The Power of Asking

By Mallory Garcia, Albuquerque Public School Wellness Department Service Member

Gardens take so much work. They are incredibly needy in their infancy; procuring soil, seeds, tools, raw materials for raised beds, benches and fences. Some projects can seem too big before they even get started. Even if you have the materials, it takes a lot of manpower to get things going. If this sounds like your situation, don’t dismay. Let one Elementary school show you how this doesn’t have to stop you. Not only did they put together a garden, they created the garden of their dreams.

Lavaland Garden Club has perfected the art of asking. They made a wish list. A really detailed wish list. They didn’t keep it small and basic to be prudent- they asked for what they wanted. These items included: 4 kinds of fruit trees, a butterfly shaped pollinator area, 2 raised beds with soil, benches, signs and various stones to accentuate and create pathways. Guess what…they got it all!

There’s no real secret to asking for help- just give yourself ample time to plan. Talk to your students about what the garden in their heads looks like. What’s growing? Where? Where is your space to enjoy it all? (Pinterest can be an excellent motivator!) Once you’ve created a plan together it’s time to let the community in to help. Who has tools? Who is an undercover gardener? What extra materials are hanging out in hardware stores, nurseries, or even someone’s backyard? Before you know it your plan is a blueprint and you have (hopefully) gotten most of your materials. What comes next? Asking for more help!

Garden Club enlisted the help of classmates, community members, parents and friends to help their dream come to life. They picked a nice Saturday to invite everyone out to be a part of the process. They spoke to local restaurants about  providing food, drinks, and raffle prizes…and they received all of it. People showed up in huge numbers because of the flyers they made. Four hours later Lavaland’s Community Garden Day was a roaring success. People young and old left tired but happy- full of good food and memories.  

Last month Lavaland’s garden was featured in the Albuquerque Journal. To read more about the student’s future plans and ultimate goals, check out the article here: https://www.abqjournal.com/858264/former-trash-field-becomes-school-garden.html

Mallory Garcia is an Albuquerque native. She took a few years off to join the PeaceCorps in China before returning back to The Land of Enchantment. She hopes to return to her roots and her Grandpa’s favorite past time of gardening and then sitting under the Cottonwoods after a day’s work. You can contact Mallory at mallory.garcia@foodcorps.org

School Gardens: Creating Ideas for Creative Writing & Positive Attitudes Towards Healthy Foods

School Gardens: Creating Ideas for Creative Writing and Positive Attitudes Towards Healthy Foods by Fallon Bader

Wilson Middle school is located in the international district of Albuquerque; a neighborhood with low access and attitudes towards healthy foods. While the neighborhood may lack in fresh, local veggies, Wilson Middle School has taken a different direction. Over the last 5 years a group of ambitious teachers have built a thriving school garden. The garden contains various fruits and vegetables, an edible forest, and even a large pond (with edible plants growing in it!).

One of my tasks as a FoodCorps service member working with Wilson was to integrate more teachers into the school garden. The garden was mainly being used by science classes, but a school garden can serve as a stimulating learning environment for any subject. I was told that the 6th grade language arts teacher was interested in collaborating with me to create some lessons that would combine creative writing and the school garden. I was instantly excited as creative writing was a subject I enjoyed in middle school and it I knew the opportunities were endless.

We first began with using the garden as a space to practice similes and metaphors. After going over the definitions of both, we headed outside to use all 5 senses to inspire ideas for our creative writing. The simple act of the students getting out of the classroom and exploring the beautiful garden created an engaging learning environment.

Rosemary_WordArt_WilsonMS_Blog Fallon_6-2016Another lesson I created was called “Word Art in the Garden”. I had students choose something growing or item they found in the garden (i.e. fence, hole, log). They then had to use their 5 senses to list descriptive words about their chosen object. Then they used these words to create a picture of their item. The students created creative and beautiful artwork that the language arts teacher displayed outside of her classroom.

When you think of middle school poetry combined with nature, what comes to mind? Haikus! Is there a better place to practice writing Haikus than a garden? I had the students circle up outside, read examples of haikus aloud, and then try some vegetables that were growing outside. They had to take notes on what they were trying, and then choose a vegetable to write a haiku about. The students came up with some really creative haikus while trying new foods from the garden at the same time. My personal favorite haiku about edible flowers is pictured below. Even though the student didn’t like what they tried, at least they tried it! Exposure is the first step to getting students to try new foods and creating positive eating behaviors. And sometimes you just have to laugh at what students come up! I most students did like the different vegetables we tried in the garden.

