Bay Native Circle

Bay Native Circle March 22 2023 – Morning Star Gali Interviews yAyA & Cathy Jackson interview two young Navajo women, owners of Dolii farms

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On this editon of Bay Native Circle, on 03/22/23 Morning Star Gali hosts and Interviews poet activist yAyA; then Cathy Jackson interview two young Navajo women, owners of Dolii farms.

Below we have a rough transcript done by Cathy Jackson for the Dolii Farms interview.

Today we’re going to interview two young women who are farmers on the Navajo reservation.  Can you please say your names and the names of your company?  And where you live on the reservation.

Yes, my name’s Jeneva Ben  (speaks in Dine traditionally introducing herself by clan) Those are my clans and how I am recognized on the Navajo reservation.  And within the reservation, we live in a community called Shiprock, New Mexico…which is one of the biggest um farming communities on the reservation. And sitting with me is my sister, and she’ll introduce herself.

Hello, we represent Dolii Farms LLC, and my name is najazoni Rain Ben, my clans are ye’dine B….(introduces in Dine). And as she mentioned we both reside in Shiprock, New Mexico.

C question:  And how did you both decide to become farmers?


For me personally, this is Jeneva  I really dove into farming when I was going to New Mexico State University…I originally went there to become a veterinarian, and I also taken college courses with in my time at the high get ahead on my veterinarian career that I was thinking about doing at the time.


And while I was at NMSU, it hit me that I really enjoyed farming, due to driving around the campus..they grow Alfalfa, and Pecans that surrounds the university.  And whenever I got really overwhelmed in schoolwork, or homesick– because it was about six hours away from where I reside on the Navajo reservation– it’s in Las Cruces, New Mexico.


And..whenever I really want to talk to my family– and I couldn’t get a hold of them..I would go to the fields, the alfalfa fields and just sit there and just smell the alfalfa. And it reminded me of home…reminded me of when I was young and loved by my family and they supported every decision I far.



And that love and passion for my family and my nation..and for food overall..I realized that I wanted to become a farmer.  Well, I was a farmer at the time, but..getting a degree in farming.


I called my father and I told him that I no longer wanted to pursue my veterinarian career…but I wanted to become a legit farmer in the western society.  And asked what degree I could go for in that.


So he called a friend of his..and he called me back and told me that there is a degree called “Agronomy.”  So I went to my academic advisor and asked them if they had an Agronomy degree at NMS university and they said yes.


So they sent me to a professor– I went to talk with him, and he told me what Agronomy is..and can be for a community.  And from there on I decided that I wanted to be an Agronomist.


Agronomy– the definition is the science of soil management and crop production.  My emphasis is in crop consulting…that way when I do come home to the Navajo Nation I would be able to consult with my farmers ..farmer peers here on the reservation ..and help them understand the new techniques of farming…which I was educated through western universities.


So with that in mind, I really engulfed myself in my classes, different after school programs there at the of the clubs I loved was horticulture club.. And then I knew my love for farming preceded

The veterinary career I wanted.  And that’s how I got into um, more interested in becoming a farmer.


Yes, hello, this is Najazhoni, and one underlying lesson we’ve learned is through education..we had to pursue it off- reservation..we understood the importance of kinship? And how we are really tied to our people in terms of wanting to help them…and just wanting to be back on the reservation once we got off.


So for me I was able to study at the University of New Mexico, which is in Albuquerque..and the drive isn’t too long…but itI was far enough– I was getting homesick pretty bad..on my first year there…and one thing I really noticed that ..I really missed looking at the stars…and not only that, but the constant reality of just having to step on cement all the time (chuckles) there’s not a lot of cement here in Shiprock…I think just those little things affected me, in wanting to come back.


And so..right now I’m studying economics at the university of New Mexico, and I’m on a gap year, and focusing on our farming business and expanding it in that way.


C:  Well..who in your family– was anyone in your family growing corn..before you guys or ..who in your family taught you about the process of drying the corn?


Yes..our father…Joe Ben junior…was the leader of showing us how to farm…put the seed in the it and create the product of dried steam corn.


He learned it from his father …and obviously the farming back then was different … they had to do hands on…more hands on work at the farm, meaning they would cultivate with hoes…whereas now we have tractors to do that…heavy hard work.


Other than that..the way of growing it and cooking it is the he had done it before.


