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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

El Paso Cactus Club Presents Garden Tours and Plant Sale

The El Paso Cactus and Rock Club will open eleven cactus and succulent gardens to the public on Saturday and Sunday, April 4 and 5. Seven west side gardens are open on Saturday, April 4 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then on Sunday, April 5 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., four northeast gardens will be open to the public. Admission is $5.00 per person or $8.00 per family to visit all eleven gardens.

West side locations 417 Valplano, 7237 Orizaba, 5734 Kingsfield, 805 Baltimore, 1225 Robinson, 1006 Madeline and 701 Blacker. Northeast locations are 3413 Sunnyside, 3008 Titanic, 8937 Eclipse, 4432 Loma Diamante. Tickets will be available at all locations. The public may purchase plants for their own gardens at 5734 Kingsfield on Saturday and 3008 Titanic on Sunday.

The El Paso Cactus and Rock Club meets the first Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. at 3105 Grant Avenue. For additional information, call 613-4902 or 240-7414.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Yardsharing

Here's another version of yardsharing that could work in any neighborhood or town: Each neighbor commits to growing one (or two) particular vegetables. Everyone in the neighborhood then shares equally with everyone else what they have grown. A Maryland school teacher used this concept to start the Murray Hill Row-by-Row Project. She blogs here.

Greg Plotkin interviews Eliza Toomey (the Maryland teacher) in How to grow sustainable food in your backyard - and excellent piece on different strategies for urban dwellers with little land. (There is land in and around El Paso once you have broken through the caliche or the concrete and rock too many people used to zero-scape their yards with thus killing the underlying soil.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Welden Yerby Senior Citizens Garden: Take 2

Elizabeth Ruiz has written a great piece on the Yerby garden for the Newspaper Tree: How does your garden grow. One wonders why such a garden has not been repeated all over the City. Is it because of the politics of envy that have long plagued El Paso? If we can't have one, you can't have one. Is this why the Yerby Garden is one of the best kept secrets in El Paso?

If you do want to start a community garden in your neighborhood or at your church or even do yardsharing: here are some good tips. (By the way, Wise Bread is an interesting site. It's worth surfing especially if you are into freesharing or like to save money.)

Finally, take the time to read the comment posted to my January 15, 2009 post: Las Abuelas Saben.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sustainable Means Buying More Than Local Food

Please read Peter Applebome's A Bookstore Closes in Chappaqua, and a Town Is Poorer for It in yesterday's New York Times.

He talks about independent bookstores being forced to close; but he could be talking about any local business. Sustainability is more about buying local (period) and not just buying locally-grown food.

His concluding paragraphs are worth reading again and taking to heart:

"Way down on the decibel scale is a buy-local movement struggling to be heard. On the Internet, in small business groups, even from groups focused on local bookstores (http://www.indiebound.org/) its message is that if people want local stores, a downtown that’s vital, they should shop there, even if they can get the Tylenol cheaper at Target and the John Grisham book cheaper at Amazon.

Nothing is forever, certainly not an independent bookstore. A lot of things killed our bookstore, including the terrible economy and the incessant information overload that makes reading a book like a quaint rite from the past. But if we lost it out of indifference, or to save a buck or two on Amazon, we lost a lot more than we saved."

Speaking about locally grown, we should all be inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama and Chef Sam Kass. The new organic garden at the White House is the way to lead by example.

It is time that more community gardens begin to sprout in the Frontera. Churches can do them; and Las Cruces is showing how to take the "edge off bills".

Monday, March 16, 2009

Community Gardens

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't see news stories about the growing (pun is intended - thank you very much) trend of community gardens. People in sprawling, crowded urban areas are coming together to raise food especially in these recessionary times. One such urban farm is Ocean View Farms highlighted in an online story by Lindsay William-Ross: Growing Up: Why Angelenos Should Really Dig Gardening.

Even young, upscale urbanites are raising their own veggies and racing home from work to work in the soil of the garden.

