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, a network of leaders connecting kids to real food, 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 (450g) block of cheddar cheese, discovered that it cost $7.00. In that same store, one can buy 308 ounces of soda (9 liters) 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 the local 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. I’ve seen kids try all the vegetables and fruits we brought 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.
By Kathleen Yetman, FoodCorps Fellow and Gilbert Ivins, FoodCorps service member
Article adapted from the Slow Food USA blog.
Image: Center for American Indian Health