In addition to working with the language arts teacher, I also worked with 6th grade history teacher to create lessons that integrated the school garden as well. This multi-subject collaboration created repeated exposure to healthy foods in an engaging way throughout various subjects. Why is this important? Because most of the students have never tried or aren’t regularly served greens like spinach, arugula, chard, or kale at home. So when they show up in their school lunches, even something as simple as a spinach salad, where does most of that food go? The garbage. But, if we expose the students to these foods in a positive and engaging way, they will be more apt to try and consume them. We need a to create a culture shift where people want to consume healthier foods, and school gardens are an effective tool to do this.

 

Doing Food Justice at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School

By Liz Sims, La Plazita Institute Service Member  Beginning in August 2015, students council members gather twice a week at 6:30 AM for mandatory attendance as the sun rises behind Atrisco Heritage Academy High School (AHA). One team, the student issues group, surveyed their peers about student concerns at the beginning of the year. They discussed student concerns, and worked to address them. Their drive to address issues within the school led them to find that food on campus struck concerns among many within the student population.

Fast forward six months. These students are the odd balls of student council, waking up to practice choreography to Afrika Bambaataa among the massive student council group discussing prom and graduation. Our team took on a new role within student council not only because of their excitement to rehearse their flash mob at dawn, but they were also naming “Food Justice” within the school’s landscape. Our students felt passionate about starting a school-wide conversation regarding health disparities, food access, and to celebrate the often unrecognized abundance of fresh and traditional foods grown here in our own community.

AHA’s first ever “Food Justice Awareness Week” was in the making and swarming with excitement to learn, practice, and organize. Jags for Justice, as we were now calling our team (Go Jaguars!), spent countless hours gaining inspiration and knowledge from national and local farmers and activists. They even took trips after school to check out local farms. The massive chain of Food Justice quickly unraveled to reveal the inherent connections between ancestry, place, culture, water, land, access, and celebration.

Food Justice Week finally arrived. Out of nowhere, Afrika Bambaataa dropped on the loudspeakers in the cafeteria and our dance broke out in between tables of students with their school lunches. Shocked and intrigued, students followed the flash mob outside to find their peers rocking blender bikes and serving fruity spinach smoothies to everyone. Students helped build seed murals, made pollinator seed bombs, and even planted their own seeds to take home. Local farmers hung out to chat with students about growing food and the UNM Health Clinic shared their knowledge about health risks of eating processed foods. We celebrated student artwork by live screen printing our AHA Food Justice logo on t-shirts for students and staff.

The final day of AHA Food Justice gave local experts the opportunity to share their stories and knowledge with students. Our crew hosted a series of Jag Talks (a spinoff of the well-known TedTalks) which allowed teachers to bring their classes to learn from influential speakers from the community, University of New Mexico, and even within Atrisco Heritage itself. Our speakers shared snapshots of cultural history, ways to be involved as youth, and what a food desert even is. Students even learned about entomophagy and aquaponics.

Food Justice was a hit. This student-led event serves as a significant springboard for new ideas to mold food justice within AHA and ground our students’ concerns about access to healthy food in in greater context of understanding. Keep an eye out for more exciting news coming from Jags for Justice at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School.

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!

Let’s Bring Justice to the Table

By Casey Coty, FoodCorps Service Member at SouthWest Organizing Project

Are your students eating some beautiful rainbow carrots after defiantly claiming that they don’t like carrots? Are you getting reluctant young folks to eat their greens by sneaking them into a delicious smoothie? That’s awesome!

Whether coming from the school garden the students planted themselves or from a local grower, how do we work with this new found enthusiasm and momentum to increase the flow of fresh, healthy, culturally appropriate foods into our schools and other institutions in an equitable way that honors and respects the workers, land, water, and systems of production and distribution that make up our respective communities and ecosystems?

How can we organize around food and continue to grow relationships to work towards a resurgence of genuine, sustainable, sovereign communities that resist patterns of neoliberal commodification and the systemic injustices continuing to feed off of communities of culture, people of color, women and poor working class folks.  