Having begun in 1979, the Weldon Yerby Senior Citizen Garden in El Paso is way ahead of its time for sure. However, it is El Paso's best kept secret. Will there be other community gardens or even yardsharing?

Friday, March 13, 2009

In this hot, dusty, dry environment, why are we destroying our shade trees

Topping trees is just plain wrong. There is a right way to prune trees and there are wrong ways. Topping is the worst. Yet, in spite of City of El Paso ordinances, contractors (and I suspect City workers) routinely top trees. Take a look at these poor trees at Fox Plaza:




Look at this stump along Mesa Street by the Carl's Junior near UTEP


There are national standards for pruning trees. A good online source for how to properly prune trees can be found at the West Texas Urban Forestry Council web page on pruning.

The City of El Paso has strict ordinances about the care of trees in parking lots and vehicular use areas. To my knowledge, the ordinance has never been enforced. Here is the applicable code with my emphases:


Chapter 18.46 LANDSCAPE
18.46.090 Required plants.
3. Parking Lots and Vehicular Use Areas.
a. Shading shall be required for parking lots and vehicular use areas that are located within the project, with more than fifteen parking spaces or an area greater than two thousand seven hundred square feet shall be provided with at least one parking lot tree for every fifteen parking spaces or two thousand seven hundred square feet of vehicular use area or portion thereof.

18.46.130 Maintenance standards.
A. Landscaping and irrigation shall be regularly and properly maintained to ensure healthy and vigorous plant material. The property owner is responsible for regular weeding, mowing of grass, irrigating, fertilizing, pest prevention, pruning, and other maintenance of all plantings as needed. Trees may not be trimmed beyond national nursery standards for any reason.

18.46.160 Enforcement.
A. Revocation of Permit. Permits may be revoked in accordance with the provisions in Section 18.02.102 of this code.
B. Citations. The director shall be authorized to issue citations for violations of this chapter, which shall be prosecuted in municipal court.(Ord. 16985 § 51, 2008: Ord. 16654 § 1 (part), 2007)

"Director" means the director of the development services department or his designee.

18.46.180 Violations--Penalty.
A. Civil and Criminal Penalties. The city shall have the power to administer and enforce the provisions of this chapter as may be required by governing law. Any person, firm, corporation or agent who shall violate a provision of this code, or fails to comply therewith, or with any of the requirements thereof, or who shall has erected, constructed, altered, installed, demolished or moved any landscaping or irrigation system, or has erected, constructed, altered, repaired, moved or demolished any landscaping or irrigation system, in violation of a detailed statement or drawing submitted and permitted under this chapter, is subject to suit for injunctive relief as
well as prosecution for criminal violations. Any violation of the ordinance codified in this chapter is declared to be a nuisance.

Title 9 HEALTH AND SAFETY
Chapter 9.11 TREE CARE
D. Definitions. The following definitions apply under this chapter:

2. "Damage" means and includes, but not be limited to, the uprooting of a tree, severance of the root or branch system, the compaction of soil around a tree, a substantial change in the natural grade above a root system or around a trunk, or excessive pruning of living tissue.

3. "Public property" means all grounds owned and controlled by the city of El Paso and where the city has the responsibility of maintenance.

4. "Public tree" means any tree with at least two-thirds of its trunk on public
property.

5. "Topping" means the severe reduction of the tree's size using heading cuts that shorten limbs or branches back to a predetermined crown size or limit with the result of reducing the natural canopy or disfigure the tree.
F. Trees Located on Public Property.
1. Destruction or Damage of Trees Prohibited. It is unlawful for any person to intentionally damage, cut, carve, abuse, poison or otherwise harm or injure any tree located on public property. This section does not apply to persons authorized by the city who are taking actions necessary for the preservation and safety of the public or the proper care or maintenance of any tree in accordance with the Arboricultural Specifications Manual. The city of El Paso and its authorized agents, employees, and contractors shall have the authority to trim or remove any trees within public
property.

