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The Navajo farmer taking a traditional approach to making baby food

Zachariah (Zach) and Mary Ben of Bidii Baby Foods, a Made/Produced by American Indians trademarked product, were featured in an article from The Guardian titled “The Navajo farmer taking a traditional approach to making baby food.” The article tells the story of how Zach and Mary were inspired to begin their company and describes the industry of baby food. Read an excerpt of the article below.

 

Photograph by Sharon Chischilly, Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

There’s a paleontological site in the center of Zachariah and Mary Ben’s family farm plot. Or, at least there is if you’re their two-year-old son, Yabiitoh. Neon-colored pterodactyl and stegosaurus toys lay strewn about between freshly sprouted Hopi red dye amaranth and Navajo white corn. As the Bens plunge corn jabbers – a hand-held farming tool – loaded with Oaxacan green corn seeds into the New Mexico soil, Yabiitoh ditches the dinosaurs and races across the farm lot.


Just a few miles north of Shiprock, New Mexico, on land long stewarded by the Navajo (or Diné) people in the fertile valley of the San Juan River, Zach and Mary tend the land where they grow produce for their baby food company, Bidii Baby Foods.


After their son’s birth in 2021, the Bens were struck by the absence of fresh, local and traditional baby foods available near the Navajo Nation, where canned goods are prevalent and most of the produce in grocery stores is overpriced but bruised, if it’s available at all.

As a sixth-generation Navajo farmer, Zach had experience with permaculture and traditional farming techniques. And as a first-generation Hungarian American with a background in public health, Mary was equally invested in finding an alternative to the canned baby foods in distant grocery stores. So the two started a line of Navajo white corn-based dehydrated baby cereals grown on Zach’s grandmother’s farm plot. Since then, Bidii Baby Foods has fed 6,000 children nationwide, and is on track to feed 10,000 more with a grant from Save the Children in 2023.


“As a new father, I felt like, ‘How can I not relive those past traumas of not having healthy food?’” said Zach, who recalls his family stocking up on canned and processed foods because electricity – and therefore refrigeration – was irregular on the reservation and fresh produce expensive and hard to come by. Today, there are only 13 grocery stores on the 27,000 sq-mile Navajo Nation, and 30% of families still do not have access to electricity. “I didn’t want my child to grow up only having a certain type of food because that’s all we were able to afford.”


Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd






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