Earth notes: Navajo Hoop Houses

Sometimes a sheet of plastic not much thicker than a sheet of paper can make all the difference for a growing plant. On the sunbaked lands of the Navajo Nation, a hoop house garden can be an important way to provide good nutrition.

For about a decade, Navajo farmer Tyrone Thompson has provided fresh food to communities in the Little Colorado River basin by building sheltered environments for fresh vegetables. In addition to running Ch’ishie (pron. chi-zhee” with a buzzy zh sound) Farms, Thompson has helped dozens of area growers build their own hoop houses.

The contained gardens consist of a thin plastic sheet stretched over a rounded metal frame. It can ward off drying winds and cold nights. When covered with a shade cloth, it can reduce hot summer temperatures. With this technique, Navajo farmers have been able to supply fresh produce such as lettuce, kale, chard, and tomatoes in an area short on both grocery stores and refrigeration.

Over the past ten years, Thompson has helped build more than a hundred hoop houses in a vast area that stretches from Cameron to Ganado. Some are no larger than a standard-sized bedroom, while others stretch more than a hundred feet long.

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