soil & water conservation
The following interview with Priscilla Abeita is the third of a series of profiles of women serving on the board of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.
Q You’re the first woman of the Pueblo of Isleta to serve on the VSWCD board, and you were sworn in by the first woman governor of Isleta, Chief Judge Emeritus Verna Teller. What inspired you to serve on the VSWCD board?
A I always say to myself, ‘Ask not what your community can do for you, but what you can do to help your community.’ I’ve always wanted to help my community in any way that I can.
When I moved back to Isleta in 2016, I made it a point to attend information sessions and conferences about the environment, spending a lot of money out of pocket to learn, rather than wasting money going out. Judge Teller is one of the Native American women who I looked up to, and I’ve seen her at some of the environmental conferences and meet-ups at Isleta. She also was part of our community garden efforts and her family offered up land for the gardens.
I’m really glad to be a part of a movement to revitalize our soil, garden, and grow our food in a healthy environment, which will grow our community in a healthy way. I was asked to join the VSWCD board by Vice Chairwoman Smith de Cherif, and it was a real honor to have Judge Teller administer my oath of office; I wasn’t expecting that.
Q Tell me about your own conservation efforts.
A I am part of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Soil Network. As a Healthy Soils champion, I am striving to get more Pueblo people involved in exploring healthy soils initiatives and regenerative agriculture, getting them familiar with the processes and letting them know how they can be a part of the healthy soils network.
At the recent Isleta Environmental Fair, I helped staff the Healthy Soils table, and was able to secure a table for the district. That was the first time the VSWCD participated in our Pueblo’s environmental fair, and I think it was helpful in letting Pueblo people know about district programs.
I believe this outreach will broaden my community’s perspective on farming — how they can do better, increase their yields, and provide more food. Hopefully, at some point in the future, we’ll have a food network and gardener-farmer cooperative at Isleta and throughout the district.
Q What are some additional ways the district can increase outreach to the Pueblo of Isleta and the Pueblo of Laguna?
A I think it would be great for the VSWCD to resume holding board meetings in the communities. For example, we could request permission to have one of our monthly board meetings at the Pueblo of Isleta and another at the Pueblo of Laguna. At those meetings, we could offer special presentations on topics of interest to the Pueblo communities.
We also could continue to participate in fairs and other programs at the Pueblos and build dialogue with the Pueblo leadership.
Q What is your vision for the district in the years ahead?
A I would like there to be increased communication and dialogue, meaningful ties, and more combined work between the Pueblo of Isleta and the VSWCD. I know that both want to work together. We’re all in the same book, but maybe in different chapters. I hope that being a good liaison will achieve my goal of helping my community.
The Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District will hold its annual Desert Willow and Pollinator Festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16, at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. There will be a guided walk, monarch butterfly tagging, and talks in the Visitor Center. The festival will offer desert willow seedlings for sale, local vendors, food trucks, and lots of fun.
Also, mark your calendar for an evening of Whitfield under the Stars on Saturday, Nov. 11.
The district is accepting applications through Nov. 15 for its Dan Goodman environmental awards for high school students throughout the district. Only completed applications will be accepted. For more information, contact [email protected].
(Abel Camarena is chairman of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation Board of Supervisors. He retired from the U.S. Forest Service and has served as director of Natural Resources of the Pueblo of Isleta.)