Youth help build new community garden to feed the hungry | Local News

Brandon Stewart had a look of satisfaction as he reviewed the row of squash he helped plant last week in a new community garden in Agua Fría Village.

The plants were already showing signs of growth.

“It gives me hope — lots of hope,” said 18-year-old Stewart, who was participating in an effort to plant an array of greens in the 1-acre garden not far from the Santa Fe Community Farm off San Isidro Crossing.

“This will give people breakfast, lunch, dinner,” he said.

The new volunteer initiative, a collaboration among local nonprofit organizations, the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps, Alas De Agua, Mother Nature Center and Santa Fe County, aims to address food insecurity and train young people to work the land. Nonprofits Reunity Resources and Santa Fe YouthWorks worked with county commissioners to secure a 15-month lease on the property.

Commissioner Anna Hansen said the county-owned land had gone unused for 20 years. The farming initiative, she said, is “a small opportunity to show that programs like this can grow in other communities in the county. It’s an example of being the right thing to do in the time of pandemic.”

Juliana Ciano, a program director for Reunity Resources, a community farm and composting organization that turns food waste into soil and provides education on nutrition and agriculture, said this year’s harvest of greens likely will be distributed to YouthWorks to help feed youth in need and members of the local homeless community.

The groups hope for a full season next year to grow a variety of produce.

Eventually, Ciano and Hansen said, the garden could become part of a planned bike trail and foot path through the community.

Reunity Resources and YouthWorks leaders are seeking grants to help sustain the project, which could cost $10,000 to $15,000 per year.

Monique Martinez, 16, a Capital High School student participating in the project, said it felt good to put her hands in the soil as she planted cabbage on a recent weekday afternoon.

She has known hunger, she said.

She spent time living in a homeless shelter with her mother after they moved to New Mexico from Colorado five or six years ago with no money, no job for her mother and no prospects.

“It’s sad to go to bed without dinner,” Martinez said. “But this [garden] will help.”

Jay Hennicke, director of operations for YouthWorks, which provides job training and other services for young people, said there’s no better way to get youth connected with the community than by teaching them to work the land. County and community leaders’ support for the project offers affirmation to the youth that they are doing something worthwhile, he added.

“When these kids get their hands dirty, it’s stewardship,” Hennicke said as he watched Martinez and Stewart dig and plant.

“And when they drive by in 10, 15, 20 years with their kids, they can point to the garden and say, ‘I helped dig these holes. I helped put in these plants.’ ”

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