Volunteers and Tewa Women United officials continue work on the Española Healing Foods Oasis, and reflected on the progress they have made in changing the physical make-up and symbolic meaning of Valdez Park.
More than 50 people showed up on Sept. 2, for the Española Healing Foods Oasis Regeneration Festival, at the park.
They planted seven trees, including Honeycrisp apple, Evans Bali cherry and apricots. They also wrote prayers for their children and tied them to one of the trees.
Tewa Women United officials plan to extend the Oasis’s existing irrigation system to reach the new trees, which are at the bottom of the hill, next to some new concrete planters.
Children also created their own print booklets, or ’zines, completed a recycled art project, saw a solar oven demonstration by the Abiquiú-based Northern Youth Project, and a wool washing, spinning and carding demonstration by the Santa Cruz-based Four Bridges Traveling Permaculture Institute.
The festival was part of a weekend of free education, demonstrations, food, activities and performing arts entertainment called Alimento Towa eh Huu’stong’yo, sponsored by Northern New Mexico College.
Sylvia Dennis, of Taos, donated an additional four trees to the Oasis, including a Fremont cottonwood, a chokecherry, a Blue Spruce and a Silver Buffalo berry.
Dennis, who runs a nursery in Taos, said the Silver Buffalo berry is the native alternative to the Russian Olive, which is commonly planted, but takes too much water and can crowd out other plants.
Kathy Sanchez, a founder of Tewa Women United, gave a blessing in Tewa and English, of the area’s youth and elderly, at the beginning and end of the festival, connecting the symbol of a person’s lifespan to that of a plant, from seed to harvest.
Her daughter, Tewa Women United Executive Director Corrine Sanchez, said the blessing highlights the idea that children absorb everything around them, and encourages people to pass on the principles of love, kindness and compassion to children so that they can properly respond to times of adversity.
“We’re thinking about how we reclaim our legacy to farming and agriculture,” Corrine Sanchez said. “How we look at the diversity of our ecosystems and what we need to protect, in order to continue to live together in this place.”
Corrine Sanchez said the Oasis is a symbol of the efforts by people in the Española Valley to honor inclusion, and focus on the gifts provided by Mother Earth.
“(The Oasis) is continuously reminding us of our responsibility, as two-leggeds (sic), to continue that spirit of nurturing, of love,” Corrine Sanchez said. “Especially in this time that we’re in, which is a repetitive piece of history, because we still need to learn something. As a community, as people, how do we love each other, in spite of our differences?”
Tewa Women United Environmental Health and Justice Program Coordinator Beata Tsosie-Peña, who has led the organization of the Oasis, read her poem about how Valdez Park is a space where multiple stories about the Española Valley can co-exist.
The park is named after Phil Valdez, a veteran, and one of the playground areas is called Venessa’s hideaway, named after Venessa Valerio, who was shot and killed in 1993, when she was nine years old.
“How beautiful a park can exist in dual roles of intention,” the poem states, in part. “A young girl and a war hero never forgotten in continuance of our strength; If we are to heal we must love and care for each other; Complete in our shared words and broken hearts beneath solemn clouds; That once flowed through streams and rivers and now has joined with sky; Blessing earth with moisture, wet soil, a place for seeds and youth to flourish.”
The Oasis broke ground in May 2016 and so far, thousands of hours of volunteer work have been put into it, Tewa Women United Volunteer and Fundraising Coordinator Maia Duerr said.
Amaranth seeds planted last spring have become fully-grown, and there will be an amaranth harvesting workshop on Sept. 16. The plants at the Oasis are catching water that drains down from the Española city hall parking lot, as the design intended, Tsosie-Peña said.
“The whole design is based on a deep love and respect for water, and an urban watershed,” she said. “It’s catching water from that urban parking lot, which otherwise was just a big erosion problem, and now we’re harvesting it, so it’s percolating through the whole garden, which is what our traditional indigenous agriculture taught us.”
Work on the project will continue for at least two more years, Corrine Sanchez said.
“I’m overcome, because if you had been here a year-and-a-half ago, or even two years ago, you would have seen this place, and it was just as hard as the soil that we’re standing on now,” she said. “This is a place we are blessed to be a part of, but is also facing a lot of challenges.”
Sanchez said many people tend to drive through Española and view it as a place full of violence and addiction, and miss out on the area’s deep roots and opportunities for cultures to come together.