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.