Albuquerque Neighborhood Gardens Support Local Food in the Schools

 

George Lujan

 

Project Feed the Hood has spent the last three years expanding across Albuquerque, working with schools and neighborhood groups to educate on food issues and promote healthy practices. Working with Farm to Table on the Healthy Kids – Healthy Economy initiative to bring NM-grown produce into school meals is a perfect evolution of the work we do, and will bring us much closer to our vision of a healthy, happy New Mexico.

 

Project Feed the Hood, an initiative of the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP), began with a “pilot” community garden in Albuquerque’s International District. This area of the city qualifies as a “food desert,” a place where healthy foods cannot be reasonably purchased—either because they’re too expensive or they’re just not available. Our organizers turned a harsh plot of dirt filled with trash, glass and concrete into a thriving garden that produces a host of vegetables. The International District Community Garden has served as a space where different groups can come and learn about gardening and build a relationship with the land. Hundreds of kids have made their way through to participate in workshops, and for two straight years the garden has hosted Project Feed the Hood’s Pumpkin Smashing Festival, where kids come and smash pumpkins to create compost.

 

Much of the project’s most fruitful work has happened in local schools, including Van Buren Middle School, Kirtland Elementary, Wilson Middle School, West Mesa High School, Edward Gonzales Elementary and Helen Cordero Elementary. Teachers and administrators have been incredibly motivated and effective at creating these gardens and encouraging their students to get their hands dirty. Parents at Edward Gonzales Elementary have created their own group, Madres Naturalezas, which has worked to make their school garden flourish and to help the school administration bring healthy food options into their cafeteria. The Madres are very excited to support the Healthy Kids – Healthy Economy initiative at the NM Legislature this year.

 

As a parent and member of the Madres Naturalezas of SWOP, I think it’s very important to involve principals, teachers and especially parents in school gardens. These gardens provide support for development and an opportunity to teach our children early the broader concept of what nutrition is, how to eat healthy, and how to know where the produce we eat comes from. In turn, sharing the natural, organic food we grow not only contributes to a more healthy planet and a more healthy way of living, it’s a way to share with our community and grow stronger together with our children and be more involved in their schools,” says Crimilda Colunga. “That is why we invite all NM schools to participate in this important program that SWOP coordinates so well.”

 

In 2012, Project Feed the Hood Farms was born in the Riverside neighborhood of Albuquerque’s South Valley. A 50-foot-long hoop house was erected on-site so that produce can grow year-round and be sold to sponsor Project Feed the Hood’s community outreach. It was built thanks to the hard work and expertise of community volunteers, whose contributions form the foundation of our work. It boasts seven raised beds and a drip irrigation system. Right now, lettuce, spinach, radishes and turnips are inside, basking in the NM sun. The organizers are working on a video that explains the process and benefits of building a hoop house.

 

This season, Project Feed the Hood has also expanded work in the Westgate neighborhood on Albuquerque’s West Side. Our organizers are helping build raised beds and teaching families about backyard gardening. The Westgate Heights Neighborhood Association has become very involved in the garden project and in engaging community conversations on health. Everywhere Project Feed the Hood works, we hope to incite larger conversations about food and health systems, and to encourage community members to continue the work on their own initiative.

 

Project Feed the Hood often encourages communities to ask, “Where does our food come from?” We support the Healthy Kids – Healthy Economy initiative to get locally grown produce in school meals. Linking local farmers with schools will benefit the gardening work and education that is already happening, and will further empower communities to promote healthy lifestyles for themselves and their children.

 

 

George Lujan is the communications organizer of the SouthWest Organizing Project. In high school George expanded his awareness of social issues through the SWOP Youth Group, and after receiving a Media Arts Degree at UNM, he returned to SWOP to work on issues affecting disenfranchised communities in NM. Email George@swop.net, call 505.247.8832 or visit www.swop.net