What kind of awareness can we grow within the gardens and classrooms

to help empower our youth

to move from trying and liking new veggies

to organizing and advocating for more just food systems?

Merely presenting so called new methods and situations

with a grinning green washed face

 does little more than reinforce the existing structures

of exploitation and deceit.

There are many examples of communities successfully asserting themselves

and using their traditional knowledge and lived experiences

to grow international solidarity

in a grassroots food justice movement.

During the first week of January this year, the Southwest Organizing Project and University Sin Fronteras hosted a dinner and discussion with a representative from the National Education Collective of the Movimento Trabalhador Sem Terra (MST). The Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), one of the largest social movements in Latin America, is internationally famous for its success occupying large unproductive land estates and pressuring the government to redistribute this land to over 1 million landless farmers. The discussion included information about the National Education Collective of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement’s work in public schools that are currently functioning with MST land occupations.

These schools draw on diverse educational theories to develop a set of pedagogical practices for schools that include fostering collective forms of work and participation in political struggle, engaging in contentious actions to support their educational ideas, facilitating community discussions, organizing teacher trainings, and writing curricula with state actors.

In addition to learning about and trying new foods, our students should be given the opportunity to develop a critical understanding of how society functions and how historic injustices continue to shape current structures, including food systems. This should also include learning about different forms of organization, education models, and struggles, like the MST and others, so that they can become empowered to assert their own ideas and solutions in discussions about issues directly affecting them, their families and communities.

That can start with the food they have access to at the school and in their communities and extend well beyond into public policies, including curriculum that reflects their histories, struggles, and visions for a just future. Helping our students develop a critical analysis and vocabulary on historical injustices and current forms of structural racism as they relate to food is central to discussions in the spaces I work in.

One of those spaces is the 21st Century Extended Day Learning Apprenticeship Program at Van Buren Middle School. An 8th grader in the apprenticeship program last year went on to be part of the Southwest Organizing Project’s Youth Group as a summer intern through the Youth Employment Summer Institute, a program that places young people ages 14-24 with local organizations that provide them with the tools they need for developing skills in community organizing.

During the program SWOP’s Food Justice team took some of the participants on a three day trip entitled Reconnecting with our Roots. We visited one of our most beloved mentors’ and his neighbor’s farms that grow a variety of produce including our favorite local chile. It was also a time to get together and share good food, including the first round of chile fresh from the farm, and hear stories about history,culture and food from our mentor.

For the past couple of years we have taken students to the New Mexico Legislative session to support Food and Farms Day to highlight legislative proposals that support local growers and the importance of healthy school lunches. Wednesday, February 3rd we will once again be taking students to the Roundhouse to support Food and Farms Day and to learn about the political process.

The opportunity to talk to their representatives, like the photo above with Wilson students and State House Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton, is critical to shaping students’ understanding of the complex systems that they are a part of.

Growing Within Walls

As a Food Corps Service member at La Plazita Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I’ve joined a team dedicated to reducing recidivism among incarcerated individuals and building bridges to healthy lifestyles upon reentry to the world outside of confinement.

 La Cultura Cura, translates to “Culture Heals” in English. This mantra guides all of the work done at La Plazita Institute, and has resulted in a collaboration with the Youth Detention Center Education Unit and Youth Services Center. 

Every week, students participate in our Food Justice class and our after school Cooking and Gardening Program. For many of these students, stepping foot in the hoop house is their first time in a garden or seeing where food comes from. Heading out to the garden also breaks up their daily routines within the facility and exposes them to a greener, healing environment. Many are hesitant to even touch dirt, but their discomfort quickly diminishes. Soon they are daring each other to bite into the raw tomatoes and dirt-dusted shallots. We use our harvest in the cooking segment of the class, which often gives students the flavors and spices they don’t experience in the regular meal routine. Seeing the produce travel a two minute walk before using it to top off their homemade spicy black bean burgers demonstrates how gardening can be a relaxing hobby, but also translates into a doable act of self-sufficiency and self-empowerment.

In a facility detaining individuals, almost exclusively of color and low-income backgrounds, it is impossible to talk about food from a perspective the normalizes one definition of health. Beyond talking about nutrition and food systems, addressing the wider lens of food justice offers the opportunity to connect students to culture, family histories, goals, and critical thinking during a time when they are perhaps the most disconnected. 

