Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Earth Notes: Navajo Hoop Houses

Melissa Sevigny

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 areas growers build their own hoop houses.

The contained gardens consists 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.

Even in late fall, Thompson’s protected gardens support carrots, beets, greens, and even some remnant summer tomatoes. He’s experimenting with raising fruit trees under plastic sheeting. Each new structure, he says, is a step toward “solving a problem with a broken food system.”

Peter Friederici is a writer whose articles, essays, and books focus primarily on connections between humans and their natural surroundings. His most recent book is Beyond Climate Breakdown: Envisioning New Stories of Radical Hope (MIT Press, 2022). He also teaches classes in science communication and sustainable communities at Northern Arizona University.