Surrounded by parking lots, garages, office buildings, the train and bus stations, apartments, lofts and street art, sits a garden, plunked right in the middle of Downtown Albuquerque. You look down on it when you park your car to go to the movies. Get closer and you'll see peas, chard, bee balm, chives, spinach, lettuces, beets, carrots, radishes, onions and all kinds of herbs and flowers happily growing in what once was a wasted empty lot. I have often wondered who it belonged to and what was growing there...
Well, here's the deal: the Alvarado Urban Farm is a project managed by the Albuquerque non-profit Downtown Action Team . They are the folks who also bring us the Downtown Grower's Market, opening again this May 18. The Urban Farm has evolved from its original conception (as another grower's market venue and resource for local residents and restaurants) to become the host to several community-based projects. One of the ventures they support is the Veteran Farmer Project, co-sponsored by La Montanita Co-op. Veterans and members of the military are able to participate in classes and experience hands-on gardening in a safe and welcoming setting as they acquire information and skills for farming. The Bernalillo County Extension Service and the NM Department of Agriculture are also providing instruction for the program. Vets are learning such things as how to choose seeds for planting,
how to prepare soil, various organic farming techniques and how to extend the growing season. Row covers they built contributed to the abundance of mature crops being harvested now. The project began in January 2012, and continued through this past winter, up to the present.
The produce grown through the project is sold by the Vets every week at a grower's market on the VA Medical Center campus in Albuquerque. So, in addition to the farming business training and therapeutic benefits, they also receive a small economic benefit as well. In its first year, about 15 Vets participated. As the program continues, the goal is that more and more Vets will be ready to take part in the local farming community.
There are other groups involved with the Urban Farm project, as well. Amy Biehl High School maintains three raised beds as part of their curriculum. PNM has contributed volunteers to build infrastructure such as trellises at the site, and the US Fish & Wildlife Department is planning to plant trees around the perimeter of the area, and to possibly create a wildlife habitat at the west end of the block.
The Downtown Action team has also been bringing us a Spring Grower's Market as a preview to the regular Downtown Grower's Market. It sets up on Gold Street between 1st & 2nd through May 11. The Agri-Cultura network growers are offering their wonderful produce, and a number of other vendors are participating. This is a nice opportunity to pick up some organic plants for your own garden, too.
And don't forget-- from May 18 through November 2, the full-blown Downtown Grower's Market at Robinson Park (Central & 8th) will be underway once again. This is a major event every Saturday from 7am until noon, with about 90 vendors and 1500+ attendees, generating $1,000,000 in sales, annually. There is always great music, plenty of local food and produce and also a variety of arts & crafts available. If you have never attended, now is the time! Grab your kids, your dog and/or your friends and head on downtown.