Zuni Pueblo Waffle Gardens and the Zuni Sustainable Agriculture Project

Name of case study

Zuni Pueblo Waffle Gardens and the Zuni Sustainable Agriculture Project

Location

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico

Year

Indigenous people have been creating waffle gardens in this area for thousands of years. The Zuni Sustainable Agriculture Project has been working in the area since the 1990s to revitalise indigenous agriculture practices. 

Scale

building/single site scale.

Area / size:

n/a

NbS employed

Waffle gardens

Initiator

The people of Zuni Pueblo and the Zuni Sustainable Agriculture Project

Funder

N/A

Budget

N/A

Design group

The people of Zuni Pueblo and the Zuni Sustainable Agriculture Project

Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) Summer Camp. Photo by Sid Richadson Museum.
Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) Summer Camp. Photo by Sid Richadson Museum.
Climate change benefits
  • changes in rainfall
  • desertification
  • drought
  • loss of food production
  • urban heat island effect
  • reduced freshwater availability / quality

The Zuni Pueblo region is projected to see more intense droughts and storms in the coming years (Moran, 2021) and the area will see intensified weather patterns. Waffle gardens can be used to grow food to create food security, support local species and enhance local biodiversity. Waffle gardens create local food resources, without using irrigation or watering. People can take water from the local streams, or rely on the small amount of rainfall the region receives as enough water to keep the waffle gardens functioning well. 

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • food security
  • fresh water security and quality

The recent pandemic highlighted issues with a reliance on supply chains and importing food globally. Backyard gardens are a way for small communities to rely less on grocery stores, and imported foods, and more on their lands (and oceans). Many people in Te Moananui Oceania currently rely on imported food. Waffle gardens can be a way for the Zuni people to reconnect to historical agricultural practices that worked for thousands of years. 

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Ecological benefits
  • Cultural diversity and history
  • Education and knowledge
  • Food production

Waffle gardening uses traditional knowledge of the earth, the climate and natural vegetation to sustain resources. The waffle gardens of the Zuni Pueblo can serve as an excellent example of sustainable agricultural practices.   

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Summary of case study

In Zuni Pueblo, there has been a resurgence of waffle gardening. The local people are feeling effects of climate change similar to some of those observed in Te Moananui Oceania; particularly water quantity and quality issues exacerbated as temperatures rise. The Zuni Sustainable Agriculture Project has been working since the 1990s to revitalise sustainable Zuni farming, based on Indigenous practices and knowledge (Cleveland et al., 1995). The project established waffle gardens in primary schools in the area, as well as at the local Zuni museum, the hospital, the senior centre, and around the village. The project helps people to create their own backyard waffle gardens, and demonstrates modernised methods, such as using wooden planks instead of traditional clay/soil walls. 

The project’s leader, Daniel Bowannie, hopes that eventually, every household in the Zuni village will have a backyard garden, and that a small garden could cut grocery bills (Moran, 2021). The gardens create independence, increase resilience and provide spaces for community connection. 

Providing a community with the means to create reliable food sources, and increase their independence and resilience to climate change, with a method that allows people to reconnect with their ancestral traditions is invaluable.

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