The ancient adage - “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – is being applied to a new statewide program.

New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Science successfully introduced the Seed to Supper program last year and has plans to expand in 2020.

The collaborative efforts of the Cooperative Extension Service Master Gardener and Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition programs in three counties piloted the program, which provides opportunities for people to learn how to start a garden and grow their own food on a budget.

“This is a comprehensive beginning vegetable gardening curriculum designed for adults gardening on a budget,” said Sally Cassady, NMSU’s ICAN food system specialist who is coordinating the program designed by Oregon State University Extension Service and the Oregon Food Bank.

“It is taught at community sites by Master Gardeners and other trained volunteers,” Cassady said. “It highlights practical, low-cost techniques for building, planning, planting, maintaining and harvesting a successful vegetable garden.”

Classes were taught in Valencia, San Miguel and Bernalillo counties in 2019. The program will expand to Colfax, Taos, Sandoval, and Santa Fe counties this year.

“I am working with the Extension agents in several other counties and, hopefully, we will include these counties as well,” Cassady said.

The Rio Grande Food Project on Albuquerque’s Westside welcomed the program as it revitalized its community garden.

“We had a small community garden, but it didn’t feel like it was owned by the community,” said Ari Herring, executive director of the Rio Grande Food Project. “In 2018 we formed a committee of some of our clients and redesigned the garden with the help of the Agri-Cultura Network, a non-profit network of farmers who help people learn how to grow produce to generate an income. They helped us with our infrastructure, but because they have their own farms to work, they were unable to hold gardening classes.”

It was a match made in heaven when Herring, Cassady, Master Gardener intern Sharon Brito and ICAN nutrition educator Tina Louise Carpenito came together to provide the Seed to Supper curriculum to members of the garden committee, community members, and clients of Rio Grande Food Project.

“We are about food distribution and hunger relief, but we are not experts on growing food,” Herring said. “Tina Louise has been providing nutrition education at our site in the Rio Grande Presbyterian Church. Through her, we all connected.”

Brito had entered the Master Gardener program wanting to volunteer in a community garden setting. When she heard about the Seed to Supper program, she volunteered to teach the curriculum.

“I’ve gardened for 15 years prior to becoming a Master Gardener,” Brito said. “I liked the Seed to Supper curriculum because it empowered the individual to create a garden at their home.”

The six classes, taught once a week, focused on garden site and soil development, garden planning, planting a garden, caring for a growing garden and harvesting and using the garden bounty.

“When I heard about the Seed to Supper classes, I loved what they were saying,” said Jamilah Murray, one of the participants. “I’ve been gardening since I was a little girl, but I still learned something new each week.”

With the information they learned in the classes, and that which others shared with them, the gardeners harvested more than 300 pounds of produce from the Rio Grande Community Garden. The bountiful harvest was shared with the food project clients.

“I like tasting the produce that I haven’t had before, like chard, different lettuce, kale and various tomatoes,” Murray said. “Each week I would take home some of the produce.”

Many people are not as adventurous and avoid fresh produce because they don’t know how to use it in a meal.

Carpenito offered to help Brito with the final class that focused on using the garden bounty to have a nutritional meal.

“I knew the gardening part of the curriculum but not the nutritional aspect,” Brito said of the curriculum that included the U.S. Department of Agriculture My Plate, regarding healthy food selection. “So I was glad to have Tina Louise co-teach the class.”

The participants visited the community garden and picked kale, tomatoes and a variety of herbs to liven up a cucumber and tomato salad recipe they made.

“So many people don’t know what to do with fresh vegetables,” Carpenito said. “It was wonderful to help them to realize what they can create with the produce.”

Besides raising fresh vegetables, the community garden has given Rio Grande Food Project clients a place to give back.

“Our clients are amazingly grateful for the food project,” Herring said of the 370 plus households receiving food weekly. “And we often hear from them that they would love to volunteer and give back, and for some, the garden has served as this space where people feel they are bringing their own skills and knowledge to the food project. They are helping to grow fresh vegetables to supplement our food distribution.”

Besides working in the garden, Murray feels her skills in organizing events may help during the growing season.

“I want to develop a calendar of when we need to do things in the calendar that will help people know when they are needed,” Murray said. “I also want to get the surrounding neighborhood involved in this project.”

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