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Hopi Dryland Farming: Growing corn with rainfall in the desert

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“Hopi is the only place I know where corn has grown in such a way to conform to the environment,” explains Hopi dryland farmer Dr. Michael Kotutwa Johnson on his farm in the Arizona desert. “This is unlike Western agriculture which continuously manipulates the environment to fit the corn.”

In this Arizona State Museum video from the exhibition The Resiliency of Hopi Agriculture: 2000 Years of Planting, he provides a tour of his dry farm. There is no human-made irrigation; his crops depend on rainfall alone.

It’s just kind of amazing what we can do in this environment because we only get 6 to 10 inches of rainfall… to be at Hopi, to be a farmer, you have to almost be what they call an agronomist a hydrologist an engineer you have to be a little bit of everything in order to produce crops.

dry farming crops
corn yields from a hopi dry farm
Dr. Johnson started working on this farmland when it belonged to his grandfather:

I used to not like being up, like, the little kids in the morning at 5:30, and coming out here and hoeing weeds, and you know and planting corn. But as I get older the more I love it. And the more educated I get, the more responsibility I have to help people. That’s what I would believe and that’s what my father taught me. And my responsibility right now, since I don’t have children except for my cornfield, is to help other people understand this process.

Our Hopi concepts of resiliency, stewardship, and sharing, combined with the biodiversity of our crops, should be protected, preserved, and learned from. Our Hopi people and our way of life is truly a world heritage treasure.

Michael Kotutwa Johnson has a Ph.D. in natural resource management from the University of Arizona, and now works as a Native American Agricultural Fund research associate.

Michael Kotutwa Johnson
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