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SOUTHWEST LIVING

New urban garden helps backyard gardeners

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“Urban agriculture is the focus of a community farm project in the heart of Las Cruces,” said Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District (DASWCD) Supervisor Craig Fenske.

Volunteers are welcome and encouraged to participate in the project, Fenske said.

The garden is located on nearly an acre of land owned by First Christian Church that is located across Frenger Street from Frenger Park and behind the church at 1809 El Paseo Road.

DASWCD was the lead partner in obtaining a $50,000 grant from the National Association of Conservation Districts to promote urban agriculture, Fenske said, and that will help pay for development of the Las Cruces urban garden.

Key partners in the project along with DASWCD are La Semilla Food Center, Backyard Farms and the New Mexico State University/Doña Ana County Cooperative Extension Service with its Master Gardener volunteer corps, Fenske said.  

Volunteers are being recruited “to expand the farm and build sunken gardens and trellised beds and help with seasonal plantings,” Fenske said, as well as to “weed, irrigate and incorporate soil amendments. Volunteering is a great way to learn with experts while contributing to the community garden,” he said. Volunteers will also help plant food crops like squash and watermelons, as well as a sunflower bed to attract bees and birds, Ryan said. Gardeners will have the opportunity to experiment with both heirloom and desert-adapted seeds and learn about three-sisters gardens, which include squash, beans and corn.

Volunteer days and times at the farm are 8:30-10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and 6-8 p.m. on Thursdays. Ryan or another gardening pro will be on hand during each volunteer time.

The garden is “a work in progress,” said Backyard Farms owner Rachael Ryan, who is the lead “on-the-ground” coordinator for the urban farm. The garden is already home to a natural area that includes agave, yucca, hedgehog and prickly pear cactus and a mesquite tree; a pollinator garden; and a variety of fruit and nut trees.

Wildlife onsite includes monarch butterflies, toads and whiptail lizards, and the project hopes to bring in a few chickens and rabbits in accordance with city ordinance, she said.

Workshops “regarding every stage of developing your own garden” are planned at the urban garden site this fall, Fenske said. “Topics will focus on regenerative agriculture in a desert climate starting from square one: transforming an empty lot into a clean, fertile farm through soil testing and amendment, water access and irrigation, crop compatibility and seasonal planting.” He said two fall workshops will focus on entrepreneurial aspects of urban gardening and examine public food, farm business planning and marketing.

Ryan said workshops will focus on topics like terrace gardening, sunken- and raised-bed gardens, vertical gardening and Zuni gardening that will feature traditional Native American crops like blue corn.

“Leveraging various public and private partners, the farm serves as an educational hub for backyard gardeners and potential community entrepreneurs,” Fenske said.

Produce from the garden will be donated to local school programs, food banks at First Christian Church and El Calvario United Methodist Church and El Caldito Soup Kitchen.

The urban garden practices regenerative gardening, Ryan said, which she said means gardeners leave the soil “better than we found it.”

DASWCD is a governmental subdivision of the state created in 1966 to conserve and develop natural resources, provide for flood control, preserve wildlife and promote public health and safety.

For more information, contact Ryan at 575-323-1471 and BackyardFarmsLC@gmail.com and Fenske at 575-640-8846 and Dcraig.fenske@gmail.com.

 

Mike Cook may be contacted at mike@lascrucesbulletin.com.

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