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NMSU, DACC students and community volunteers join forces to nourish garden

Katherine Mendoza, an early childhood education major at New Mexico State University, needed community services hours in order to be admitted into the Teacher Education Program, so she signed up for the Service Learning in Education Distinction (SLED) program in the College of Education.


Photo of people pulling weeds
Students with the TRiO and Upward Bound programs at NMSU, along with several faculty, staff and community members, helped clean up the community garden at University United Methodist Church on March 5, 2016. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chávez)
Photo of a girl pulling weeds
Jessica Llewellyn, a student at Santa Teresa High School and the TRiO and Upward Bound programs at NMSU, helped clean up the community garden at University United Methodist Church. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chávez)
Photo of girls putting on gardening gloves
Students with the TRiO and Upward Bound programs at NMSU, along with several faculty and community volunteers, prepare to clean up the community garden at University United Methodist Church. (NMSU photo by Adriana M. Chávez)

She knew whatever community service project she completed would have an impact, but she didn?t expect that helping with the Know, Grow and Show Community Garden at University United Methodist Church, 2000 S. Locust, would make such a big difference in the lives of children and residents in the area.

?It?s amazing. It?s my community,? Mendoza said on a recent Saturday at the garden, where she joined more than 100 volunteers representing NMSU, Dońa Ana Community College, the church, a nearby school and the neighborhood. ?It has a really big impact on everybody. We?re really planting our own seed all together and one day we?ll see this garden all put together.?

On March 5, SLED students joined students from area high schools and middle schools involved in the TRiO Upward Bound and TRiO Talent Search programs, and a few students and faculty from University Hills Elementary School. Volunteers from University United Methodist Church were also involved. The group tackled weeds, helped move portions of the garden to a new space nearby and spread mulch around the keyhole garden areas.

Tammy Sprague, a lay leader with University United Methodist Church, said the work day helped complete phase two of the garden?s three phases. The project started three years ago with a dream and networking efforts beginning with Julia Kirton, an architecture instructor at DACC who had taught Sprague?s daughter in the pre-architecture program.

?Three years ago, we were dreaming about what we wanted to happen with this property back here, and we decided we?d like to see a community garden,? Sprague said. ?I said (to Kirton), ?We would like to have your students help us design a garden,? and they came up with designs to help us get our congregation excited. It took us a couple of years and now we?re on the go.?

The garden helped create a garden club at University Hills Elementary School. Students from that school now work on the garden once a week alongside a church volunteer. Meanwhile, Kirton began looking for service learning projects to get her students into, and met SLED program director Denise Rodriguez-Strawn at a teaching academy training. The two scheduled a meeting where Kirton asked Rodriguez-Strawn to help her get the garden off the ground. NMSU Upward Bound director Clifton McNish also became involved and committed TRiO students to the project.

?I said, ?Lord, help me help Tammy Sprague,? and next thing you know Upward Bound was calling and they were saying they were in, and all of a sudden you have all these people that you see here,? Kirton said as she looked toward several volunteers working in the garden. ?It?s unbelievable. I like to teach my students service and how to give back. That?s important to me, that they leave with that legacy.?

Rodriguez-Strawn said SLED students will continue helping with the garden throughout this semester. By the summer or fall, Rodriguez-Strawn said she hopes to get students and faculty with the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences involved to help the garden blossom.

?I?m hoping to get a hold of our agricultural college because in order for the garden to be completely sustainable, we need somebody with their type of expertise,? Rodriguez-Strawn said.

In addition to providing fresh fruits and vegetables for the church?s food pantry, the spot will serve as a prayer garden for people of any denomination. The thought of the garden feeding people physically and spiritually brought tears to Rodriguez-Strawn?s eyes.

?It?s an amazing project, absolutely,? Rodriguez-Strawn said, pausing to hold back her tears. ?Today is more than just a work day, it?s an opportunity that so many people will now have after today to have another fresh food source. To be able to have a large group of individuals come together and build a place of tranquility, to try to stop hunger in some ways, there are no words for a project like this.?