Perspective of the School Gardens Movement in ABQ from an East Coaster: Quite Impressive!

By FoodCorps Service Member, Fallon Bader: APS Growing Gardens Team

When I began the position of an APS (Albuquerque Public Schools) School Gardens Coordinator I had no idea what to expect for my first year as a FoodCorps service member. Now that I have reached the 6-month point, I can say this position has been filled with several emails, many school garden visits, but most importantly deep gratitude for the incredible work that is going on in Albuquerque around school gardens.

Albuquerque Deserves Way More Recognition

Prior to this position, I had been working in the progressive, local-food-abundant town of Ithaca, NY. Very well-known cities in the country, we hear a lot about the innovative gardening happening in places like Denver, Portland, and San Francisco –but Albuquerque is seldom mentioned. In a place that gets scarce rainwater and the soil contains less than 1% organic matter, it is incredible to know that there are over 80 school gardens in the Albuquerque area (with about 140 schools in total). Yes, that’s right, over 80 out of 140 schools have a school garden. I haven’t done the research (add that to my long to-do list) but I don’t believe many other cities have that ratio. And that is why I have found this city so special. The humility is admirable and adds to the down-to-earth vibe around here. But, I also believe Albuquerque deserves a little more recognition for the amazing work going on in school gardens!

Teachers & Volunteers Deserve the Credit and Applause

A school garden doesn’t grow overnight and requires considerable planning and year-round maintenance. It is the usually the over-worked and underpaid teachers who have taken on the task of incorporating gardens into their classes and schools. Why are they doing this? Because they realize how valuable an outdoor classroom is. It allows students to get out of the stuffy classroom, apply education to hands-on experiences, and learn what healthy food is and where it comes from. The latter is especially important because many students do not have access or understand the need for healthy foods. These teachers are the ones who are putting in the extra effort to grow and tend these gardens. I can’t forget to mention the amazing volunteers who work with the teachers. For example, the Albuquerque Master Gardeners have a specific group of “school garden volunteers” who partner with schools to aid in technical assistance to the teachers. My is to support these teachers and volunteers with resources, workshops, connections, and positivity. Their resilient dedication inspires me to do my job as best as I can.

So What is Missing? Next Steps …

The work of these 80+ gardens is certainly impressive, but as always, there is much room for improvement and goals to work towards. The good news is that this movement is gaining support at a rapid speed in both Albuquerque, the nation, and globally. More people are understanding how crucial it is to focus on local and sustainable food systems (and this is why I love the field I am in!). From my perspective, these are some areas of improvement for the school garden movement in ABQ:

  • More local procurement in APS. Albuquerque Public Schools has about 100,000 students, which provides a huge venue for mouths to feed with local food. Students benefit from healthier and more nutrient dense foods, while farmers benefit from profit and supporting their communities.The problem? Farmers must be able to guarantee that they can provide large quantities of certain foods months in advance. This is not an easy task, but organizations like Farm to Table and a supportive Food & Nutrition department are working to make this process more viable.
  • Support for teachers. Support can come in the form of monetary and getting our hands dirty. Coronado Elementary school became the only APS school to have a part-time teacher dedicated to their school garden. They have been able to accomplish great things at their school with this support. Support can also come from other staff, community members, and families coming together to help maintain and incorporate gardens into all subjects at schools.
  • Keep the momentum going! Both the number of schools starting gardens and success of already existing gardens are only continuing to grow (pun intended). Show your support in the schools in your community or at the district, state, or national level!

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