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San Diego Foundation Grant Awarded to ECOLIFE Conservation and Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians to Advance Sustainable Agriculture and Food Sovereignty

A view of ECOLIFE's aquaponics center - focusing on the produce being grown

[Carlsbad, August 2, 2023] – ECOLIFE Conservation and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians are honored to announce that we have been awarded a significant grant to further the joint efforts in promoting sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty. The Community Food Grant Program, made possible through the San Diego Foundation and County of San Diego, will have a transformative impact on the Viejas Tribal Community by addressing pressing issues such as food insecurity, resource scarcity, food waste, and the lack of STEM education opportunities.

The primary objective of this program is to increase accessibility to sustainable food options for the Viejas Tribal Community. Through the partnership between ECOLIFE Conservation and the Viejas  Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the program aims to combat food insecurity and the lack of localized food production in San Diego County while also working to conserve rapidly depleting natural resources such as land and water. By implementing innovative and sustainable farming methods with ECOLIFE’s aquaponic systems, the program will promote efficient resource utilization, reduce food and material waste, and help establish food autonomy and climate change adaptation strategies.

Generations of trauma have impacted the Viejas tribal members, beginning in 1769 when the Spanish forcibly displaced the Kumeyaay people from their land and disrupted their traditional practices. The Mexican government further exacerbated this separation in 1821, seizing mission land and destroying native plant and animal habitats while subjecting the Kumeyaay people to slave labor. The trend of land destruction continued with the arrival of Americans in 1848, further disconnecting the Kumeyaay people from their ancestral connection to the land. The loss of culture, plant relatives, animal relatives, and Kumeyaay relatives has weighed heavily on the tribe. However, the restoration of their relationship with the land is seen as a vital step toward healing the trauma. As the first stewards of the land in San Diego County, recognized as Kumeyaay Land, Viejas acknowledges the significance of food sovereignty and the urgent need for a sustainable food system that can endure for future generations.

The implementation of ECOLIFE’s Modular Aquaponics Response Kit, or M.A.R.K.™ will be a cornerstone of establishing food sovereignty and sustainable food systems for the Viejas Tribe. In 2020, ECOLIFE finished the first iteration of the M.A.R.K.™, specifically designed to meet the needs of disadvantaged communities that don’t have access to the resources necessary to grow food the conventional way. The M.A.R.K.™ incorporates sustainable resource use through solar power, battery storage, and rainwater catchment systems. Its portability allows it to be delivered to any desired community within a standard 20’ shipping container. Utilizing 1/10th of the land and water used as compared to in-ground crop production, the MARK system is designed to produce approximately 2,500 lbs of fresh fish and produce annually. After the successful construction and testing of the first M.A.R.K.™ at the AIC in July 2022, ECOLIFE is now ready to implement it in a local community setting, starting with the Viejas tribal community. The experiences and lessons learned from this program will contribute to the development of additional M.A.R.K.™ units that will serve communities in remote regions worldwide.

One of the program’s key initiatives is to establish an edible educational garden workspace, which will serve as a hub for engaging Viejas youth and other tribal members in hands-on learning experiences. This inspiring workspace will foster a sense of inspiration, acceptance, nourishment, and healing, while also providing an incubation hub for careers in STEM fields. Additionally, the program will provide workshops to local tribes, demonstrating both traditional gardening practices and alternative sustainable agriculture practices, benefiting tribes throughout the Southern California region.

ECOLIFE Conservation and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians are excited about the opportunities that this grant presents. By combining our expertise, resources, and shared commitment to sustainable agriculture, we are confident that the program will not only benefit the Viejas Tribal Community but also serve as a model for other underserved communities facing food insecurity and resource scarcity, barriers to economic opportunities, and lack of access to STEM education.