C:  Were you doing this before the pandemic? Or since the pandemic?


We farmed when we were young..ahm, back then it was more farming to feed our family– our immediate family. And then as we grew older.. I would say when we were getting more into middle school and high school–that’s when we started farming, or leasing from other farmers..and there on we decided to start selling the product to the communities, and during fairs, the flea market..ah getting orders for weddings and birthday parties, and that’s how we understood the business part of the selling to the community, communicating with them and understanding that there is a profit to be made on Navajo Nation farm.


Yes and…we just grew up in’s our way of life now it was when we were younger.  So we would wake up early in the morning, go out to run on the fields, hoe..and irrigate, and all the way through the day..and then at night we would

Me and my sister started school we still had to do it Our dad still expected to help you at the farm and sell at in the weekend at the Flea Market, and we learned a lot of discipline..


And what type of person you have to be to continue this and make it your job? was just– when you’re younger you didn’t think about like..the money aspect.. But that was our only financial income coming into our family


Other than our father’s artwork?  So, it was really interesting.. In seeing that..that we’re able to survive off that and um…


And to share it with our community–but not only that..when we got into college, we understood the western methods of running a successful farming business, and the pros and cons of doing business with your family.


And…I’d say going to school and working with our father really helped us create our farming business


C:  Do you see any say doing business in the urban environment and..doing business on the rez? 10:51 Are there any obstacles you’ve had on either side of that?


Yes, definitely there are many being a indigenous farmer..on any reservation.  For Navajo Nation, particularly is what we see is there’s no Agriculture extension agents for us.


An Agriculture extension agent… what I’ve learned at NMSU is  a person who takes on the role of becoming an agent for the people..and for  farmers..and ranchers..and ranchers in particular.   And what they do is they go to them in the beginning of the year, and they lay out a whole farming plan with them, and advising them on what grants they can apply for, what type of fertilizers they can use, what type of chemical plants they can go to – to buy cheap fertilizer, where they can go to get their seeds, the different markets that are coming, how to run a farming business..


So many different..ahm important aspects of farming they teach.  However…we do have a San Juan county extension agent– agriculture extension agent ..but they don’t cross the reservation border..they stay on New Mexico border.


And the reason?  I have no idea. Ahm, they help many farmers off reservation..if you drive east of Shiprock.. You’re coming to a community called Hogback– excuse me..Waterflow, New Mexico..and’ll see many farms there.


And you keep driving up to Kirtland, New Mexico..again, there are farms there. How they get their big expensive equipment, their seeds, their fertilizers..that’s through the extension agent who helps them every year.


However, when you drive into Navajo don’t get that necessity…you don’t get that’s not handed to us..and never has been.  How Navajo farmers got their agricultural knowledge from western people was through BIA .. Bureau of Indian Affairs.


Back in the 1900’s ..there they taught us how to farm our fields using the western methods.   And when I was at school..they said…how to prepare your land.. You have to do seven steps.


You gotta plow.. First you have to walk your field..look at the soil, see if it be able to hold a seed, and yield a lot..for example if the soil is too sandy or’s not gonna be a really good soil to hold a seed or hold the it has to be a  pretty  good nice organic soil that can really grow the seed.


After that you have to plow the soil..many other different  agricultural terms – but basically you have to rip up the soil, and you do that after every season..after every harvest of your field.


However, at school we learned that’s not a really good way to farm..There’s different farming techniques that were learned by indigenous people such as…no till..which means when you grow ah..if you can visualize a corn field.. Your grow that, you harvest the leave the cornstalks on the field, until next year.


Then all you do is disc it, don’t plow the corn stalks under where it goes, or you rake off the cornstalks you just leave the corn stalks on there..and you disc the field. So the cornstalks will still be on the field.

14:48  And then you plant over it. .


And that creates organic matter– and that’s how our fam– not our family but our ancestors..ahm..farmed, when they were here. (truck noise) Excuse me, there’s some farm trucks driving down our lane…with a lot of hay..(chuckles)


Sorry about back to what I was saying..that type of farming, our father was able to teach us..on how to not really..ruin the land with chemicals, or overplowing or overdiscing ..and that’s how I want it to be.


So when I went to school, the things they taught me..I’ve learned..but I’ve also chose to leave some of those teachings behind… because I know that in the long run, it’s not healthy for the soil.


