Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
A rainy day in the South Valley couldn’t dampen the celebration of a new community farm space that uses traditional agriculture to educate students.
On Friday,residents attended the grand opening of the South Valley Farm Hub across from Ernie Pyle Middle School. The students will attend gardening class at the greenhouse to grow vegetables and herbs.
First Choice Community Healthcare, Agri-Cultura Network, Central New Mexico Community College and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps helped build the 3,000-square-foot greenhouse.
The farm is the start of a South Valley “wellness ecosystem.” First Choice will partner with local organizations to create a food hub, a new building for Health Leadership High School, a farm-to-table café, and centers for workforce training and early childhood development.
“This has been a long time coming,” said state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, whose district includes the farm. “Something like this takes commitment. It takes amor. It will help us take care of our South Valley by giving us healthy food, and a place to walk, eat, learn and take care of our families.”
The project has been in the works since 2015, when First Choice decided to transform a four-acre neighborhood dump into a place to tackle issues of education and nutrition in the South Valley.
A 2012 Bernalillo County health assessment found that chronic disease and low life expectancy were more common in the South Valley than many other areas in the Albuquerque metro. Nearly 30% of South Valley residents are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and access to fresh produce is scarce in the area.
Ernie Pyle Principal Stacia Duarte said she is excited for her students to learn at the farm.
“We want our students to know this is for them so that they want to bring their families here,” Duarte said. “This is about building connections to the past and our history of agriculture in the South Valley. It’s also about the future – ensuring these students are knowledgeable, aware and involved in their communities.”
At the grand opening, the Ernie Pyle school band played and students planted marigolds for a Día de Los Muertos sale.
CNM students installed and will maintain hydroponic systems that minimize water use necessary for growing plants in a small space.
Agri-Cultura Network Program Director Helga Garza expressed gratitude at the grand opening for the “sacred knowledge” that generations of New Mexicans had passed down in order to preserve farming traditions. Garza’s organization will operate the greenhouse, hoop houses and the food hub.
CNM board member Annette Chavez y De La Cruz looks forward to the center teaching a new generation of urban farmers.
“My family has lived the agricultural history of the South Valley, so this project is all the more meaningful to me,” she said.
At the close of the event, attendees were given a handful of seeds to scatter across the new green space.
“Think of these seeds as an investment for the community,” said First Choice Outreach Coordinator Jedrek Lamb. “You are helping bring life to this property.”
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal. Visit reportforamerica.org to learn about the effort to place journalists in local newsrooms around the country.