2. Maintenance of Trees.

c. Tree Topping. No tree located on public property shall be topped. Trees severely damaged by storms or other causes, or certain trees under utility wires or other obstructions where other pruning practices are impractical may be crown reduced where necessary to protect the public health, safety and welfare.

e. Jurisdiction
Over Public Property. The directors of the street department and Parks
Department or his or her designee shall have the power to perform accepted tree care in accordance with the Arboricultural Specifications Manual. If any tree or any part thereof is in unsafe condition, or is injurious to the common good, or to the sewer pipes, pavements or improvements, or is infested by disease or insects which are dangerous to other trees, the city arborist may remove such trees or part thereof, or spray such tree, or order such tree, or part thereof removed.
H. Any person who shall cause, create, keep, or otherwise permit a nuisance declared under this chapter or any person who intentionally damages, cuts, carves, abuses poisons or otherwise harms or injures any tree located on public property shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be fined as provided in Sections 1.08.010, 1.08.020 and 1.08.030. Each day that such nuisance shall continue shall constitute a separate offense; provided, the imposition of a penalty hereunder shall not abrogate the right of the city to cause the abatement of any nuisance.

The sample tree butcheries in Fox Plaza and along Mesa beg some questions:

1) What contractor(s) were responsible? (People who top trees and who do not know correct pruning standards or who don't refuse to prune incorrectly cannot be called "arborists".)

2) If an "arborist" did do this why are they going against industry standards?

3) If not an "arborist" who did this? Do they consider or call themselves a professional?

4) If they are professionals and they are knowledgeable of industry standards why do they not educate the tree owner on the correct and healthy method of pruning?

5) Shouldn't the city landscape ordianance apply in the parking lot situations? Certainly it should be a concern when it comes to stormwater management.

6) The Public Tree ordinance should apply to the trees along Mesa as they are planted in a public right of way. So why has the city not fined the owner or person who topped the trees near Carl's Jr ? Or did City workers destroy these trees?

7) How can a City that says that it is environmentally-friendly allow the destruction of trees like this?

8) Where is the public outcry?

In this hot dry dusty environment, we cannot afford to destroy our shade. Why put the money, time and effort into growing a tree for several years just to destroy it in a few minutes?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

El Paso's Advantage

In case you missed the comment, Chris from Seattle wrote:
"I am moving to El Paso in May after 3 years here in Seattle. Though I miss the desert and am looking forward to being on the border, I have lamented the loss of locally grown markets that are ubiquitous up here. I fully support the mission of this blog and look forward to learning more and helping to establish both community gardens and local markets."

I fully understand. Prior to moving back to my hometown two and a half years ago, I lived in the Seattle area - Issaquah and Sammamish to be exact. It was there where I began valuing all of the locally-grown food, organic farming, support for farmers and farmers markets. During my last four years there I helped a local farmer's organization, the Sno-Valley Tilth, with some of their marketing. I was part of the committee that began and oversaw the now very successful farmers market in Carnation in the beautiful Snoqualmie Valley. For three years I wrote the market e-letter once a week for 52 weeks of the year. It was there that I also began my blog on the trend toward local, organic food: Conkey's Tavern.

So, welcome back to the desert, Chris. Know one advantage the El Paso region has over the Pacific Northwest (besides sunshine): a growing season that is 365 days long year after year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Walk in the Garden

Today I toured the only community garden in El Paso: the Weldon Yerby Senior Garden in northeast El Paso. Not only is it El Paso's only community garden, it may be the best kept secret in the world. Google Weldon Yerby Senior Garden. Go to the El Paso City Government site or the Parks and Recreation site and search for it. You won't find it.

Yet there is space there for 100 garden plots that can be "farmed" by anyone 55 or over in the County of El Paso. It provides recreation for seniors and plenty of groceries for them, their families and their friends. In fact, the Senior Garden is so successful that there is a lot of food wasted - food that could go to soup kitchens or sold at a farmers market. The current Coordinator, Joyce Ealey, tells me that her freezer is full of frozen vegetables and that is just from last season.

