Slow Transition to Healthier Food Choices for Low Income Students

By: Anahi Mena-Hernandez, La Semilla Food Center Service Member

At the beginning of the school year, we conducted a study called veggie meter, in which the goal was to measure the amount of vegetable consumption in children from first to fifth grade. At the beginning of the study, it was necessary to ask each student if the previous night they had consumed hot cheetos or “Takis” a chip brand preferred by the children of the paso del norte region, famous for dying fingers because of the high amount of artificial colors they contain. It is not very surprising to discover that most of these children consume takis at least once a week.

Besides being addictive, junk food is more accessible and cheaper, in a small town like Anthony, New Mexico. The healthiest restaurant that you can find is a food chain that sells sandwiches and encourages people  to “eat fresh”. Despite being a farming community, it is impossible to find a restaurant with healthy and affordable choices for its population.

The challenge is not only about healthier options that are accessible, the challenge is also to make families switch their minds regarding healthy food. “It’s too green,” “it looks weird,” “it looks like my little brother’s poo,” are a few of the comments that I’ve heard from students in elementary schools in response to healthier food options.

Of course the ideal would be that all the children were wellness gurus, but this is a reality that is very difficult to achieve. Therefore, the introduction of healthy foods must be gradually and sometimes “disguised” using snacks that are eaten regularly by children (tortilla chips, crackers, biscuits, tortillas). They represent a good vehicle to introduce and/or add vegetables, fruits and healthy spices to student’s diets. Of course, making sure to teach students how to read labels and aim for the brands with the healthiest ingredients options is also important.

In my personal experience, I have noticed that it is easier for a child to try a baked tortilla chip or a piece of crunchy bread with hummus, which is a food that they are already familiar with than to offer the same hummus with a slice of turnip, radish or carrot, making the introduction of a new food less of a challenge and increasing the possibility of making a seamless new addition to their diet.

Gradually through nutrition education and the development of healthy kid friendly recipes, there will be a noticeable change over a medium period of time. The key is more nutrition lessons, perseverance, patience and an open mind in the creation of recipes with greater nutritional value, hoping that in the future all students who were exposed to more hours of healthy cooking lessons and garden education will become wellness gurus.

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.

Serving in Indigenous Communities

Ya’at’eeh’ Ryan Dennison yinishye. Hooghan łani nishli doo Ta’neeszahnii bashisheen. Tse nabiłnii ei da’shichei, doo Kinyaa’áanii ei da’shinali.

Greetings, my name is Ryan Dennison of the Dine tribe, I am identified by the universe by my four clans, I am of the Many Hogan’s clan (Hooghan łani), born for the Tangled People’s clan (Ta’neeszahnii), my maternal grandfather is of the Sleep Rock People’s clan (Tse’nabiłnii) and my paternal grandfather is of the Towering House clan (Kinyaa’áanii). This is how I introduce myself, acknowledge my maternal lineage and honor my relations. These clans come not only from people, but come from specific places on our homeland.

As Diné, we the foundation of all our knowledge is organized from the central location surrounded by the four sacred mountains, which is known as the “Navajo Reservation”. Even the order of the stars is associated with the geographical and ecological knowledge provided from the cardinal directions of the sacred mountains. These cardinal directions, east, south, west and north, are directly connected to the cosmic stellar process as observed from this position of centrality in the area of the four corners of the American southwest.

The Diné worldview is a holistic and ordered universe where everything is interrelated and all the pieces of the universe are enfolded within the whole. At the same time every piece contains the entire universe, creating a network of relationships and processes in constant flux. Unlike western culture, traditional Diné lifeways are highly spiritual in accordance with a worldview where everything is considered living and sacred. The entire universe is considered to be a living organism, a sacred organism existing in a non-static and constantly regenerating process. The human is an integral participant within the dynamic whole. Every human action is considered cosmic and affects the web of universal relationship. This is similar to tenets of quantum physics in regards to principles of non-locality.

I currently started my first year as a FoodCorps service member in my hometown, Gallup, NM. Located in northwestern part of New Mexico, this reservation border town has experienced the rise of many social and environmental issues (like food access) that affect the wellbeing and health of all inhabitants both human and nature. I serve K-4th grade at the David Skeets Elementary, teaching both Traditional Diné Knowledge and Western Science and a common ground where they meet at organizing principles. Continuing this frame of thought is learned from my parents and grandparents, a crucial part of life to grow into responsibilities and undertaking roles to not only live in balance but protect that balance for future generations.

