Self Reliance is Empowering

The final week of the field school will be spent exploring community gardens, ranches, dairies, orchards and processing facilities in southern New Mexico. Our group reconvened on UNM campus early Monday morning and headed three and a half hours south to Anthony, located near the Texas border. We arrived at the Anthony Community Garden and met up with Rebecca Wiggins-Reinhard, a staff member of La Semilla Food Center. According to their website, La Semilla strives to “build a healthy, self-reliant, and sustainable food system in the Paso del Norte region of southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.” The center works to address hunger, food insecurity and healthy food access through community education and partnerships.

Rebecca gave us a tour of the Anthony Community Garden, a project created by the grassroots Colonias Development Council and maintained in partnership with La Semilla Food Center. The community garden was founded in December 2008; the quarter acre site has a greenhouse, a compost area, numerous family garden plots, a small orchard, a functioning horno (built by YCC youth), and an outdoor adobe ramada classroom in progress. Out of the community garden initiative have grown school gardens and garden clubs at nearby elementary and junior high schools. Community members and youth associated with the garden have also helped Anthony families establish backyard gardens at their homes. A new program – Raíces de Tradición – now engages community garden youth and their families in gardening, cooking and nutrition activities, and is held at the neighboring Women’s Intercultural Center.

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After our tour of the Anthony Community Garden, we walked over to the Women’s Intercultural Center for a delicious Tex-Mex style lunch (prepared by women in the facility’s commercial kitchen) and more conversation about youth and community food initiatives. The center is a fascinating organization that “intertwines learning opportunities, economic development options, and relationship building with the larger community for purposes of mutual consciousness-raising.” Its mission is to provide bilingual education and economic opportunities to women who have recently migrated to the US from Latin America. Center participants have created viable handicraft, food-based, and other entrepreneurial businesses, and have become well-respected border/immigration/human rights advocates. The feeling of empowerment in the center is tangible – in fact, local women were trained in alternative construction techniques and in 2001 built the center’s beautiful 7,000 square foot rammed earth/recycled tire structure themselves!

After lunch we headed north to Las Cruces, to the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum (with a quick detour past fragrant onion fields, and through shady tree-lined roads to Stahmann’s Pecan Farm and Store). Students explored the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum exhibits – some of the highlights being the green chile, New Mexico dairies, and Dust Bowl exhibits – and then spent the remainder of the afternoon working in a museum classroom crafting their research posters. After the sun set and the temperatures dropped below 100° F, the group enjoyed a delicious New Mexican dinner in Old Mesilla and strolled around the plaza in the sultry evening.

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