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Seeding the Bernalillo County Community Urban Agriculture Project

Rose Walker | Albuquerque, New Mexico

It was cold today in Alburquerque, New Mexico, while my Uncle Bobby and Aunt Dianna took me to meet with their friend Rose Walker downtown. She has had a huge impact on this city’s community horticulture for nearly 15 years, and I was dying to know how she did it! So, after eating a delicious breakfast burrito at the Frontier Restaurant, my family and I trucked it towards the project. Rose greeted us and gave us a tour, in the middle of winter, mind you, of this incredible place. I could feel it come to life as she spoke. 

Rose: This part of the garden is what we call ‘back to Eden’. Okay, if you look it up on the internet, it will explain it to you. It doesn’t work as well as what it says though. He says he can plant and not have to water for four days. And that’s not at least true in this garden. It doesn’t look as thick as it is. But actually, it’s really deep! This is all mulch. Yeah, it’s all tree bark, which works as mulch. 

Danielle: How did you get the urban agriculture going here in Alburquerque? 

The story of Le Jardin Verde Community Garden, aka Come, Grow Your Own Garden

In 2008 I was bored. That is what always gets me in a fine mess! I decided to go to the Natural History Museum, Dyna Max Theater, to watch a documentary called Great Barrier Reef. It was a story about global warming and how we have destroyed the barrier reef. They explored the reef at Fuji Island, which is beautiful and vibrant. It had music, and the sea urchins were all dancing. However, there was this big Octopus that was at the Great Barrier reef going from one area to the next, looking for food. He had turned completely gray to match the reef. I felt so sorry for that critter.

When I got home, that octopus was all I could think of. I was trying to figure out what I could do to help him. I decided right there to try to take the bus to and from work. The only problem was that I would go to the Kirtland Airforce Base gym right after work. Getting from work to the gym by bus took 1.5 hours plus a walk of about 3/4 mile. Then from there, it was a mile walk to the gate and another hour by bus to get home. I decided I needed better transportation, so I started looking for an electric car. I found a little one called ZEN, zero energy no noise. It ran on six gulf cart batteries and had a top speed of 35 miles an hour, which actually was not too bad around town. The dealership told me that if I were willing to promote it and take it to shows like the earth day events, he would give me $700 for each show. Well, that was a lot of fun. I eventually found my way to a community center to listen to Mayor Martin Chavez. I had no idea what an environmentalist he was. In his talks, he discussed turning empty lots into community gardens. I knew that my friend Charles had a vacant lot, so sneaky me, I didn’t ask him if we could use it. I just asked him if he would be interested in listening to Mayor Chavez. Charles went to the Community Center and decided that we could turn the lot into a community garden. Now the funny thing is he accuses me of starting it, and I accuse him. The great thing has been all the help and friendships we have developed along the way. My little car got totally paid off, and the dealer insisted on paying me an extra $700. He knew we had the garden, so he wanted us to use it for a fence. With the help of a nice man we met from Tijeras Canyon, we were able to put up our horse wire fence, and he gave us two really nice benches for our arbor.

Before we got the fence up, we decided to get bees. We bought our bees from Ken Hayes of Hayes Honey and Apple Farm. We told him about the garden and not having a fence. He gave us a bunch of blackberry bushes, and that is what we were using for a fence. Charles wanted bees in memory of his dad. His dad used to buy honey from someone in Belen. He talked to Charles about putting bees in their backyard, and Charles told him, “no, dad, they sting.” He always felt bad about telling him that. I had no idea what we were getting into. You need a lot of knowledge to properly keep bees. The first year we lost the bees. I was so upset I could not even clean out their hive. Then a beekeeper came over and moved the bees into the garden. I had them behind the shed in the neighbor’s yard, afraid that they would sting someone. I had named Queen Nancy Drew. I was told, “you never name a bee.” He told me, you went and fell in love with an insect, and insects are not pets, and they die. We have had a lot of fun taking the bees to shows. We use the money from our honey sales to pay for the water in the garden. We tell our friends, the way this works is the bees come to your garden and steal the pollen and nectar, and then we steal the honey from the bees, and you pay for it!

We have felt so very blessed with all of our friends at Ugan AG. The kids from Van Burean helped design a new sign and have helped us with various projects, like turning the six compost piles and moving wood chips into the garden. This year, they will help us bury pipe across the driveway to the garden to run a water supply line to the garden. Urban Ag has partnered with us and obtained 11 water barrels. Each barrel holds 250 gallons. The barrels are fed off the roofs of two homes that border the lot. They helped us to put up the downspouts that go from the roof to the barrels. Water has been our biggest challenge since the beginning. Urban Ag worked with the Albuquerque Water Authority and brought them out to look at our garden. They gave us some great tips on how to decrease usage. This past year, we could really get our water usage down by 20%. Urban AG has helped us buy supply lines for the drip irrigation system and install it. They helped us to develop the back portion of the garden, which had problems with topsoil, so we put in some new bordered beds. They bought really nice soil and compost for those beds. They also have taken some soil tests so that we can improve our soil this year. We can now have more gardeners because of all the ideas and work they have done for us! I really can not give them and all the folks that have made these grants that they have obtained available enough thanks. It really does take a whole village to raise a kid and a garden! Thank you all!

Rose Walker 

Charles and Rose started a domino effect across the city. Consequently, other gardens have popped up, and all over town, people are enjoying hobbyist farming. In addition, the Bernalillo County Urban Open Space Department has expanded the project, overseeing the following:   

  • Le Jardin Verde Urban Community Garden – Come Grow Your Own Garden  
  • Van Buren Middle School Community Garden  
  • All Nations Wellness Center Healing Garden  
  • East Central Ministries Food Co-op/Clinic Garden  
  • Presbyterian Kaseman Community Health Resource Center Garden  
  • Loma Linda Community Center Garden  
  • Ilsa and Rey Garduño Agroecology Center  
  • Immigrant and Refugee Resource Village of Albuquerque  
  • Tiny Home Village