The impact of Colonization not only meant our minds, but how we treated the elements of our world, each other, plants, animals and the environment. Colonization led our people to believe that Western medicine, foods and technology would improve our health. In fact, the overall health and wellbeing of the people was vastly superior prior to the introduction of Western toxins. Euro-American culture has furthermore influenced our people to devalue the spirituality of food, ultimately leading to the deterioration of our people’s health and our traditional social structures that were held intact by community and family, agriculture, hunting, and gathering.

As a person of color, under the American systems and structures that have been built to assimilate, displace and eliminate my people, I find myself in an opportunity of building, fostering and nurturing relationships with my community and that of organizations like FoodCorps to not further tokenize me but to collaborate and support my community of self and social recovery. Because of all the turmoil people create with each other, I begin to realize that it’s a reflection of what we do to the environment as well. What we do to the land is also a reflection of what we do to ourselves and each other.

Since time immemorial, food has been at the center of the Indigenous cultures of
Turtle Island. Recognizing our ecological protocol within these systems of relationships and reciprocity, our ancestral food means we have ceremony in seasonality with our bodies and our food, it has been asked permission, harvested, hunted, honored, it has been prayed for, and celebrated. Indigenous peoples were dependent on the natural cycles of mother earth. Being in alignment with those natural spiritual and physical forces was a way of life of our ancestors that has brought us this far as nations.

With an open mind and open heart, I wish to continue supporting my community and other communities, by using my traditions and culture but not at the expense of the idea that some lives matter less. I honor those before me and give thanks to them and to you for taking the time to read this, in closing here a few quotes from John Trudell who so elegantly puts my sayings in perspective:

“We’re not Indians and we’re not Native Americans. We’re older than both concepts. We’re the people, we’re the human beings. We must go beyond the arrogance of human rights. We must go beyond the ignorance of civil rights. We must step into the reality of natural rights because all of the natural world has a right to existence and we are only a small part of it. There can be no trade-off. Our bones, flesh and blood are made up of the metals, liquids and minerals of the earth and everything on this planet is made up of the same things. As humans we have being, so everything on the earth does too in our culture, because we are made of the same thing.”

Ryan is 25 years old currently, resides in Fort Wingate, New Mexico. He is a FoodCorps service member with the COPE Project and is also a fellow of the Native Youth Leadership Alliance, with a background in community work surrounding in media arts, social and environmental justice on the Navajo Reservation. Ryan hopes to continue work on the reservation to make sustainable communities based on traditional values and reciprocity with the earth.

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.

Growing Year Around in Southern New Mexico

By Josh Jasso, FoodCorps Service Member with La Semilla Food Center

There are a limited amount of places in the country where year-round food production is viable; and even fewer places where year-round growing is possible at 4000 ft. But that’s the place I find myself at: the Paso del Norte region of Southern New Mexico and West Texas, a tristate area with Chihuahua, Mexico.

Serving with La Semilla Food Center, I’ve been tasked with providing teachers and schools with the knowledge and infrastructure to educate about food and its production, as well as managing two, soon to be productive, school gardens in Las Cruces.

We’re at that point of the year where you (finally) can notice the shift in seasons. As the weather transitions from the consistently hot to crisp and cool, you notice the introduction and shift in vegetables at the farmers market and your garden or farm. You can still find those tomatoes and chiles that you love, but now you’re finding spinach, radishes, carrots and other fall crops as farmers transition to crops that can tolerate our pleasantly mild winters. This selection might be available in other climates for longer or more frequently but let’s not forget that we live in the desert, and it takes a hardy type of plant (or person) to be able to exist here year round.

There are transition windows for the seasons, some are obvious, others are more subtle. There’s a fine line between planting radishes and getting a succulent, watery bite, and getting a sinus-clearing, spicy mouth full.

You want warm enough soil to promote vigorous germination and growth, but cool enough days that the radish remains refreshing. A couple of days on either end of the transition period and your crop can be affected.

Plant too early and your fall crop won’t germinate well in the heat. Plant too late and your crop will get wiped out by a hard frost before you get to harvest any of it.

These are problems that a farmer has to deal with, and can only be learned through familiarity and time.

There are ways to mediate these issues, however. Simple things like using row cover to protect your seeds and seedlings will improve germination and growth and help to regulate soil temperatures. Similarly, the same product will help to extend the growing season by keeping soil temperatures warmer for plants when temperatures begin to drop. The method for season extension that is being implemented at our gardens is the hoop house, or low tunnel.

