Community gardens are flourishing in Socorro and Alamo. The gardens run on volunteers, donations and grant funding. The gardens provide fresh produce, a green space for the communities and ample opportunity to learn.
Volunteers talked about mulch and chickens in between pulling weeds on a rainy Wednesday morning in Socorro. Weeding is one of the most important tasks to complete in Socorro’s community garden in the summer months, said Sam Winter, with SCOPE Health Council. The local weeds are persistent.
The community garden is a fenced-in space behind the Socorro Youth Center, located at 1002 Ake Avenue. Although the gate has a lock, anyone is welcome to garden any time. The code for the padlock is available on the community garden’s Facebook page, and as soon as a door can be found for the toolshed, the padlock on the garden gate will be removed.
Anyone is welcome to come and work in the garden or to take produce. Community members can also get their own bed to maintain.
This year’s produce is primarily tomatoes and bell pepper, along with a couple of chile plants, peas and potatoes. The garden includes a small pollinator patch and birdhouses painted by children in the library’s summer reading program. Winter hopes to start pumpkins soon. The garden runs on donations, grants and volunteer work and is a project of the SCOPE Health Council. The Rotary and the Storehouse have also made donations to support the gardens.
The Socorro garden began after the growing season in 2019 when beds were first constructed in the space. Four new beds were added to the garden this year.
While the community garden can be a solitary place to come garden, it also hosts community events, like a mindfulness workshop in March or a goat meet and greet for the library’s summer reading program in June and has regular garden workdays.
Minnie Mao regularly volunteers with SCOPE, but it was only her second or third time working in the garden. Mao likes to work in the garden both because of the altruistic feeling it gives her, and because she learns about gardening. Working with Winter has taught her to keep a pollinator patch.
“I’m so excited that we have this community garden and I hope that more people take advantage of it,” said Mao.
When the Socorro garden started, it was a collaboration between SCOPE, the Healthy Kids Program and the Teen Center program, and often volunteers came from the Healthy Kids and Teen Center programs. Unfortunately, those programs have been discontinued, said Winter, so the garden needs more volunteers to help maintain it.
“A community garden needs community, so having lots of volunteers is the only way we can grow the program and expand it,” said Winter.
Both the food produced in the garden and the gardening itself benefit the community, said Winter.
Excess produce is donated to the Socorro Storehouse, a local emergency food pantry. There were 70 pounds of produce from the garden that were taken to the Storehouse in 2020. The food at the Storehouse is limited to shelf-stable items, said Winter, so the community garden helps add fresh produce to its supplies. Fresh produce can be difficult for low-income people to access, and the community garden is one way to address that need, said Winter.
Green spaces also provide mental health benefits to communities, said Winter, and gardening can help children develop fine motor skills. Locally grown produce also reduces the carbon footprint of transporting food cross country, said Winter.
The Alamo community garden is expecting its first harvest of squash soon, said Wellness Center Manager Wanda Apachito. The garden is located directly behind the Wellness Center by the fitness path. Planning began last year. The ground was prepared in April and planting started in May.
The Alamo garden is a collaboration between the Wellness Center and the SCOPE Health Council. SCOPE used some grant funding and donations to get some materials to start the garden.
The Wellness Center’s nutritionist and diabetes coordinator Jacob Dowling is heading up the project and can provide community members with more information about helping with the garden. Volunteers from the Wellness Center, the clinic and the community have put in a lot of effort to get the garden started, said Apachito.
“Everyone helped here,” said Apachito. “It wasn’t just one person, everybody equally helped and they’re proud of themselves.”
The garden has a variety of fruit trees: cherry trees, apricot trees, peach trees and apple trees. Volunteers have also planted watermelon, honeydew, pumpkins, blue corn, pinto beans, squash, potatoes, chile, which is not doing as well, and grapes that are barely beginning to bloom, said Apachito. Most of the produce is not ready yet, but the squash is almost ready.
The garden also has yucca, pine trees, pinon trees, and sunflowers and daisies to attract people to come visit.
“We hope to expand if it’s good. It seems like everybody enjoyed it and they really are proud and happy when they see food on one of the plants,” said Apachito.
The garden gives the community a space to exercise by gardening, and it’s also an opportunity to teach more people in the community about drip irrigation, which makes it possible to garden even in areas without much water, like Alamo in the summer, said Apachito. There is also compost, so people can learn about composting fruit and vegetable waste to produce good soil. Although community members still can’t come into the Wellness Center, the garden is a new outdoor space they can enjoy.
“They can go out and still work through their stress and their anxiety by planting and doing something outdoors instead of just staying indoors all the time, during this pandemic,” said Apachito.
The garden is outdoors and open, so anyone can visit.
“I hope the community enjoys it and I hope we have more volunteers. They’re invited and welcome to the garden,” said Apachito.
For more information on the Alamo community garden, contact the Wellness Center, and to stay up to date on the Socorro community garden’s workdays follow the Socorro community garden Facebook page.