Naturally, cooking and eating together gives students the opportunity to share stories, draw connections between their experiences and more broad systemic issues, and talk about progress they want to make when they leave the facility. The life cycles of the garden teach us about growth, restoration and nourishment while facing the realities of hunger and restricted access to real food in our communities provide a path conducive to healthy, yet powerful lifestyles and mindsets. 
Liz Sims is a FoodCorps service member at La Plazita Institute and is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Notes From the Field: Lew Wallace Tasting Event

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

In honor of National Farm to School month, I want to highlight an event that shows just how effective and fun a school wide health event can be.

With the help of parents, teachers, community organizations, and farmers, Lew Wallace Elementary School hosted a successful “Healthy Food Tasting Event”. I was invited to help plan and organize this awesome event. The event had several booths where students and families could go around exploring their senses and learning something new.

Red Tractor Farms hosted a tomato tasting booth. They brought several varieties of beautiful, farm-fresh tomatoes.

FoodCorps (that’s me!) hosted a “Massaged Kale Recipe” table. This involved getting gloves on, tearing up kale, and then massaging it with a delicious dressing in a Ziploc bag. Then of course, a taste test and “I Tried It” stickers to follow. There even was a young student who loved kale so much she wanted to eat it plain. I think this is proof that this farm-to-table stuff is working, huh?!

Albuquerque Public School’s Wellness Coordinator, Cynthia Grajeda, staffed the always-a-kid-favorite smoothie bike. One of our students was at first hesitant to try the green concoction, but once he tried it, he slammed down the cup and said “fill her up”!

Sol Harvest and La Cosecha farms brought tons of produce that was given out to families! This gave students and families a chance to meet the farmer who actually produced their food. Families could also practice some of the skills and education they had learned at the event at home.

There were also booths on WIC, the ICAN cooking program, and DoubleUpBucks SNAP benefits. The event provided a variety of hands-on and fun educational opportunities.

We were able to reach both students and families at the same time, which creates a better chance of a long-term positive impact. The event also stirred up conversations about how to keep this healthy momentum going at Lew Wallace. Overall, this event was a great success and big step for building community wide health.

The State We Are In

By Al Na’ir Lara, FoodCorps Service Member at Kirtland Elementary 

Q’vo mi Raza

…hello, my name is Al Na’ir Lara. Currently known to my students as Senior Al Na’ir, aka “Garden Teacher.” I am currently at Kirtland Elementary School, in Albuquerque New Mexico, (International Dist). I am serving the students and families at our school by providing garden/growing education, maintaining and implementing new and old technologies for growing food. Kirtland Elementary provides after school programming with an emphasis on hands on outdoor learning involving cooking, drawing from nature, and gardening, etc. 

We focus to create a safe space to talk and share stories about food and it’s culture.

This is my second year in the position as a FoodCorps service member. At Kirtland Elementary school we have two garden plots which serve as an outdoor classroom during school, after school club, food pantry, and serves as a meeting place.

Our intent is to spark interest in the students to empower themselves through growing Food, seed saving, and being active stewards to our Mother Earth.

Our gardens continue to grow into a more diverse landscape varying from: sage, fruit trees, flowers, Chile, corn, sugar cane, tomato etc. Our space and location is dominated by industry and military; so a break in the landscape is welcomed with open arms. The original garden plot was started, For the Community, By the Community. My position, like the garden plots, were resourced by the People and it’s partnership organizations because of the serious need for food education and access to it. To be real, our students and families go without eating Food in many cases. This fact is, and should always be, a part of the conversation; especially when we as a society speak about eating healthy food. Can we first make sure that we are all eating Food?

Food is my Culture, and it is relevant and dear to my heart. This is not just a New Mexico thing, everyone shares the same water, and everyone needs to eat food.

Our current policies allow commercial enterprise, private companies, academic institutions, and big Agriculture to rob the Earth, air, water, destroy our Seeds, mismanage resources, and even deny people of basic Human rights. In this political climate and attitude it should be no surprise that New Mexico/U.S./World children, adults, and elders go hungry.

Everyday I am learning and in most cases, re-learning about how to grow food and work with the Land.

