Our mission is to support the development of a sustainable and just local food system in Ajo, Arizona and the Tohono O’odham Nation.
What We Do
We are a Native American governed 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides agricultural education, reduces barriers to healthy and culturally-appropriate foods, preserves and revitalizes agricultural traditions, fosters local, food-based economic development and establishes valuable partnerships.
We have numerous agricultural education opportunities for all ages and experience levels. All of our workshops are free of charge and cover a wide array of agriculture topics from business development to sustainable farming practices. We provide agricultural education by way of the…
Ajo Gardeners Network
Annual Food Festivals
Beginning Farmer Apprenticeship
Youth Agriculture & Culinary Arts Internships
Native Foodways Gathering
We reduce barriers to healthy and culturally-appropriate foods by partnering with public health and nutrition programs such SNAP, Double Up Bucks and WIC at the Ajo Farmers Market and as part of our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ajo CSA, along with community partners and funders started the COVID-19 Emergency Food Relief Program and later the Ajo Food Pantry. We organized Ajo Emergency Food Partnership and continue to collaborate with districts on the Tohono O’odham Nation
We create and participate in spaces dedicated to Native American culture including the Southwest Native Foodways Gathering, Tohono O’odham Youth Programming Group, etc. We also have a citizen participation crop conservation program, Adopt-A-Sonoran-Desert-Crop, traditionally grown through “Ak Chin” (mouth of the wash) dry-land farming.
We foster community, food-based economic development through our Ajo Farmers Market, O’odham Farmers Market, Beginning Farmer Training program (agricultural internships and apprenticeships) and Micro-business incubators, Ajo Farmers Market & Café (Community Commercial Kitchen, Mini-Grants, Incubator Farm, Vendor Opportunities). ajofarmersmarketcafe.com
We value our partnerships and believe that they are essential in creating a stronger community. Our shared understanding and values allow us to make for a collective focus towards lasting progress. Some of our partnerships include the Tohono O’odham Farm and Food Working Group, Arizona Food Systems Network, AmeriCorps Vista and NCCC, National Young Farmers Coalition, National Incubator Farm Training Initiative, Ajo Emergency Food Partnership, Districts of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Arizona Ag workforce Development Coalition, AZ Food Bank Network. We also view our funders as our partners. These include Pima County and Freeport McMoRan.
Nina was born and raised in Slovenia, and immigrated to the United States in 2007 to do research for her PhD in Anthropology of Food after receiving her Bachelors’ Degree in Law at the University of Ljubljana. Nina was a program director for Tohono O’odham Community Action for four years, and established a successful beginning farmer training and an extensive community outreach program including school and community gardens on the Tohono O'odham Nation. Nina co-founded Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture in 2008. The Center is a Native American-governed 501c3 and dedicated to preserving and revitalizing traditional and sustainable food systems in Ajo, on the Tohono O’odham Nation and the surrounding region through education, seed conservation, and job creation. The Center started Ajo Farmers Market in 2009, and has now expanded it into a bricks-and-mortar food incubator, including a farm-to-table menu. The Ajo Farmers Market & Café houses mostly Native American microbusinesses. The Center administers an agriculture and culinary arts youth internship and a beginning farmer training program in cooperation with Alexander Pancho Memorial Farm, Tohono O’odham Farm and Food Group, and other partners. The Center is also the lead on the Arizona-wide Agricultural Workforce Development Coalition.
Sterling Johnson, Farm Manager and Farmer Mentor, Tohono O’odham Sterling was born and raised on the Tohono O’odham Nation in a ranching and rodeo family, and is an accomplished bull rider himself. Sterling is a graduate of the former Tohono O’odham Community Action’s Beginning Farmer Program, and has continued the teaching to develop a new youth and adult education program in Ajo and on the reservation through his work with the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He currently farms 2 dry-land fields, and three urban market gardens farm, teaches weekly classes in two high schools, and has overseen 22 farming apprentices and 22 youth interns over the past three years, 70% of whom are Tohono O’odham. Sterling has extensive experience in marketing of traditional Native American crops and other local crops and products, and working with Native and other producers. Building on the 8 years of experience with Ajo Farmers Market, he is one of the leads on developing the O'odham Farmers Market.
I have lived in Ajo my whole life. I have a lot of family here. I love our close knit community. I have been a pharmacy technician since 2006. I started part-time with the Ajo CSA in February as the Business Manager. I have 2 amazing kids. My son also works with the Ajo CSA. We love helping our community.
Originally From Long Island, NY, Caitlin Smyth moved to Ajo after previously serving there as a Team Leader for three months with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), where she was a service member for two years. During her time in college at SUNY Farmingdale, while receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management, Caitlin learned about AmeriCorps NCCC. In her current position as Program Director, Caitlin works with youth, gardeners and farmers in Ajo and throughout the state of Arizona. Caitlin works on developing and implementing programs including the Adopt-A-Sonoran-Desert-Crop Program that gives out native grown seeds, and a variety of youth programming including schools and youth internships. Building relationships with vendors, she works with the Ajo Farmers Market and O’odham Farmers Market on promotions, marketing and the development of websites.
Cody Manuel is a Native American chef and member of the Gila River Nation, Akimel O'odham. He has been in the culinary field since the age of 17 and is a graduate of Scottsdale Culinary Institute, a Le Cordon Bleu school. He was a culinary arts instructor at Ajo High School for 3 years where he worked and learned with his students. Cody learned much from his family and elders about native ingredients but was able to broaden his horizons once he joined Ajo CSA. Once with Ajo CSA, Cody had the opportunity to use more Native ingredients and learn how they are used traditionally. Using his culinary background and the new tools given, he puts a bit of a modern twist on traditional ingredients. He does love to pay respect to where he came from by giving what knowledge he has to all he speaks with. Cody has spoken with classes from all over the country about the importance of traditional foods and how they are grow and used. He enjoys his weekends when he makes chumuth or fry bread where he and his family spread their knowledge to the next generation.
The Board of Directors