MEADOW LAKE — Meadow Lake’s Food Fiesta this past weekend celebrated the opening of the new Meadow Lake Community Center Park’s exercise equipment with a free raffle, a book giveaway and samples from the Garden of Youth community garden.

The event was a collaboration between the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District, East Valencia Urban Gardens Program and New Mexico State University Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service.

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The Meadow Lake Food Fiesta on Saturday was put on to show Meadow Lake residents how to use the produce grown in the community garden.

Laura Bittner, the NMSU Cooperative Extension Service family and consumer sciences agent in Valencia County, said the purpose of the event was to encourage the community to learn about the garden projects.

“We have a lot of opportunities throughout the county to acquire fresh produce,” Bittner said. “A lot of the community gardens — particularly those here at the community center and El Cerro — if you volunteer time, you’re given free produce.”

However, she said community members are hesitant to take the produce because they don’t know what to do with it.

“We know as a society people aren’t cooking as much as they used to. So the whole point of the event is that we would show people it’s very easy to prepare simple dishes with a few ingredients and maybe introduce some people to vegetables that they haven’t tasted before,” Bittner said.

The program coordinator for the East Valencia Urban Gardens Program, Lindsey Diaz, said the community gardens are primarily funded through mill levy tax dollars.

“We’re going for an election on Nov. 5 because our current mill is going to sunset in the future and it’s going to be an increase, too, so that we can expand this program and other programs in the district,” Diaz said.

The money will go to education programs and restoration programs, according to Diaz.

The El Cerro Community Garden and the Meadow Lake Community Garden also host an internship program that currently has 15 student interns.

School of Dreams Academy student Jay Relaford is one of those interns who works in the garden.

“I got involved because it was a good way for me to get to know the people around the community,” Relaford said.

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The Food Fiesta was a collaboration between the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District, East Valencia Urban Gardens Program and New Mexico State University Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service.

He said the interns will spend four to five hours a week on the garden during the summer and two to three hours a week during the school year.

The internship program started with a Kellog grant last year, and the interns are partially funded through YDI as well.

“The interesting thing about it is up on the east mesa, I don’t think there’s many other internships,” Diaz said. “There’s no after-school programs, there’s minimal youth programs, so something like this is really rare.”

The interns get paid about $60 a month and get to learn skills such as working with a team, making decisions, how to grow food and business skills.

“I hope they become leaders so they can be the ones showing their community that it’s possible, so much can be done in this community,” Diaz said.

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