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NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service Promotes Millennium Gardens in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service is coordinating a statewide effort to expand the number of community gardens in New Mexico and help gardeners generate more fresh produce to feed the hungry.


The project is a homegrown response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new Millenium Gardens initiative, a national effort to increase involvement in community gardening and provide more produce for charitable organizations.

"We want to plant more community gardens and expand existing ones, and then get gardeners to give at least 10 percent of what they produce to feed the hungry," said George Dickerson, an Albuquerque-based Extension horticulture specialist coordinating the New Mexico effort.

The USDA's goal is to create at least one million Millenium Gardens nationally, including community, school and home gardens. The project is reminiscent of the Victory Garden' effort during World War II. In New Mexico, the goal is to establish at least 20 new community gardens and encourage the creation of many more individual gardens. Those with backyard gardens are encouraged to "plant a row for the hungry," Dickerson said.

The program places special emphasis on community gardens because of their multiple social benefits, he said. Community gardens can not only enhance the beauty of a community but also bring people together to improve their neighborhoods, create safe havens that reduce crime and help increase community food security.

"One of the most inspiring initiatives of World War II was the concept of the 'Victory Garden'," Dickerson said. "More than 20 million gardens were planted in one year alone to support the war effort, but they almost died out after the war was over. Community gardens were reborn during the early 1970s, but more as an ecological movement than a food security issue."

Present-day community gardens take many forms, from corporate gardens to projects to help beautify inner cities and supplement the diets of the less-fortunate.

Extension staff will work with nonprofit organizations around the state on the community gardening initiative. Specialists will hold educational workshops for gardeners and provide technical assistance when needed.

One event-a Millennium Garden Workshop-took place on July 19. About 20 gardeners attended a series of talks by Extension specialists at the Bernalillo County Extension office. Topics included soils and plant nutrition, drip irrigation techniques, plant diseases, insect problems, mulches, and weed control and water conservation. The participants were also given an afternoon tour of NMSU's Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas, which featured a presentation on new grape varieties.

Extension is now working with the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to compile a comprehensive, statewide list of all food banks and other organizations that accept fresh produce to feed the hungry so that donations can be made by community and individual growers around the state. The agencies are also compiling a list of companies willing to provide free seed for community gardens.

USDA is setting up a toll-free line that gardeners across the country can call with technical and general questions. Interested growers can also learn more about the Millennium Gardens Initiative from USDA's Millennium Green World Wide Web site at www.gardening.usda.gov. Dickerson encourages all community garden coordinators and private gardeners who donate food to the hungry to register their gardens as Millennium Gardens on the web site.