Nearly a century ago the Gila River was siphoned off by farmers, leaving a dependent Indian community stranded from natural resources for farming and plunging them into starvation. The U.S. government provided aid – in the form of white flour, lard, canned meats, and other processed foods that combined with the Indians’ genetic disposition started an epidemic of diabetes in the community (one of the highest in the world). Ack.
Recently, a settlement was reached so that the Indians in the community are getting some of their water back. The question is – is it too late?
Many tribal members worry about turning the reservation back to farming after generations have sought alternative lifestyles that include fast food and little exercise. Here's a stat that shocked us - more than 50 percent of the adult population over the age of 25 have diabetes. In comparison, a sister tribe in Mexico that continued farming and eating natural food have “normal” rates of diabetes and obesity, compared to the Pima population. (We hesitate to categorize such large amounts of diabetes today as “normal” but in direct comparison we see their point.)
The reservation has discussed farming on 40 percent of its acres and still plans to avoid large housing developments, which will double the amount of farming and will be a cultural and economic “boon” to the community. Currently, a community garden of only two acres exists and provides vegetables like squash and beans.
One of the founders of the garden, Ed Mendoza, described relearning to grow gardens and reimpliment farming in The New York Times: “People get sick with diabetes, they’re obese, and there are heart attacks and stress because we eat an American diet now. Beans regulate the highs and lows of sugar. Okra makes you healthy. You can eat this food and feel the spirit immediately.”
We hope that farming and returning to a diet increased in natural foods will help the community and simultaneously set an incredible example for our nation in a time of daily fast-food runs. We need more gardens everywhere - or how about some federal subsidies for buying vegatables. Obama? McCain? Hello?