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Getting Kids Back to their Ancestral Roots

Jan. 29, 2013

Getting kids back to their ancestral roots
By Kathleen Yetman, FoodCorps Fellow and Gilbert Ivins, FoodCorps service member

Cibecue, Arizona is a community of 1700 White Mountain Apache tribal members situated among stunning red rock hills, scrub juniper, and sprawling grasslands. It is located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in eastern Arizona at the foot of the White Mountains. Cibecue is off the beaten path -- an hour’s drive from any other town or city -- and due to its isolation, food options are limited. There are three convenience stores in Cibecue. Last year, while serving as a FoodCorps service member, I perused the shelves of the largest of the three. There was one cooler in the back of the store sparsely stocked with packaged cucumbers and half-ripe tomatoes, and a couple of heads of iceberg lettuce. These are the only vegetables for sale in the community. In one of the other stores, with a growling stomach, I searched for the healthiest item, and after settling on a 16-ounce block of cheddar cheese, discovered that it cost $7.00. In that same store, one can buy 308 ounces of soda for the same price.

Most Cibecue families make a weekly trip 48 miles to Walmart, where food prices are cheaper and there is a greater variety. You can imagine then, because access to fresh vegetables is so restricted in Cibecue, what families are left to purchase to feed their families if they can’t make that weekly trek. So it’s not all that surprising that kids growing up there may have never seen a real carrot. In 2010 FoodCorps partnered with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health (JHCAIH) and beginning last year placed two FoodCorps service members on the reservation to teach gardening and nutrition to kids at Dischii’bikoh (Cibecue) Community School. Through the Edible School Garden program third, fourth, and fifth graders learn about the plant life cycle, tools to help them choose healthier foods, and about the wild foods their ancestors used to eat.

This year, we are fortunate to have Gilbert Ivins as our service member in Cibecue. Gilbert is a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and has lived in Cibecue his whole life. Prior to FoodCorps, he worked as an Emergency Medical Technician and firefighter in his community. Last week I sat down with Gilbert to hear about his service thus far. This is what he had to say:

Gilbert: Being a FoodCorps service member is really cool because I get to be the stepping-stone for many young Native American youth making a positive change toward their health and nutrition. So far this year with the kids from Cibecue Elementary, I have seen that my presence there has made a big difference. I’ve seen kids try all the vegetables and fruits we brought them. I think that with FoodCorps and Johns Hopkins University supporting the cause for which we are fighting we can be very successful. For example, one student told me he wished he could never grow old so he could stay in Edible School Garden and Native Vision forever and that Edible School Garden would continue throughout his time in school all the way up until he graduates. I strongly believe that FoodCorps has touched the hearts and souls of the Apache youth in Cibecue, making it all the merrier to continue this movement in the community of Cibecue.

Kathleen: What are some of the challenges you see facing kids in your community?

Gilbert: The main challenge here is the gangs and the influences they have on the kids such as drugs, alcohol and violence. Obesity is another issue that comes into play because the parents don’t discipline their kids enough to choose healthier products and instead feed them all the non-healthy food that is easily available at any given moment.

Kathleen: Do you have a sense of why people (parents) eat unhealthy foods instead of healthy ones?

Gilbert: I think that the people eat unhealthy because they don’t have anyone to tell them differently or teach them classes on healthy products just like we do with Edible School Garden. Not only that, but also its what they grew up learning so it’s in there genes long before they are even brought into the world. I strongly believe that to be true because everyone here is born and raised on the reservation, not knowing anything else other than what is being served to them on the dinner table. So it makes it easier to hate all the vegetables and fruits that are supposed to be healthy for them.

Kathleen: How do you see your service addressing all of these challenges?

Gilbert: I see my service addressing these issues by working through the kids. By that I mean teaching and showing these kids healthy from non-healthy items. I hope that kids take home and share with their parents the information they get from our classes. I hope too that the parents will come to us with questions about healthy eating lifestyles.

Kathleen: What is the biggest challenge you face in your service? What is the biggest reward?

Gilbert: My biggest challenge I face in my year of service is coming out of this successfully, having touched many lives and changed the community for the better and for the future of the kids. My biggest reward I would have to say is knowing that I helped make change in my community, especially with getting the youth on the right foot and never going astray from what we have taught them.

Kathleen: What is your favorite part of being a FoodCorps service member?

Gilbert: My favorite part of being a FoodCorps service member is interacting with my Apache youth--teaching them through food that they have had many connections with life even dating back to their ancestors. I like teaching them that this healthy lifestyle has been provided for them even before their time came. The trick is getting them back to their ancestral roots by reintroducing them to the wild foods that grow here. Through the lessons we teach in Edible School Gardens kids now know that there are other alternatives when it comes to choosing what to eat.

Kathleen: How has your service changed you?

Gilbert: I have changed by utilizing what we teach the kids. Knowing in the back of my mind that the kids are doing their part so I figured I’d do my part and step up to the calling that has been presented to me. I am taking the opportunity that FoodCorps has given me and bettering my life not only by choosing to be healthier, but also by being an example to the kids.

Interested in becoming a FoodCorps service member?
Applications are open now through March 24th. You can watch the recruitment video here or go directly to the FoodCorps website to learn more back
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