Now residing in Albuquerque, the techniques of urban gardening have me seeking out contemporary as well as traditional ways of growing. I often call my parents to ask “How’s the weather, did it rain yet? What’s the recipe for…? Is it time to plant this…?” To be honest I didn’t see myself being a farmer or a teacher at this point of my life. I am honored to be part of this movement of Cultural Preservation. Most of my generation has gone into other careers, professions, and even different life styles. Living off the land for small traditional farmers is no longer a sustainable option; farmers are often challenged with systems in place that threaten the loss of land, water, and cultural practices.

Hearing the stories and knowledge of the land has allowed me to connect to my culture and fight to preserve it. The knowledge is with the past generations; we must provide more space for our Elders to share their stories.

My family has been in close relations with this land, air, and water, and farming here in the New Mexico region for six generations. Our southwestern region has a rich culture of maintaining a balance with the land. There is value in taking care of what we have. I wonder if my great grandparents could have imagined the struggle of food insecurity as it is today. What would they suggest to improve it? The Later generations have seen the changes through out their lifetime, and have maintained their cultural resilience against this oppressive system. My community is rich in Culture and stories of their own to tell. I am grateful for the trust and patience my community has had with me thus far. I am here to share the best of my skills and continue the movement. I urge you, the reader to go talk with an Elder today; ask them to tell you their story about how they lived, now live, and plan on living in the future.

I give many thanks to those that have come before me, for them I am thankful to live and tell my story. I come from a family of creative and resourceful educators, …and they came from a long line of Farmers, Ranchers, machinists, sailors, activists, and storytellers.

 

 

 

 

Supporting Community Values

By Casey Coty, FoodCorps Service Member with SouthWest Organizing Project 

In my previous post I referred to a particular development proposal up on the mesa just to the west of Albuquerque from out of state interests to illustrate how this whole colonial/settler state mentality is still very much alive and continues to prey upon the natural resources of our lands, water, and communities.

Here’s a brief description of a couple spaces we are helping to facilitate that will hopefully demonstrate some possibilities for building and strengthening our communities based on real community values and needs.

The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP)’s food justice campaign, Project Feed the Hood (PFTH), helps to facilitate Student Health Advisory Councils (SHAC) at two middle schools (Van Buren and Wilson) in Albuquerque Public Schools (APS). The SHAC’s are made up of parents, students, community members, and school staff working together to improve the health of all students and families by coordinating efforts, maintaining school gardens, building awareness, and through direct action.

Our primary goal is to develop leadership skills within these cohorts and strengthen their ability to influence the political process concerning school foods and school wellness policies, at the APS district level and at the New Mexico State Legislature. New Mexico is currently ranked number 1 in childhood hunger, 1 in 3 of our children suffers from hunger and 1 in 5 adults.

Over 66% of students in New Mexico qualify for free and reduced lunches through the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. Just over half of Albuquerque Public School’s 89,000 students qualify including 85% of students at Van Buren Middle School and 81% of students at Wilson Middle School. Many of these students are consuming more than half of their daily calories at school, which means that at least one of their primary meals is a school meal.

Studies prove that students who have enough to eat perform better in school, healthier students also perform better. Students and parent voices are traditionally marginalized in public policy debates; by empowering these community voices to insert themselves into the process we can craft policies that directly address the needs of the community and build on sustainable, long term, culturally appropriate solutions.

Project Feed the Hood has worked closely with students, teachers, parents, and other school staff to maintain school gardens at five APS schools this year. With SHAC at Wilson and Van Buren middle schools we were able to host very fruitful visioning sessions with students and school staff about school food, food justice issues, and the entire education system itself. We have also hosted workshops and discussions with parents about school gardens, school food, community organizing and food justice.

This summer we are hosting three SHAC visioning sessions at PFTH’s International District Community Garden to develop the community leadership skills of students and families to discuss how their values and ambitions can drive the work they chose to do. We know that schools across the district have an already established state mandated council and our goal is to help create a space where we can all develop shared, comprehensive resources like basic base building, health education initiatives, workshops on curriculum design, and how we can shape our education system to better reflect the realities of our families and communities.

This year we facilitated a job mentorship program (JMP) at West Mesa HS with four students successfully completing the program. The JMP is a project of the Albuquerque Business Education Compact and operated by the City of Albuquerque and the Department of Family and Community Services designed to offer assistance and encouragement to high school students to stay in school and graduate.