So, the teachings offered by western farmers and the different companies that help them, they don’t come to the Navajo Nation to teach us these new methods. So that’s why I was very grateful to go to New Mexico State and for them to teach me what is not taught on the reservations.


And again…I do not know –I don’t know why those agents don’t come to the reservation to teach us the most simplest things..and– but that’s ok, because what the Navajo Nation has is youth..youth that are wanting to learn..that are wanting to better our livelihood..that want to push our sovereignty and food energy , etc..and me and my sister are one of those youth that are spearheading that change for the Navajo Nation.


And the change is just basically gaining knowledge on how to better our farms.  Our people ..the food ..and the other things that we face ..that really hurt us as farmers is the lack of responsibility of our western neighbors when it comes to natural catastrophes..such as the Gold King Mine spill.


We weren’t compensated as how the western farmers were compensated, we had no natural catastrophe aid during the Gold King Mine spill ..meaning no one came over here to haul water for us


Our own government also lacked that, because they didn’t know how …how to keep thousands of acres of Navajo farms alive when we couldn’t use that river back in 2016.


So, in that year..over 95 per cent of the farms died..because we couldn’t use the water due to  the heavy metal contamination. However, the western farmers..they had water supplied such as dams that they created in case – which means, they already knew that..maybe one day in the Rockies..those mines might break and come into the water, so we have to have a contingency plan.


And Navajo Nation did not have a contingency plan..we did not think further ahead on the different evils we could face as farmers ..and due to that we lacked so many things during that catastrophe


But also we weren’t offered any help at all. So due to all these real life situations we face as indigenous farmers ..and the lack of assistance and my sister realized we have to be the ones to speak..not only for ourselves as indigenous farmers, not only for the nation ..but for our land..our water ..our water rights ..and our air rights.


And with all this a young Navajo woman farmer..our love for continuing our traditional way of farming ..our product, dried steam corn..we had to really look into ..what are we going to do as a business..not just to make are we going to help our people..


How are we going to pull in all these ..aids, such as grants..or being able to speak up in Chapter meetings and having a say in ..ahm off-reservation things pertaining to the water..As a young Navajo have to realize that things won’t be handed to have to work hard for it.


And fortunately, we had a father who really made us work hard during our youth – but to us it was fun, and it is still fun to this day..farming..but it really instilled in us  Integrity, self-discipline ..ahm, love..compassion for each other, kinship, and many more things that are unspoken..


C:  I’m hoping that someone out there listening will be able to direct you on some of the resources that are available ..especially for women in business there anything else you’d like to add?  And please give your contact information.


I believe one thing I could we’re trying to and my sister is bringing in the youth to farming.  What I mean by that is ..if you look at the numbers of how many number of farmers here today in many of them are over the age of 65..over 85 per cent of these farmers here in Shiprock are over the age of 65.


Meaning..there are no young farmers..there’s probably–  say 25 per cent of the farmers are around my sister and my age..and below the age of 30.  And that’s not a really good ratio.  Cause what happens when elders– elder farmers pass on.


Who are they passing their farms to?  And what are those farmers gonna do with those farms?  A lot of the farms here are in probate..people are fighting in court..and/or people just don’t care… and they just leave Navajo Nation because they don’t know how to farm.


That part is what me and my sister really want to emphasize and helping our reservation is by going to the schools to do little class exercises with the children with agriculture, and having the kids understand that their land is worth something..


Their land is very valuable, their water is very valuable..and I believe these teachings are just understanding is very not widely spoken on..and the resources that are out there..aren’t readily accessible to the people that are living on the Navajo Nation right


Just as we said..there’s no office on the Navajo Nation, nor in the biggest community –farming community in the Navajo Nation ready to take on these type of questions or having actionable plans to help the people.

23:11 thing that I’d say – would really help us is just for my sister and I is to really build our foundation of our business in order to be that advisor ..that agent, that leader in our culture community here on the Navajo Nation to spearhead all these different issues and come up with solutions with the youth.


And hopefully gain trust with our elders farmers and hopefully pass that down to us and their children and to be comfortable with that.

Yes, and you may contact us at a phone number which is 505 420 7167 or send us a message on Instagram or Facebook under the name of Dolii Farms LLC to get in contact with us.


C: Can you spell Dolii Farms for the people please?


C:  Thank you so much.