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SPCS Talks vol.9 | Indigenous Agriculture and Resilience

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A dimmed image of Michael Kotutwa Johnson, a Native American man, standing among low stalks of corn in a sandy field. He is wearing a red baseball cap, sunglasses, a denim jacket and jeans, and brown boots. He holds a planting stick in his left hand. Over the image is text:

Over thousands of years, the Hopi people have perfected dryland farming in the arid climate of what is today Arizona. Michael Kotutwa Johnson carries on that legacy as a 253rd-generation agriculturalist, advocating for a revival of Indigenous knowledge and practices, and a renewed respect for land cultivation as a cultural practice.

Wed, July 10, 2024  UTC+09:00

10:00 – 11:00

Online Session

Free Please register to receive the livestream link and video archive

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Two images. Left: Michael Kotutwa Johnson kneels in his field, tending to a small ear of corn. Right: Johnson's home, made of sandstone bricks in a traditional Hopi style, in the Arizona desert.

Michael Kotutwa Johnson cultivates various plants on his farm, and he constructed his home with sandstone using traditional techniques. (Photo credit: Michael Kotutwa Johnson)

In more and more areas, summer is becoming synonymous with drought—and with it, crop failure and hardship for those who live off the land. But for the past 3,000 years, the Hopi people have lived and farmed in the American Southwest, where annual rainfall averages just 20–25 cm (8–10 in). Their traditional practice of dryland farming has enabled them to sustain themselves for generations in a land that the untrained eye may consider barren. What can we learn from them?

A photo of harvested pink corn, lying among their husks on the ground.

Through thousands of years of selective breeding, Hopi people have cultivated various crops and honed agricultural practices adapted to their climate and available resources. (Photo credit: Michael Kotutwa Johnson)

Michael Kotutwa Johnson is a member of the Hopi Tribe and an expert in Indigenous resilience. He grows crops like corn, beans, and squash without irrigation on the Hopi reservation in northern Arizona. As an assistant specialist in Indigenous resiliency at the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Johnson advocates for the recognition of Indigenous knowledge and its integration into contemporary farming practices.

At our ninth SPCS Talk, we will highlight Johnson’s work with Hopi dryland farming as not just a technique, but as a cornerstone of community and spiritual life going back millennia. It is truly restorative agriculture: it heals the land as well as the people who rely on it. We can draw parallels between Hopi and Japanese culture from the standpoint of agriculture as culture, and as a facet of traditional life that is part of the solution to the climate crisis — and is threatened by it.

Place is central to Hopi agriculture: rather than adapting the land to fit crops with fertilizers or irrigation, farmers change their planting methods and timing. The act of cultivation is rooted in values of contributing to the environment and the place you call home, while not taking more than you need. To Johnson, these place-based values are as important to modern farming as techniques and technology.

Regenerative agriculture and other movements have gained traction in recent years, with techniques such as no-till farming that conserve the health of the soil. In countries across the world, agriculturalists and researchers are searching for ways to make farming more sustainable both for the farmers and the environment, all while trying to adapt to a rapidly destabilizing climate.

In fields from agriculture to economics, it’s becoming clear that a shift in attitude as well as action is needed. Proponents of regenerative agriculture often draw on traditional practices from Indigenous agriculture, bringing old knowledge to bear on new problems. By bringing together time-tested techniques — and the beliefs that underpin them — with modern research methods, we can find new connections, make new opportunities, and create new value in communities across the globe.

A photo of a group of school-age children following Johnson through his field. They are surrounded by stalks of corn that are nearly as tall as they are, sprouting out of the tan soil. The sky is blue with some wispy clouds.

While he often travels domestically and internationally to speak about his work, Johnson aso enjoys sharing his work with the local community and teaching children about agriculture. (Photo credit: Michael Kotutwa Johnson)

References

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Johnson and his work, please check out the following media:

 

  • Individuals and designers with an interest in connections between people and place.
  • Agriculturalists, individualists, or researchers interested in food sovereignty, indigenous rights, and culture-based community organizing.
  • Researchers, scientists, and thinkers concerned with regenerative agriculture and global agricultural practices from different cultures.
  • People who are trying to get involved in regenerative agriculture, land-based circular economy practices, and investors and financial institutions interested in impact investing in community agriculture.
  • This program will be conducted in English. (There are plans to provide either real-time interpretation or display automatic translation text, but please note that not all talks may be covered.)
  • We reserve the right to change this program with no prior notice.
  • Michael Kotutwa Johnson

    Assistant Specialist-Indigenous Resiliency Center, University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment

    Dr. Johnson is a member of the Hopi Tribe in northern Arizona whose research focuses on Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Land Use Management schemes related to food, energy, conservation and water. He currently is an Assistant Professor-Indigenous Resilience with the University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Cooperative Extension, and the Indigenous Resilience Center. Dr. Johnson is also a traditional Hopi dryland farmer whose people have been living and growing crops in the semi-arid Southwest for millennia.

    Dr. Johnson is a member of the Hopi Tribe in northern Arizona whose research focuses on Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Land Use Management schemes related to food, energy, conservation and water. He currently is an Assistant Professor-Indigenous Resilience with the University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Cooperative Extension, and the Indigenous Resilience Center. Dr. Johnson is also a traditional Hopi dryland farmer whose people have been living and growing crops in the semi-arid Southwest for millennia.

  • Gina Goosby

    Creative Director, Loftwork Inc.

    Born and raised in the United States. Graduated from Swarthmore College with a major in Japanese and a minor in computer science. As an undergraduate, Gina studied abroad at Doshisha University in Kyot, where they conducted research on the local Zainichi Korean community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they co-founded the New Suns book subscription box, aiming to promote literature and art by LGBTQ+ people and creators of color. In their free time, they make handcrafted webpages and enjoy the Web slowly.

    Born and raised in the United States. Graduated from Swarthmore College with a major in Japanese and a minor in computer science. As an undergraduate, Gina studied abroad at Doshisha University in Kyot, where they conducted research on the local Zainichi Korean community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they co-founded the New Suns book subscription box, aiming to promote literature and art by LGBTQ+ people and creators of color. In their free time, they make handcrafted webpages and enjoy the Web slowly.

Timetable

10:00 - 10:10

Greetings & Introductions

10:10 - 10:30

Presentation - Indigenous Agriculture and Resilience
Michael Kotutwa Johnson

10:30 - 10:55

Question & Answer
- Viewers may ask questions during the live streaming or before the event through the registration form

10:55 - 11:00

Closing

Information

Date & Time

Wed, July 10, 2024 10:00 – 11:00 UTC+09:00

Venue

Online Session

Fee

Free Please register to receive the livestream link and video archive

Organizers & Sponsors

Organizer: SPCS (Loftwork Inc.)

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