dig harder, so it’s taking a little bit more of my strength,” Koiyaquaptewa said. “I’m up against hard ground and dry soil.”
Corn is central to Hopi culture and religion. Ground corn is used in prayers and ceremonies. And families store dry corn of various types, including blue corn, white corn and sweet corn, planting their ancestral kernels year after year.
The Hopi rely on rains to grow corn, carrying on ancient traditions of dry farming the desert. Carrying on these traditions has grown more difficult during years of scorching drought in the Southwest, which scientific research has shown is being intensified by the heating of the planet with the burning of fossil fuels.
The changing climate has been starkly visible, Koiyaquaptewa said, in the extreme heat, drought and wild swings in weather.
“It should be nice, not windy,” he said. “You see it, this global warming.”
“And we see the dry seasons for so long,” he added. “So I guess we have to change our strategy on how we plant.”
Last year, Koiyaquaptewa and his mother had little corn to harvest. Most of the plants were knee-high or smaller. Some shriveled, failing to produce any corn.
Koiyaquaptewa said he hoped and prayed that this year would bring back flourishing corn.
But as he finished planting his first row, he said he was concerned about the dry soil, and disappointed.
“I’m just putting my faith up,” he said. “Hopefully there’s some moisture.”
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