Trent Teegerstrom, Associate Director for Tribal Extension Programs

Meet Trent Teegerstrom, UArizona Tribal Extension Programs

Friday, April 16, 2021

Trent Teegerstrom is the Associate Director for Tribal Extension Programs and Extension Specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Mr. Teegerstrom and the Haury Program share a passion for serving Indigenous communities. He joined the University of Arizona in 1997 after spending the previous two years as a Farm Business Management Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension. Mr. Teegerstrom serves as a board member on several national advisory committees, including the Native American Food Safety, the Consortium for Tribal Extension, and the Southwest Indian Agricultural Association.
 
Mr. Teegerstrom has worked with Indigenous communities for 35 years, including papaya, banana, and coffee growers in Hawaii, Alaskan Natives, Mohawk and Seneca people in New York, and First Nations peoples in Canada. He has worked with Native Nations in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Mr. Teegerstrom developed some of the beginning farming programs in Jicarilla Apache, Cochiti Lake, and Santo Domingo pueblos in New Mexico.
 
The Tribal Extension Programs Mr. Teegerstrom leads build capacity in tribal communities, and remove barriers through proven leadership and trust needed to work in partnership with Native Nations. The programs link tribal communities and the University by developing and collaborating in programs and projects that cover a broad range of topics.
 
Projects include youth development, personal finance, agri-businesses, natural resources management, water and land rights, entrepreneurship, marketing, family consumer science, and early childhood literacy in a culturally appropriate way and incorporating traditional knowledge. Some programs aim to reestablish traditional crops and bring them back into the community gardens and the school garden farms.

The extension offices on Native Nations are a conduit to engage with Native students and youth. Examples of successful projects include “youth from elementary schools and detention centers who received gardening training continue gardening after several years, and now they're teaching other community members. They now see things differently. These projects have helped them improve their body and mental health.” Mr. Teegerstrom added, “some agents work with 4-H kids, take them to the Colorado River, collect invertebrates, and analyze them under the microscope. This helps students discover new worlds that they could not otherwise experience. These have been just some of the greatest rewards of my job.”

For Mr. Teegerstrom, the tribal agents, some of whom have been working since 1991, are the real stars of the program. “They open the doors for non-Native specialists to have conversations with the communities. Seven tribal agents are working in Arizona right now. When COVID-19 hit, the team was able to respond quickly and effectively to the communities' needs. They partnered with other organizations to deliver hay, wood for fuel, PPE, hand sanitizers, water, and food.”

 One of the main challenges tribal agents face is that "There are not enough boots on the ground out there to do the required work. We only have one agent for Hopi Tribe. We have four agents to cover Navajo Nation's more than 27,413 square miles; that means one agent in Western Navajo covers 10 million acres and all the communities within." South Dakota State lost three positions that had worked for over ten years in detriment of the trust, networks, and partnerships already established with Indigenous communities.
 
Mr. Teegerstrom partners with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation to expand the UArizona local tribal extension work into the national level. The Tribal Extension Program is also working with other institutions, including Utah State UniversityNew Mexico State UniversityUniversity of Nevada, Reno, the Desert Research Institute, and Apex Applied Technology, with whom his office has partnered to find solutions to agricultural challenges, expand the use of alternative energy and find solutions to water accessibility in Native Nations.
 
Mr. Teegerstrom works closely with other UArizona members, including SVP for Native America Advancement Levi Esquerra, Assistant Vice Provost Karen Francis-Begay, Director of the Native Peoples Technical Assistance Office Claudia Nelson, and Associate Professor and Extension Specialist of Environmental Science Karletta Chief. He also has worked with Crystal Tulley-Cordova, Principal Hydrologist for the Water Management Branch at the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, and Director of the State of Arizona Department of Agriculture Mark Killian, connecting him with tribal communities along the Southwest.

To know more about Mr. Teegerstrom’s work, listen to the Native Waters on Arid Land Podcast. In the video Moving Forward on Federally Recognized Tribal Land, Mr. Teegerstrom talks about his work with the Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program.

The Tribal Extension Programs seek to meet the ever-changing needs of tribal communities by developing and delivering locally and culturally appropriate programs to improve the well-being of individuals, families, and communities, and better the environment and the economies throughout the Native lands. Its mission is extension at its core. The programs are tailored to and derive from the ground up at tribal communities, based on their needs. It has laid the foundations of a respectful engagement model that should be replicated.

The Extension Program has a long history working with Gila River and San Carlos Apache communities that goes back to the 50s and 60s and through all the 70s. In partnership with the Intertribal Agricultural Council, the 1994 Farm Bill helped establish the actual program.