Mormon Channel Blog

Here to Help: Navajo Garden Project

June 25, 2015

Those living on the Navajo reservation in Tuba City, Arizona, struggled to grow gardens for years due to the dry climate and tainted soil. Once gardens started to spring up, neighbors wondered how the owners made it happen. The gardeners told them that they learned how to cultivate their land in a provident living classes. Volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began teaching provident living courses to the Navajo people so they could become self-sufficient.

We spoke with Dr. Wade Sperry, Field Operation Manager for Welfare Services in the Church. Learn even more by listening to the Here to Help episode based on this inspiring story.

Dr. Sperry, tell us how this program started and why it is succeeding.

Well, the natives had the desire to get back to producing their own food and being self-sufficient.  And the volunteers had a desire to teach. Really, there was a two-way desire to get the garden going. The gardening experts and couple missionaries were willing to go down and share their knowledge, so they started the provident living classes. The project developed, and the natives learned how to cultivate their land, take out the weeds, and keep the animals out. It wasn’t just work; you could see something in their eyes light up because it was something they were learning to do.

Families that were living close together started to visit one another and help one another. The families in the community became closer through the project.

So, you offer provident living classes to these Native Americans. What does "provident living" mean?

Provident living means thinking about the future, thinking about how to be prepared, thinking about how to take care of yourself so someone else doesn’t have to. So it means to plan and to be ready. It’s not just physical planning, but it is also spiritual, as well as intellectual, so you can be a good member of society. In the big scheme of things it also means being a good neighbor and being able to help others.

For the Navajos it was about not relying on imports or traveling to get fresh produce. They are provident because they are able to grow and have fresh produce throughout the year.

Who does this project serve?

Over the six years it has been operating, it has served Navajos and Apaches. It’s hard to know how many people it has affected, but there are always 10 to 30 people in the classes.

When it was first starting up how did the native people feel about it?

They weren’t growing any gardens when we got there. They were skeptical at first; they felt that the ground was too hot and dry. But our goal was to get a few families to try it, and then more people got interested.

Now the church and community leaders are very much on board and excited about it. It really caught on.

What do you hope the Navajo people get out of the classes?

I hope that they learn about hard work and teamwork, that together they can do things they couldn’t do before. I hope they learn that they don’t need missionaries to come down to them and teach them. We want them to share their skills with their own communities and keep it going.

What do the volunteers get out of that experience?

My parents went down for the first six months, and one thing that they learned was to absolutely love the area even though it was a rough desert condition. And they learned that they absolutely loved working with others. They made great friends.

What can the average person do in their local communities to help themselves and others live more providently?

I was talking to a friend the other day that said he had pruned 90 fruit trees over the past several weeks. I knew he had 10-12 trees of his own so I asked him where he found the rest of the 90 trees.  He found trees to prune from his elderly neighbor, that couldn’t do it on his own. I think looking for small and simple things to do, like this friend of mine, is a way that we can be a blessing to others and increase the providence in our lives.

The other day I picked up a book written by President Eyring, flipped it open and read how he wanted to do something nice for someone that day. He felt that he should make the bed for his wife. It can be that simple in your own home. Look for opportunities to serve within your home. Start looking for opportunities.