Living Simply

With the winter season already underway, it’s easy to remember, or, perhaps, desire the warmth and sunshine of spring and summer. But sometimes, warm weather can be too much of a good thing. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to spend a week at a Hopi Reservation in Northern Arizona, located in the dry desert that is the Southwestern U.S. Although the purpose of the trip was to foster relations with local artisans, it also came to be a unique cultural experience. In a way, the traditional Hopi way of life brings to mind the subsistence lifestyle and perseverance of the people of Heifer project areas, especially given the environmental hardships they have had to endure to improve their quality of life.

Hopi Summer Service Trip for SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise)
June 16-June 22, 2011

Hotevilla Village in the Northern Arizona Hopi Reservation

  • House: kitchen, eating area, bedroom space
  • Shed (storage area)
  • Glass-blowing workshop: hot space and cool space; eventually a school
  • New house for up to 10 people: kitchen, living area, bathroom, bedroom space, office
  • Outhouse: drop zone/”meditation area”

-> No indoor plumbing or running water

-> Off the grid (no internet connection)


Myth is described as Hopi reality/worldview accepts differences in other people’s beliefs

Hopi myth contains four worlds. From the third world, birds flew one at a time to a hole in the sky after people heard stomping feet, but unable to reach that high, they made an offering. Chipmunks went the next animal to try, but the trees only grew to a certain height, which caused frustration. However, a bamboo shoot grew tall and vertical and eventually led to the fourth world. An old man who was too  weak to make the trip offered to stay behind to chop down the tree after all the “good people” climbed up. A bird, as the last defense, also stayed as watcher, and it used its sharp teeth and talons to prevent “bad people” from coming up.

The Steward Myth: why Hopis live the way they do

Once the people ventured into the fourth world, they saw a campfire in distance. Four strong, young men were sent to investigate, and they came upon a “man” who initially had his back turned towards them. When he turned around, the men saw that he had rabbit blood on his face. They collapsed in fright, and when they awoken, the other “man” already left and the campfire went out.

The men return to the people, who tell them to go back with a prayer/thanks offering, but not to look the spirit in the eye. Eventually, they found the spirit again, and the spirit agrees to go back and speak with the rest of the people. He explained that he’s just a steward and not a creator of the world. The people also aren’t from the land, therefore they cannot own what they did not create (property vs utilization). He also knew the toughness of the environment, with what little rain and vegetation it had to offer. So, he decides to offer the people varieties of corn to grow. The Hopi chose blue corn-the toughest corn to grow, in an already dry and parched land.


Connection to family and the earth

  • eating from the same bowls with fingers, even the sick
  • separate plates seen as a disconnection
  • eating on the floor helps commune with the earth (practiced more during ceremonies)
  • obligation to care for crops after sowing the seeds

Hopi Values

  • self-love: loving the self before loving others (cannot give what one does not have)
  • respect: for self and for others
  • motivation: fulfilling both duties and dreams
  • industriousness: working hard to make dreams a reality

Fall 2011 Theme

Our overall theme for the fall is “Land and Agriculture” within the context of human geography. Geographers assess the logical arrangement of human activities in space (asking “where” and “why” questions, such as “Why are people, things located where they are?”) while human geography examines the overarching themes of globalization (modern communication and technology and the resulting cultural and economic interactions) and local diversity as related to geography (the cultural and physical features of a region).

Some questions that we may answer in upcoming meetings include

  • How does Heifer’s mission work with the existing culture (language, religion and ethnicity)?
  • Does it impose or over-emphasize Western values over local customs?
  • Is Heifer aware of any food taboos (religious considerations) and existing cultural food preferences?
  • What is the response of the local government (any ethnic and religious tensions)?
  • Is the real problem related to physiological density and a lack of food supply and production or unequal distribution and discriminatory government practices?
  • How involved is Heifer with the training and livestock development component?
  • Are there any language barriers with the rural population if English is not a predominant language?
  • One of the “12 Cornerstones” is having a positive environmental impact. Is this done with awareness of existing biodiversity?
  • Is Heifer prepared to deal with long-term consequences if a project ultimately fails?
  • What changes to health, beneficial or detrimental, arise, in comparison to non-project areas?
  • What was the original percentage of malnourished persons then and now?
  • What accounts for animal deaths, which are reported as higher than the U.S. average?

Mini Case Study Example: Honduras

Feed the Future Countries Statistics

  • Rural Population (% of Total Population) 2008: 52%
  • Proportion of Rural Population Below National Poverty Line: 70%
  • Over 2/3 of the rural population is living below the National Poverty Line

Agricultural Land (% of Total Land) 2005-2007: 28%

Unlike most of Heifer’s other projects, its commitment is to most of Honduras rather than specific villages or provinces. The nation itself is comprised of mountainous area with coastal plains, leaving less than one-third of the land suitable for agriculture. With a population over 8 million and over half living in rural areas, Honduras needs a permanent method of sustainable living. Also, according to the United Nations, it is a “food priority” country.

In response, Heifer developed three projects designed to help 5,570 families:

  • Sustainable Food Systems in Copan and Lempira: cattle, hens, fish, goats, sheep, rabbits, bee hives, fruit trees, along with training and care
  • Planting Seeds of Hope in Southern Honduras: cattle, poultry, bees, seeds and training
  • Strengthening Rural Micro Enterprises in Honduras: marketing surpluses of milk, homemade dairy products, honey, pollen, eggs and fish

A few questions that may arise is whether or not the land is able to support all of these domesticated animals-acclimatized or not-and whether families are able to afford the animals and feed? Also, how does economic development and population growth factor into Heifer’s projects?

There are a number of different perspectives to examine Heifer’s projects and objectives, especially given the number of majors at NCC.

Rather than telling you how to see these statistics and claims, we invite you to interpret them through your own discipline and come up with your own conclusions and measure of Heifer’s success.


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