The handbook features information and lessons on planning a garden, soil preparation, water, seeds, plants, insects, harvesting, winter production and food systems. Interspersed in the lessons are stories by the Advisory Council about farming in New Mexico, including using the acequia system, chile harvesting, and the tradition of San Ysidro Day. Photographs of familiar New Mexico landmarks and hand drawings by local New Mexico artists add to the charm of the handbook. A handy “crosswalk chart” in the back of the book shows the content areas that each chapter enhances, such as science, reading, math, language arts, etc.
AFSC realized that although there are many school garden curriculums around the country, most notably the Edible Schoolyard, none of the curricula are specific to farming in a desert. The Advisory Council of local farmers and educators met for about eight months to review existing lesson plans and adapt them to be geographically and culturally specific to New Mexico.
Advisory Council members also wrote personal pieces about traditions in their families and stories that have been passed down. Farmer Angelina Lopez-Brody of La Plazita Gardens wrote a beautiful piece about chile harvesting with her family, evoking memories that most New Mexicans will find familiar. Educator and gardener Pablo Lopez of the Red Wolf Band shared the fable of the Water Buffalo Boy, with its teaching to respect water and prevent its poisoning and disappearance.
The McCune Foundation funded the project, which was headed up by APS educator Gina Martinez and AFSC staff member Sayrah Namaste.
Several local schools have reviewed the curriculum, including Barcelona Elementary, Mountain Mahogany, Reginald Chavez, and Sunset Mesa. Some have piloted lesson plans with their students. The Southwest Organizing Project has also incorporated the handbook in its new community garden, and is translating the handbook into Spanish.
“Our hope is that the handbook can meet some of the needs of the changing classroom and community with the inclusion of New Mexico gardening and traditions,” said Gina Martinez, who has worked for the Albuquerque Public Schools for more than 30 years.