Each of the students had to complete 30 hours of community service, 30 hours of work in the garden at $5/hour, and 30 hours of building job searching skills. One of the students has started a job at the zoo this month as a result of successful completion of the program.

West Mesa HS was also awarded a $5,000 grant from Lowe’s Toolbox for Education and we will be continuing to work with students, staff & faculty, and families over the summer to maintain and expand the garden spaces, host BBQ’s and potlucks, and develop a community advocacy group.

At the 2015 New Mexico Legislative Session an additional $30,000 was given to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA). Schools in Albuquerque can apply for these funds if they are involved with farmers who are in training programs, our sister organization Grow the Future is one of these farms. These funds will add to $85,000 recurring that the NMDA administers for ‘New Mexico Grown Produce for School Meals’ fund. Between the two agencies New Mexico farmers will benefit from the total of $479,300.

An additional $400,000 was appropriated to the New Mexico Farmer’s Market Association for their ‘Double Up Food Bucks’ program, which allows recipients of SNAP to receive $2 for $1 to spend at local farmers markets.

These incremental policy victories add up to almost a million dollars in support for getting healthy foods into our most vulnerable communities. They are a direct result of the awareness built and actions taken by members of Project Feed the Hood and our partners on the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council.

This summer we are also proud to be a host site with the Youth Employment Summer Institute as one of 8 organizations providing employment to 75 young folks to build their skills in community organizing. Project Feed the Hood has three youth interns who will be helping to build relationships, facilitate summer school programming, be an integral part in SHAC planning strategy and community visioning sessions, plan a food justice tour, and maintain school and community garden spaces throughout the summer.

The relationships these young people help create and develop will make all the difference between these policies being implemented and nourished or just being another feel good thing on record but not really enacted and enforced. It’s also a good time to see what we want to ask the new APS school board to do to support the collaborative efforts aimed at addressing injustice, inequity, healthy locally sourced school meals, and an education system that truly serves the needs of our families and communities.

Empowering Youth to Make Healthy Food Choices

Choice changes lives, and we control our choices.

This statement was the theme of last week’s youth activities at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention and Youth Services Center, one of my FoodCorps school sites. The entire week was filled with a diverse variety of workshops which were recorded as part of an institutional effort to highlight student voices and ideas for a new website video.

Since the end of October, youth at the Detention Center have gained exposure to gardening and nutrition education through my after school garden program held in the facility’s hoop house. Furthermore, since the beginning of this year, kitchen staff have been incorporating into student meals fresh produce from one of the farm plots operated in the South Valley of Albuquerque by my FoodCorps service site, La Plazita Institute. For the past several weeks, Detention Center youth, most of whom are from the South Valley, have been able to enjoy asparagus from this farm in their meals. This has been the first exposure to asparagus for many of the youth, but it has been a huge hit. Therefore, when I had the opportunity to design my own workshop relating to food and choice, I chose to highlight this plant.

During the workshop, the ten females who were recommended by their teachers to participate were able to prepare a roasted asparagus dish and a fresh asparagus salad. Both recipes incorporated familiar Southwestern and Mexican ingredients, something that I emphasize in my choice of recipes for cooking lessons. While we waited for the food to cook, the students, teachers, staff, and I sat down to have a discussion about the important connection between food and choice. I asked the students what choices they have made with the foods they eat. One response, which was supported by several of the other girls, was, “Sometimes, I have to choose not to eat at Blake’s [Lotaburger] or McDonald’s and eat something healthy.” This is certainly a difficult choice to make given that fast food restaurants like these are so prevalent in their neighborhoods and offer inexpensive meal options for the youth and their families. I brought up that we also have the choice to grow our own food. A La Plazita staff member and his family chose to donate the land on which the organization now grows its asparagus.

However, I assured the entire group that you do not need acres of land or a “green thumb” to grow food. All you need is seeds, soil, sunlight, and love.

Our food choices are some of the most powerful choices that we have; they can determine our long-term health, and more broadly, influence the overall health of our communities. Therefore, I am hoping that with the knowledge about gardening and nutrition that Detention Center youth have gained both in this single workshop as well as in our other lessons, some of the students will choose to make healthier food choices for positive change in their lives.