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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Agricultural Science Centers Donate Produce to Charity

ALBUQUERQUE - All of New Mexico State University's agricultural science centers have agreed to donate fresh produce to New Mexico food banks as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new Millennium Gardens initiative.

"Although some of the science centers have given a portion of their harvest to charity from time to time, this is the first statewide effort to get all of the centers to systematically donate their excess produce," said George Dickerson, horticulture specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, who is coordinating a campaign to get New Mexico community gardens and individual growers to participate in the Millennium Gardens initiative.

The initiative aims to expand the number and size of community gardens around the country and to get garden managers to donate at least 10 percent of their produce to feed the hungry. It also encourages individual gardeners to plant an extra row for the needy.

The initiative is particularly important in New Mexico, where food insecurity is widespread. "New Mexico leads the nation with 15.1 percent of our residents experiencing food insecurity," Dickerson said. "Over 150,000 people seek help from emergency feeding programs in New Mexico each year."

Eight NMSU science centers now participate in the initiative, including those in Las Cruces, Los Lunas, Farmington, Alcalde, Clovis, Tucumcari, Artesia and Mora, Dickerson said.

The centers conduct dozens of research projects using a wide variety of crops. Excess produce that is not directly harvested for scientific study is occasionally donated to charity. Under the new initiative, nearly all the leftover produce will be donated to food banks, senior centers or other organizations that feed the hungry, Dickerson said.

"In some cases the centers will simply glean excess produce from the gardens that are already planted, but in other cases, such as at the science center at Los Lunas, the staff will plant a lot more crops to increase the amount of food that they'll have available for charity," Dickerson said.

The Los Lunas center has donated nearly 700 pounds of onions to the Road Runner Food Bank in Albuquerque as part of the program. By season's end, it will have given about two tons of vegetables, including corn, onions, squash and cucumbers, said Mike English, Los Lunas superintendent.

"Basically, all the leftover vegetables that we grow organically, without pesticides, we're going to take down to the Road Runner Food Bank," English said. "A lot of the crops have insects, so we'll sift through it all and only donate those vegetables that are wholesome and that the food bank can use."

The Farmington science center staff already donates a portion of their crops to charity, but this year the staff will glean everything they can for the program.

"We're going to go out of our way to dig up all the produce we can spare," said Dan Smeal, agricultural specialist at the Farmington center. "We'll donate all the vegetables that we grow on extra border rows, since that produce generally isn't used for research at the station anyway. But we'll also glean as many vegetables as possible from the rows that are used for research."

The Clovis science center has an established community garden that donates all its produce to the needy. The garden, originally proposed by Magistrate Judge Caleb Chandler in 1995, was moved to the science center north of town in 1997. It employs nonviolent offenders to plant, weed and harvest vegetables to work off community service sentences. The produce is donated to charity.

This year, the Clovis community garden has been officially registered as part of the Millennium Gardens initiative.

Meanwhile, Dickerson is working with the Farm Services Agency and Natural Resource Conservation Service to gain support from independent community gardens and individual growers. So far, a total of 23 gardens in New Mexico have been registered as contributing millennium gardens.

Interested growers can learn more about the Millennium Gardens on the Millennium Green World Wide Web site at www.millenniumgreen.usda.gov or by contacting George Dickerson at (505) 275-2576.