PNM Resources Foundation donates to two area community gardens

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Last week, a foundation from one of New Mexico’s largest corporations awarded two area nonprofit community gardens grants that will help them expand and increase garden production.

El Corazón de Belen Garden Park and Community Garden received a check for $10,000, and the Valencia Community Gardens received a check for $6,000 from PNM Resources Foundation.

Barron Jones-News-Bulletin photo: Belen Mayor Rudy Jaramillo, El Corazón President Dubra Karnes-Padilla, PNM Resources Foundation administrator Donna Holliday and Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rhona Espinoza pose with a $10,000 check from the PNM Resource Foundation. Holliday, a Valencia County resident, presented the check to garden staff in celebration of the foundation’s 30th anniversary grant celebration.

The foundation awarded more than $300,000 to 32 nonprofits in New Mexico and Texas to mark its 30th anniversary celebration.

PNM Resources Foundation spokeswoman and Belen native Ryan Baca said the grant application had few guidelines except that the group must have an environmental focus and a promise of a positive impact on local communities. The foundation chose the recipients out of more than 130 applicants.

“My family is still in the area, my husband’s family is still in the area. We got a lot of friends and family in the area and it makes me really proud to work for a company that cares about community,” Baca said. “To see this type of investment in the place where I grew up is really neat.”

The money will help the Belen garden become the sanctuary El Corazón’s president Dubra Karnes-Padilla and the garden’s partners and volunteers envisioned when the project began more than three years ago. Nearly half of the money will be set aside for a much-needed fence.

The community garden received $2,000 from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, but the amount wasn’t enough to pay for a metal fence. Karnes-Padilla went to the Belen City Council in June, asking for approval to build a fence out of doors, instead, but her request was denied after neighbors of the garden, at Dalies Avenue and North Sixth Street, objected to it.

The rest of the PNM grant money will go to build grow boxes, bird houses, a potting shed and a lending library, she said.

Barron Jones-News-Bulletin photo: Valencia Community Garden board members Deb Christensen, Suzanne Taylor, Geri Rhodes and Joyce Johns receive a check from PNM Resources Foundation representative Donna Holliday last Friday at Tomé Art Gallery. Holliday presented the $6,000 to the group, which was one of 32 recipients of PNM Resource Foundation's 30th anniversary grant celebration.

“It is not just a symbol of growing food. It is a symbol of revitalization,” Karnes-Padilla said. “We live next door. This is our ‘hood as I call it. So, I felt it was important to make it a beautiful spot, plus this is the heart of Belen.”

Volunteers from local organizations work the garden pulling weeds, watering crops and harvesting the more than 300 pounds of fresh produce the garden has donated to the Belen Area Food Pantry this summer.

“There is nothing more valuable than the community pulling together to meet a dire need in helping to end hunger,” said Dawn Vigil, executive director of the Belen Area Food Pantry.

Approximately eight miles away, the Valencia Community Garden in Tomé plans to buy a greenhouse to increase food production by growing year-round.

The greenhouse will be used to start delicate plants, like lemon trees, and to grow lettuce, Swiss chard and spinach during the winter months.

The greenhouse also will allow the garden’s staff and volunteers to work with master gardeners to experiment with intensive gardening practices, such as growing a large number of plants in small spaces and conserving water with raised beds, earth boxes and flat, nylon hoses.

“It means I am learning along with everyone else how to garden in a dry and arid climate. It’s just a wonderful learning experience,” said Joyce Johns, treasurer for Valencia Community Garden.

If all goes according to plan, residents will be able to enjoy the benefits of these projects by the start of 2014.