The garden (and gardeners) operate year round. The cool season vegetables are now growing: carrots, garlic, beets, celery, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, lettuces and onions. One avid gardener has already started tomatoes. (He gave me a hand full of Marigold seeds since he told me that marigolds drive aphids away and I told him the little buggers were bothering one of my tall junipers.)

The Weldon Yerby Senior Garden has been in operation since 1979 - the same time that the Wellington Chew Senior Center started operation just a few blocks away. Mayor John Cook has always been a supporter of the garden. According to former Coordinator Jim Moore, Cook tried to convince City reps to begin community gardens in each of their districts.

Recreation Coordinator Keith Hall is very enthusiastic about the program at the garden. He attributes its success and sustainability to two factors: the dedication of those who work the garden and the fact that the program is self-directed. It is under the City's Parks and Recreation Department but it is also self-governing. (Might be something to learn here for all of our other neighborhood parks.)

Keith is also excited about all of the new, progressive programs starting in El Paso: providing more hiking trails and doing more environmental education especially with young people. He speaks excitedly about our mountains, our bosques, our would-be gardens that are now nothing more than vacant lots. Like so many of us, he wants to see more community gardens and more use of the food to feed many more mouths.

It's too bad that the Weldon Yerby Senior Garden is one of the best kept secrets. It connects people with the earth. It provides wholesome food - not the ubiquitous corn products (high fructose corn syrup products) that is behind so much of El Paso's obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Recreation, exercise, connection with the earth - all are ingredients for health. Now imagine the health of the City that has neighborhoods and communities working together on farms. It brings back connection, fellowship and community - the kind of context where would-be taggers would not even imagine tagging and drug dealers would find no takers.

The Weldon Yerby Senior Garden shouldn't be a secret. What happened to Mayor Cook's proposal to have such gardens in every district of the City? What can be done going forward?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reasons why locally-grown food in El Paso will become the norm

Lisa Degliantoni interviewed me on her program Charlando con la Gringa with Lisa D on Talkback Radio Station KQBU 920 AM. (You can hear her show Monday through Friday from 10 until Noon.) We talked about farmers markets, community gardens, City of El Paso policies and locally-grown food in general.

The other day I wrote that El Paso has a long way to go. It's not that the City dislikes farmers markets, it is just that there is no hew and cry for the markets. There are people who value locally-grown food and who will go each Saturday morning to the market at Ardovino's Desert Crossing from late spring until fall. There are certainly others who frequent the market at San Elizario. I think more people would be interested in farmers markets if they were more available - if more neighborhoods around El Paso would sponsor them on different days of the week.

For now farmers markets are not on the City radar. That is why there aren't any special fees to encourage the markets at neighborhood parks. Park use fees apply each and every time and they are too expensive for farmers markets.

Nor does the City seem to value or encourage community gardens even though there has been a very successful garden since 1979 for seniors. Although under the umbrella of the Parks Department, this garden with 100 "farmers" has been basically self-governing.

So what will it take to build a fire in El Paso to get support for locally-grown food? Actually, I think that the sparks are already here. Here's the list:

1. The Abuelas - the lore of food and herbs goes back to antiquity and still exists in little plots of gardens in small yards all around this region. The Abuelas know. It is a matter of tapping into their ancient wisdom.

2. Ardovino's Desert Crossing - They run a successful market with people and vendors who go there every week while it is open throughout the warmer months. In other words, there is enough interest - there is a market out there for locally-grown food.

3. Increasing knowledge and enthusiasm for community gardens, yardsharing and such. It's there as evidenced by my conversation with Lisa D and Johanna Wallner's before me.

4. Oscar - a UTEP student who has his own garden and shares jalapeƱos and tomatoes with his friends and family. He called in while I was on the air. Oscar is the future.

