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Last week, the planning and zoning commission unanimously approved both a special use permit and a site plan for a Community Education Garden on North Mesa.
The Family YMCA proposed the new garden, which will be located on the south side of the horse stables, near Kwage trailhead and tennis courts. It will be just under an acre in size.
According to YMCA Senior Program Director Diana Martinez, the community garden is an outgrowth of the Los Alamos Youth Food Project (LAYFP), which was initiated in 2011 by a Los Alamos Middle School science teacher who wanted an outdoor classroom where her students could experience hands-on learning opportunities through garden-based curriculum.
Through the Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board (JJAB), the project received a $62,300 grant from State Farm for classroom outreach and curriculum connections to a community garden. The JJAB contracted with the Family YMCA to coordinate that grant, and projects started at elementary schools and the middle school in fall 2012 on a half acre space at the middle school.
JJAB received a second grant of $96,250 in 2012 that funded infrastructure for a community garden, training for teachers and community members, and tools and resources for providing service-learning opportunities for students and the wider community of Los Alamos.
During construction at the middle school, project partners began looking for an alternative location and entered into talks with the county.
“Partnering with the county just made a ton of sense, because we wanted to be open to the public, we want everybody to come in and enjoy this: bring people from off the Hill, bring people from the community and really educate people about community gardening,” said David Clark, the Y’s facilities manager.
Once a location was decided on, the Y provided information to neighbors and solicited responses to an electronic survey.
Outreach included passing out approximately 300 fliers door-to-door, two public meetings, email announcements, presentations at the Parks and Recreation Board, the Stable Owners Association and to LAPS teachers, an interview on KRSN and flyers at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC), the Los Alamos Cooperative Market and the YMCA.
Of the 98 survey responses, 93 believed that allowing the LAYFP to utilize County land near the stables would be a good use of the land; 3 people did not believe it would be a good use of the land, and 2 did not answer but wrote qualifying comments. Those that did not agree seemed doubtful about the location with regard to accessibility or were not sure about transport to that area.
The main concerns respondents and neighbors expressed where whether access to the paved walking/biking trail through the site would be maintained (it will be) and how the garden would be watered (the project will pay for metered county water).
“From about 120 conversations in that neighborhood, my estimate is that 80 percents said, ‘That is a great idea. I love it.’ and probably 20 percent volunteered to come and man the garden,” Martinez said. “We have a list of about 60 to 80 volunteer that are on our newsletter list to get updates.”
The county issued a Request for Proposals for the community garden in the fall of 2013, and the YMCA’s proposal was accepted.
Also in the fall of 2013, project partners, which include JJAB, Los Alamos Public Schools, PEEC, the Los Alamos Co-Op, Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Assets in Action Program and The Family YMCA, decided to modify the name of the project to the Community Education Garden and broaden the scope.
The vision for the garden is “to develop land into a community educational food garden for use by all ages; to create a welcoming space for community members to interact; to incorporate cross generational understanding, cooperation, and learning; to provide education on historical and sustainable modern practices; to enhance healthy living-spirit, mind and body.”
Unlike community gardens where those wishing to participate are allotted a small space, plantings in this garden will be part of educational projects. According to Clark, a class might meet on a weekend and plant a plot, then work it throughout the season, applying lessons they are learning on topics such as organic gardening, responsible water use and on-site composting.
Elementary, middle and high-school classes will have access to the garden for hands on learning.
Those participating in the garden will be able to harvest produce, and food will also be donated to public entities such as schools or those in need.
An agreement has been reached between the county, the YMCA and the federal government and is awaiting signatures. The parcel is part of a land transfer from the Department of Energy to Los Alamos County, for the express purpose of providing open space and recreational opportunities, so any change in use must have federal approval. The Y is expected to take possession of the space Aug. 1.The garden’s informal name will be the Hilltop Garden. The name was decided on through a poll of volunteers.
“We’re pretty excited to bring this garden out there and bring kids from the school and afterschool programs, and bringing in adults and families on the weekends and running educational programs,” Clark said.
The Y also partnered with Pajarito Environmental Education Center to host a small garden site this summer, which is currently being tended by volunteers and the Y Earth Service Corps.
Historical information about the LAYFP can be viewed on the blog (/layouthfoodproject.wordpress.com/ ), or at (facebook.com/pages/Los- Alamos-Youth-Food-Project/255726924460825 ).
Current information about the community garden can be viewed on Facebook at The Family Y – Hilltop Garden, facebook.com/HilltopGardenLosAlamos.
The Y’s Community Program Director Kim Pulliam is the lead contact for the new Community Education Garden and is maintaining a database of volunteers and interested parties.
Pulliam may be reached at 662-3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.