CONTACT: Sally Cassady, 575-646-0334, scassady
EDGEWOOD – Residents of southern Santa Fe County and Torrance County may be a car ride from Albuquerque, but they live in a food desert.
On the east side of the Sandia and Manzano mountains there are only four grocery stores – two in Edgewood, one in Moriarty and one in Mountainair.
With this limited selection for shopping, fresh fruits and vegetables come as a premium for residents, especially senior citizens. One way to alleviate this situation is to have a vegetable garden.
To introduce the area residents to gardening, New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is collaborating with two Santa Fe County agencies and Partnership for a Healthy Torrance Community to help revitalize a community garden at the Santa Fe County Senior Center in Edgewood.
“We are working to change the environment so people have access to healthier food,” said Sally Cassady, food system specialist with Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition, a program administered by NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Service.
“This is an amazing partnership between NMSU and Santa Fe County,” said Sharalynn Lucero of Partnership for a Healthy Torrance Community. “I feel like this will be a good place for people to come not only to build a sense of community, but to establish a garden in this area since access to fresh fruit and vegetables is limited out here.”
Establishing a community garden at the Edgewood senior center began a few years ago when a grant from Santa Fe County was used to install a catchment system to harvest rain water from the center’s roof.
Efforts to maintain the garden faltered in the past years, but the new collaboration of agencies is revitalizing the volunteers’ desire to produce a community garden.
“Part of the inspiration for this project is the amazing water catchment system that hasn’t been really utilized,” said Erin Ortigoza, senior planner and project manager with the Santa Fe County planning division. “We have been thinking how to reactivate the system and put the water to good use.”
NMSU’s Santa Fe County agricultural agent Tom Dominguez was called upon to help with the new project.
“The county approached us about heading up this program,” Dominguez said. “They had some money to invest in additional infrastructure.”
Dominguez provided six workshops on basic gardening to stimulate interest by community volunteers. A core group of participants formed from the workshops.
The volunteers began revitalizing the old garden and planning for the future.
“Our next step was to build a hoop house, so they can raise winter greens and extend their growing season,” Dominguez said.
NMSU Extension agricultural agent Del Jimenez led construction of a 14-foot-by-32-foot tall tunnel, or hoop house during three days of work.
Dominguez plans to continue the educational component of the project by offering Master Gardener training during the winter.
“I went through the garden series and when they were talking about building a hoop house out here, I thought, ‘I want to be a part of this project,’” said volunteer Evelyn McGarry, who moved to the area two-and-a-half years ago. “I’ve come to love this community. This is a great way to meet people and work with them.”
As the volunteers plan what will be planted in the hoop house this fall and winter, Madonna Berbiscar recalls the way community businesses provided seed when the garden was first established and are helping now.
“It’s delightful to have people wanting to revitalize the garden,” Berbiscar said. “We really want to have a garden where the seniors can come and pick vegetables.”
While the original garden was started for the senior citizens at the center, it has now expanded to include the community.
“Our seniors have put so much effort into the garden, it was sad to see it go down the past couple of years,” said Ida Lucero, manager of the Santa Fe County Senior Center where the garden is located. “We are excited to have it reestablished. We are hoping to get 4-H and FFA youth involved as well as families and their children.”