5. A growing number each year of people who sign up for Master Gardener or Master Naturalist courses. Too bad that current policy for Master Gardeners sees helping with community gardens as extraneous labor and maintains that MGs only work at the farm at the A&M Research facility in far east El Paso. There are MGs chomping at the bits to do more work out in the community and get credit for it.

6. Active neighborhood associations in El Paso - the framework is there for encouraging, planning and implementing community gardens, yardshares and neighborhood farmers markets.

7. The Newspaper Tree - the online news source for El Paso - they are looking at issues of sustainability, locally-grown food, neighborhood action groups. Also Talk Back Radio 920 AM especially with Lisa D who promotes everything local including local music groups.

8. The economy - the bad financial picture may push people from the super markets to the farmers markets. Will the City of El Paso facilitate this trend?

9. Availability of commercial kitchens at churches and other places where people could potentially can vegetables.

10. Interest in providing food to soup kitchens. There is a deep value in El Paso to care about those in need.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Why Locally-Grown Food?

Elpasonaturally promotes buying and eating more locally grown foods. There are a variety of reasons for doing so. First, locally grown food is better tasting and more nutritious food. Food loses some of its nutritional value as it travels. The hot house tomato grown in California doesn’t have as much oomph to it by the time it has been shipped across country to be packaged and distributed to a warehouse in Phoenix and then shipped to El Paso. If you have ever eaten a locally-grown heirloom tomato, you will know the depth of the taste of a real love apple. Your body will thank you for all the additional vitamins and minerals.

Buying locally grown food means energy independence. You can buy blueberries now in grocery stores that were grown in Chile, shipped to New York and shipped out to different food distribution centers in the country before they make it to your local grocery store that may be miles away from where you live because the design of our cities and neighborhoods are still predicated on cheap energy.

Using more organic and sustainable farming practices means once again relying on the sun and not on petroleum. Tons of food is currently raised on corporate farms because of insecticides and herbicides that are produced by the petroleum industry. (All of those noxious chemicals make their way into our food and water.)

Locally grown food is demonstrably safer food. There is a reason for the widespread havoc wreaked by food contaminated by E coli or salmonella. There are only a few points of distribution and mega farms, thanks to federal subsidies, along with a very few super markets and big box stores rule our food chain. If contamination starts on the large corporate farm or at the food distributor, it quickly spreads nationally. Imagine a terrorist strike on our food system!

El Pasoans would be wise to encourage their governments to offer incentives for more small farmers raising food crops. Urban sprawl that does not have a policy for maintaining land for agriculture is a policy for eventual unsustainability of the human culture and community.

We need a return to more locally grown food with more places for that food to be sold especially in neighborhood farmers markets. We need to learn again about our indigenous foods besides just pecans. Many know about diabetes-fighting nopal (and many El Pasoans grow and harvest their own nopalitos and tunas.) But there is also the high protein mesquite bean and ubiquitous amaranth. Local churches and schools with commercial kitchens could become neighborhood canning facilities. Each neighborhood park could have just a patch for a community garden and neighbors can also join together for yardsharing.

With the economy in the tank, with the need for energy independence (can you imagine small wind mills generating electricity at each neighborhood facility?), with the need to eat more nutritious food and be free of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes and cancer, the value for locally-grown and eaten food could certainly come to be shared by more people in the El Paso region.

Elpasonaturally is dedicated to the promotion of this value.

Friday, March 6, 2009

El Paso has a long way to go

There is an excellent op-ed piece over at the Newspaper Tree. Political economist, Johanna Wallner, has written a call-to-arms: Diabetes? Easy answer: Eat smart. Type 2 Diabetes is preventable without some miracle drugs. We just have to eat smarter as she says. El Pasoans eat too much junk food, consume far too many high fructose corn syrup drinks, have too much fat in their diets and have too much of the wrong kind of fats in their diets. The result: obesity and diabetes.

