The Hopi – Early Innovators of Dry Land Farming

The Native Americans of the dry American Southwest creatively solved the problem of farming with very little rainfall by independently inventing and implementing the dry land farming agricultural technique. The ancient Anasazi people as well as the long-present Hopi, Tewa, Zuni, and Navajo tribes continue to use the innovations of their ancestors to farm their native lands. Today, Hopi farmers cultivate corn, melons, beans, squash, carrots, onions, and peas.

The Hopi have been able to adapt to their arid desert climate by using different agricultural methods. These methods include dry farming in the washes or valleys between the mesas as well as gardening on irrigated terraces along the mesa walls below each village. Dry farming is essentially farming without the aid of irrigation and it depends completely on natural precipitation including winter snows and summer monsoon rains.

The Arizona Hopi reservation where in some areas dry land farming techniques are still used and the knowledge passed down between generations.

Dry land farming has developed as a set of techniques and management practices used by farmers to continually adapt to the presence or lack of moisture and rainfall in an annual crop cycle. Dry land farming is entirely dependent on natural rainfall and in New Mexico and Arizona, where the average annual rainfall is about 12 inches or less, the Hopi people have managed to endure and thrive by utilizing a tried and true method of farming that is totally dependent on natural precipitation.

Hopi farmers mostly follow dry farming practices and generally these crops are cultivated in small fields in various areas that are located near the mesas. Most of Hopi dry farming methods are still done exclusively by hand, although nowadays some tractor preparation is done to prepare the planting areas.

Agriculture is a way of life for the Hopi, so significant that it even marks the ceremonial cycle and how cultural activities are structured. According to Hopi oral tradition, when the world was first created and corn was offered as sustenance, other people in the world choose larger and more colorful ears of corn while the Hopi chose the shortest blue-eared one. It is this special blue corn that is used for Hopi traditional cooking, gift giving and food making for special events.

The future of Hopi agriculture is promising and many non-Hopi individuals have found that their traditional knowledge and techniques are appropriate technology for the modern farmer. In 2004, the Hopi people founded the Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture project which is a community-based organization with the goal of strengthening food security while creating opportunities for local youth and community members to participate in the continuation of Hopi culture through the continued inter-generational practices of traditional Hopi dry land farming and gardening as well as applying applicable permaculture principles and techniques.

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