The principle is the same as using row cover or using a green house – creating a microclimate for the plants in which they can continue to grow. With this method in place we should be able to successfully navigate the changing of the seasons and the light frosts that are prevalent in our area.

Interested in learning about techniques to extend your seasons? Visit the following links for more information: Low Tunnel Construction or Raised Bed Gardening Mini Tunnel.

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.





Why I Serve with FoodCorps

By Tae Young-Nam, FoodCorps Service Member with La Semilla Food Center

I can explain why I served with FoodCorps like this: it’s a combination of fun, yummy food, mounds of dirt and self-interest.

My name is Tae-young Nam and I served, for the past two years, as a FoodCorps service member with La Semilla Food Center in partnership with two elementary schools within Las Cruces, New Mexico and the El Paso del Norte Region. Growing up in a middle-class Madison, WI neighborhood, I was lucky to have parents who brought home a plethora of fruits and colorful vegetables. However in the classroom, I clearly recall learning about how the body worked, but I hardly remember any lessons on how to fill our bodies with healthy food.

FoodCorps works to change that by deploying leaders across the nation to introduce healthier options to school cafeterias, create and execute garden and nutrition based lessons, and have a blast harvesting carrots and then cooking them with kids, possibly after making them perform rounds of jumping jacks, push-ups and yoga. I work with 2nd-5th grade classrooms to incorporate gardening, cooking and nutrition into their lesson plans during the mornings, and run after-school Gardening and Cooking Clubs in two different elementary schools. Furthermore, I tried to tailor the recipes to what our school gardens are growing so that we can harvest and cook it in one lesson.

Through teaching these lessons, I have found that when kids grow their own food a deep connection is formed with those fruits and veggies. In fact, it can be reminiscent of welcoming a new family member. I believe this connection not only has the power to bring back the respect our 21st century societies should have towards our food, but the love we sow in its growth and care. To that end, children usually do not take for granted the veggies they have grown themselves.

As a FoodCorps service member, I had the incredible opportunity to watch kids shoveling zucchini into their mouths from the ratatouille they’ve made for themselves, actually needing to tell them, ‟slow down, we won’t let anyone take your food.” On another day I might witness a 2nd grader pick a cherry tomato off the vine and pop it into his mouth right after claiming he didn’t like tomatoes and then several bites later exclaim, ‟I like tomatoes… A LOT!”

Finally, I served with the conviction that healthier kids make happier kids. I served with the confidence that working to increase the number of smiles in the world will better it… And in that service, I have found my own biggest smile.

Reflections from a Food Sovereignty Training on Navajo

By Amelia Brycelea, FoodCorps Service Member with COPE Project: Navajo Nation

The week of June 22nd was FoodCorps New Mexico’s final state training of the year and took place in the beautiful Gallup area, in western New Mexico. It still seems like yesterday when we had our first planning call at the beginning of March. Farm to Table NM, UNM’s Community Engagement Center, and COPE all joined forces to brainstorm ideas about the upcoming site-based training.

Three months later, we had our final agenda. On June 22nd, all of New Mexico’s Service Members, the Farm to Table team, and UNM’s CEC members arrived in Gallup. We convened in the evening for a potluck and introductions. On the morning of the 23rd, we gathered with Gloria Ann Begay of the Diné Food Sovereignty Alliance (DFSA) in the Solarium conference room.

She gave a presentation on food restoration and the history of the food system on Navajo.

After lunch, we caravanned to the Bááháálí community-15 miles south of Gallup- where we pulled countless weeds, and assisted with putting four raised beds in the Senior Center’s Inter-generational Garden. That evening, we closed out the day with some delicious Navajo tacos at the chapter house.

On the 24th, we spent the day at the Community Pantry. After taking a tour around the pantry’s HOPE Garden, we heard a panel by two of the DFSA members and two of the NCHO Youth Leaders. The panel was on the landscape of Farm to School in Indian Country. In the afternoon, Farm to Table gave a helpful presentation on traditional foods procurement followed by a workshop on curriculum building.

Thursday, the 25th was spent in Pine Hill, about an hour and a half south of Gallup. We helped the Families and Children Education (FACE) program restore their community garden, where they built a teepee trellis for the beans the kids planted shortly after. That evening, we camped out near the lava tubes, outside of Grants, NM.

The experience was not only fulfilling, it was also quite humbling.

I so much enjoyed being a part of the planning process as I was able to create deeper connections with community partners while organizing some awesome service projects!

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.