Unfortunately, much must be done to turn the culture around from fast food to local, indigenous food; from supermarkets to urban gardens and even a resurgence of farms - outdoors or indoors.

Government policy doesn't encourage it. Want to have a farmers market at a park in the City of El Paso? Applying park fees it will cost the market operators $345 if they were to rent a 1 acre or less parcel of land from 7 until Noon. The hourly fee is $60 with a $45 permit fee. They could rent the space for the entire day for a flat $300 rate plus the $45 permit fee but that would only be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is not to mention fees vendors would have to pay, mordidas for security, street fees for closing a street partially and barricade fees. And we are just talking about a one day event. Come back the following week and you pay the same fees.

Compare that with fees on farmers markets in King County, Washington (Seattle). I helped to begin and oversee a farmers market in Carnation. The market manager in Carnation also manages a farmers market in Sammamish (a wealthy suburban neighborhood filled with Microsoft millionaires.) She tells me that:
"In Carnation we pay no money to the city for any permits and fees. The county we pay the $125 plus $25 annually for our health permit. That’s it. In Sammamish we also do not pay the city, other than $25 for the assembly fee, in fact the city gave us $40,000 to get the market going and are paying another $15,000 per year to keep it going."

Let's see, the Carnation Farmers Market is open for approximately 20 weeks per year. They pay an annual fee of $25 or $1.25 for each market day. In El Paso, to utilize a small (acre or less) city park for a farmers market that goes the same length of time (20 weeks) would be $6,900 per year! ($345 x 20 weeks.)

After 3 years on the board overseeing the farmers market in Carnation and writing a blog on local food (Conkey's Tavern) and a weekly e-letter for that farmers market 52 weeks of the year, I can tell you that no farmers market anywhere in the United States can survive El Paso fees. We simply have no policy or desire to encourage neighborhood farmers markets selling local, sustainable food.

Meanwhile, we get fatter, we do pancreatic damage, and we encourage large corporate agri-biz that has been in bed with big oil forever. We shop Albertson's where we can find food that was grown in Chile, shipped to New Jersey, shipped to Phoenix and finally shipped here. How much fossil fuel do we really burn when we drive to and purchase at the food chain store or big box store or drive down to McDonald's for that super sized high fructose corn syrup soda pop to go with our triple meat burger?

El Paso has a long way to go.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rio Bosque Again Under Attack by Kiewit Constrution

John Sproul reported today that Kiewit has flagged several tornillos and one big cottonwood along the Riverside Canal levee road at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. John is the Program Coordinator and Manager of the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.

Kiewit, of course, is the large construction and mining company which is quickly putting up the Border Wall, destroying eco-systems as they go from California to the Gulf of Mexico.

This blog chronicled Kiewit's attempt in January to destroy a rather old and large cottonwood. KTSM's Nick Miller stepped in to save the tree. (Kiewit doesn't mind destroying the environment - just when there aren't any cameras or pesky news people around.)

By the way, Kiewit is also a big mining company. They mine coal. The PR about coal is that it is clean. However, "clean coal" is an oxymoron. Check out the reality.

And see this video showing the damage the building of the Wall wreaks upon the natural environment:



"If you want trees, I have trees."

City Manager, Joyce Wilson, was the featured speaker this morning at Mayor Pro-Tem Susie Byrd's monthly Thursday public meeting now at Tierra del Sol Restaurant on Alabama Street. Ms. Wilson principally addressed economic concerns and the City budget along with some comments on the PSB and stormwater management.

When she took questions from the audience, I asked her what the City was doing now to be more "green" and energy efficient in spite of the current economic challenges. What amazed me was how quickly she listed many of the efforts of the City currently to be more green - to be more energy efficient. Her alacrity told me that this is an issue near and dear to her heart.

Here is the Litany:
The City has a contract with Johnson Controls to modernize controls at City facilities. There will be solar panels at the pools and LED signalization for traffic control. Everything that they are doing will pay for itself in five years.

