Zachariah Ben — who was born and raised in Shiprock, New Mexico — is part of the Diné people, also known as the Navajo Nation. His maternal side is from the Giant People Clan, while the paternal side comes from the Red Streak Running Into Water Clan. His fledgling business, Bidii Baby Foods LLC, taps into both his indigenous heritage and his lifelong connection to agriculture.
Ben grew up in an environment where farming was an integral part of his family’s livelihood. In the Navajo Nation, whose acreage size is approximately the size of West Virginia, there are only about 13 grocery stores. Some of the most rural residents must travel over three hours to reach a grocery store and obtain fresh produce.
Still, deciding to launch a farm and business was not really on Ben’s mind until the birth of his first child. He began to ask himself how he could best feed his child, how he could provide natural and healthy food for them, and how he could ultimately impart an understanding of food systems and nutrition. Bidii Baby Foods was created in 2021 by Ben and his partner, Mary, both as a way to provide fresh and healthy food for their child and to share this food with their community which needed it.
The word “bidii” in Navajo means “someone who yearns for more,” and Ben described that the term “bidii baby” became a commonly used slang to describe someone who is always wanting more. Ben described that as children, “everyone wants more,” and he said it felt befitting to give their farm a name that nodded toward their culture while addressing this desire for more food security in their nation.
Bidii Baby Foods is an approximately three-acre farm that grows squash, melons, and white corn all sourced from heritage seeds. They specialize in Neeshjhizhii, or Navajo dried steamed corn, a traditionally prepared dish of corn that is high in nutritional value. In farming their land and growing their crops, they found that their practice was not just a business, but it was also a way for them to repair the damaged relationship they had with their land and within their community. Ben feels that farming truly is a labor of love, that by respecting the land and nourishing it, it will then reciprocate by providing food for you and your loved ones.
The foods grown by Bidii Baby Foods are foods meant for healing, and it was something that the family wanted to share with others.
Ben and his partner faced extreme challenges and difficulties when launching the farm. Establishing the LLC took all of their savings, which was an incredible risk given the narrow profit margins in the agricultural sector.
Their company was recognized as an LLC in the Navajo Nation but not in the state of New Mexico, which meant that they could not claim assets of the land for loans to acquire capital or win grants through the state. To combat this, they established themselves as a 501(c)(3) to allow themselves some breathing room while opening up avenues to generate capital that would not have typically been available to them.
Ben sees his business through a social entrepreneurship model, where the mission of his company is not solely profit but the utilization of that profit for social gains and betterment for his community. By obtaining a nonprofit status, Ben was able to win grants and earn capital that covered overhead costs, allowing his product to remain affordable and accessible to those who needed it most. Bidii Baby Foods has recently become WIC and SNAP certified, and Ben has applied to join the small but growing list of producers certified under the program New Mexico Grown, where schools can reliably contract with these certified producers to procure quality, nutritious lunches for their students.
By keeping the cost of their products low and ensuring their accessibility to those who need it most, Ben promises that his social entrepreneurship model is a means to build both a business and a community.
As a young business, Ben worries about the future of his livelihood and what it means for his family. He constantly thinks about the ongoing fights over water rights between groups involved in his geographic region. Arable land in the Navajo nation left idle is susceptible to be taken for other uses, and Ben knows that a “use it or lose it” mindset must be adopted to fully protect the land.
With all this in mind, Ben is hopeful that the future of agriculture can be sustainable, thriving, and lively. He believes in a community-centric approach, where small farms are protected and seen as a place to gather and engage with others in your community. His goals for the future are influenced by his introspection of the past, and he believes that farming should be a circular process of caring for the land, nurturing it, and seeing the abundance it provides instead of an extractive process to gain food from it.
When asked about how he will measure his success, Ben said, “My success will be measured by seeing my farm be served by future generations, not by the individual profit I make.”
Bidii Baby Foods’ initiatives, missions, and business model are all unconventional and unique, blazing a new trail of agricultural entrepreneurships that pave the way for a brighter future.
Liza Thuy Nguyen serves as the 2023 American Farmland Trust Agriculture Communications Intern at AGDAILY, with a focus on helping to amplify diversity and minority voices in agriculture. Liza is originally from Anaheim, California, and attended the University of California, Davis, as a first-generation college student. She received a bachelor’s degree in genetics and genomics and went on to earn a master’s in horticulture from Penn State.