Polacca, Arizona

Natwani Coalition Hopi Health Center, Special Diabetes Program

Spring, 2005

11am-3pm, first and third Tuesdays of every month

For more info, contact Andrew Lewis, Program Coordinator, at (928) 737-4646 or Natwani@hotmail.com

The Hopi Reservation in northeast Arizona is a food “desert” in more ways than one. Consisting of a handful of small villages amidst a wide-open desert, it is more than an hour’s drive over rocky, sandy terrain to the nearest supermarket. The reservation itself offers little in the way of fresh, affordable produce, only small grocery stores that sell snack foods and canned goods. The difficulty of accessing fresh fruits and vegetables is exacerbated by a low car-ownership rate and minimal public transportation on and around the reservation. Among other health concerns, rising obesity and diabetes rates on the reservation –and among Native populations in general–have reached crisis proportions. Of the 7000 people who use the local health center, 1600 adults have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. A 2002 study by Hopi Healthcare revealed that of 836 elementary school students, 48% of children were overweight or obese. In addition, a 2003 survey of 328 elementary school students indicated that 55% were outside of the healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) range.

To help address this incredible lack of access to fresh, nutritious food, the Hopi Health Center, the reservation’s only health facility, and the Natwani Coalition, a non-profit group under the auspices of the Hopi Foundation, partnered in early 2005 to bring a farmers market to the community. Though technically not yet a market, as there is still only one vendor, the fledgling program has brought fresh, quality produce – from heirloom tomatoes to fresh winter greens – to the reservation for the first time in many years. The market itself is strategically located in front of the health care center, providing additional opportunities for health outreach by clinic staff.

The market’s lone farmer travels over 4 and 1/2 hours from Glendale, AZ, just outside Phoenix. Although he sells at other markets closer to his farm, he is willing to make the long trip to Hopi for a number of reasons. First, he was honored to be invited to spend time on the reservation. But he also comes because of the market’s draw: demand for his fruits and vegetables is so high among residents, in fact, that he usually sells out his entire supply within 40 minutes of setting up. His own ability to meet this tremendous demand is limited because of both the size of his farm and that of his truck, so to help fill the gap, the Natwani Coalition is trying to get a second farmer before the season is over. Eventually, the community would like to be supported by farmers working on Hopi ancestral lands, but realize that it will take a significant amount of outreach to attract farmers.

The health center’s goal in starting the market, in addition to improving access to fresh, affordable produce, was to emphasize healthy eating and community involvement. Although not yet even through its first season, the Hopi Farmers Market is already starting to have an impact in both of these categories.

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