The Power of ‘Ch’ishie’: Farmer Tyrone Thompson Wants the Rez to Feed Itself
Tyrone Thompson examines his garden at his Ch'ishie Farms in Leupp
Photo by Sam McManis for the Arizona Daily Sun

Sam McManis for the Arizona Daily Sun

Goopy clay oozes between Tyrone Thompson’s toes, making sort of a rhythmic squishy sound with each step. His wife, Felicia, adds more water to the mix, then shovels in a bit more soil for him to knead and form into a sticky, muddy plaster with his bare feet. Thompson nods; it’s the right density now.

When the mud finally thickens, Thompson reaches down and scoops up two handfuls. Then he slaps the clay onto the partially eroded side of a  traditional outdoor oven at the STAR School, just outside the Navajo reservation and 20 miles from Thompson’s farm in Leupp. He shapes and rounds off the muddy molding, adds deep thumbprints throughout to make sure it adheres, just as his mentors and elders had taught him.

Satisfied, Thompson plops down on a nearby bench hewn from harvested pine. He presents quite a sight: dried mud caking his arms almost to the elbow and from toes to mid-calf, too. It’s a contrast to the man sitting next to him, STAR School CEO Mark Sorensen, in a spotless button-down shirt and pressed pants. …