Making the Desert Bloom
"Beautiful cultural traditions surround farming,"says Sayrah Namaste, a staff member at AFSC-New Mexico. "At one of the farms, Azteca dancers bless the fields with their feet and their voices. The acequias are filled with flower petals once a year, a ritual passed down for generations to bless the source of life."
But when the Sanchez family gave up the ground it had farmed for more than 300 years, developers wanted the rich land. Community members approached La Plazita Institute, a grassroots community organization, which agreed to lease the ground and turn it into a community farm.
Just one problem loomed: No one at the institute knew how to farm.
Enter AFSC New Mexico. "Our program is very life giving," she says. "We work alongside New Mexican farmers, tending to the plants that nourish the communities we work in. Many of the farming practices have been used in this desert for centuries while other practices are new, yet appropriate, technologies." The staff work alongside small farmers to protect land and water rights, as well as traditional cultural practices.
"Imagine the people we work with," Namaste says, "dedicated, outspoken farmers who know their rights and their traditions and are committed to protecting them. One of the well-known phrases down here is Tierra o Muerte, meaning they would die to protect their land."
Albino Garcia, a ceremonial Sundance chief, leads La Plazita Institute. He's known nationally for his work in getting young people out of gangs. For two years, AFSC staff, Garcia, and other community members planned their vision-a place to produce fresh, organic food for the community and to give at-risk youth a chance to learn to farm.
"The average age of farmers here is 60," Namaste says. Getting young people involved in farming is one of AFSC - New Mexico's goals.
In January, Garcia and his son blessed the tools and seeds. In March, "Albuquerque's annual Cesar Chavez Day celebration was held for the first time at a farm-our farm," Namaste says.
Former gang members from La Plazita-Thugs Making A Change and Sisters Making A Change-staffed the celebration. Some used their graffiti skills to paint murals of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers on the walls around the farm, covering up gang graffiti.
Members of ARCA, a vocational organization for developmentally disabled adults, provide farm labor weekly.
[Editor’s note: Sayrah Namaste, AFSC New Mexico director Don Bustos, and AFSC Pacific Southwest Associate Regional Director Eisha Mason participated in the January ceremonies to open the farm.]