All future City facilities must meet LEED Green Building Standards.
Landscaping projects are being done with water smart plants and with the goal of "cooling" more areas of the City.

More City vehicles will be converted so that they can use liquid natural gas. The City is also buying hybrid cars for their carpool.

The City is offering green incentives for businesses.
Finally as a board member of the West Texas Urban Forestry Council and a former member of the Tree Board, I asked how she plans to increase the native tree canopy. She responded by saying the City has a Tree Farm. "If you want trees," Joyce said, "I have trees."

Sounds like a good start.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Moor Home Xeriscape Project Set To Begin

Members of the El Paso chapter of the New Mexico Native Plant Society, the El Paso Cactus and Rock Club and perhaps El Paso County Master Gardeners are set to begin turning turf into a xeriscaped garden at the Lee and Beulah Moor Children's Home. Project Coordinator, Virginia Morris, writes:

"The Home is located on 14 acres of lawn, which is quite expensive to irrigate and maintain. This is the opportunity to put into practice what we preach – a project to convert turfgrass to a xeriscape landscape. Please join us for this familiarization tour and program kick off.

Jim Thomas, Senior Director of Development and Activities, will give us a walking tour of the Children’s Home and describe the activities and challenges faced by the staff and children.

A detailed program plan for activities of all participant organizations, with a facility map and a timeline for program completion will be provided. A broad break-down is as follows:

Phase I: Greenhouse and vegetable garden. Master
Gardeners?? Awaiting confirmation from Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Phase II: Cactus Garden. El Paso Cactus and Rock Club

Phase III: Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden. Native
Plant Society

Each time a volunteer arrives at the facility they must sign in at the Reception Desk. All volunteers will have to complete paperwork and provide a photo ID and social security card so a background check can be completed. (Please do this the first time you volunteer). These steps are necessary to protect the children.

For more information, please contact Virginia Morris at elpasovlm@sbcglobal.net."
Virginia was instrumental in a large scale cactus rescue last year in northwest El Paso and the xeriscaping of the El Paso County Sheriff's facility in far east El Paso.
The Children's Home is located at 1100 E. Cliff Drive (at the intersection of Octavia and Cliff).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What Will You Do, El Paso, When All of the Albertson's Close?

As far as food systems go, El Paso is a thoroughly "modern" City. We have built based on cheap energy. We sprawl. Big box stores are on the outskirts or what once was the outskirts. There are many Mom and Pop stores to be sure - but there are a few food distributors. The biggest players are WalMart and Albertson's. I've already described the distribution of food for Albertson's. It's no different for WalMart. 99% of the food that we buy has zigzagged across the nation or from across the world. In some instances we get produce from within a 300 mile radius where that circle includes Mexico. There are few produce farms here. The Federal government has subsidized cotton but not pinto beans in this region. In short, we have to buy plenty of gasoline to travel to a place to buy our groceries which have come to us at the expense of even greater energy from around the world and coast to coast - literally coast to coast and back again. It's insane.

Now listen: the financial collapse that we are witnessing is going to take its toll on agri-biz all over the country. The growing season is beginning and there will be many farmers who won't be able to get the credit to grow. Accompany that with drought in California and China and Australia and you can expect food prices to go up and big agriculture to get (pardon the pun) eaten up. One of the cruelties of the current Peanut Corporation of America's salmonella scandal is that it has affected nearly 3,000 products at the tune of a half a billion dollar loss in a time of enormous economic downturn. (History will record this as as Depression.)

What should be done? Prop up the huge agri-biz system that is based on and in bed with huge oil? Chances are great that is exactly what Congress will do. Better to help promote local farming, urban farming, community gardens and farmers markets and CSAs. At the very least, the cities in this region should begin promoting small farmer initiatives. If they don't, we are going to be in trouble. Imagine Albertson's going bankrupt, El Paso. Imagine that if you will.

Please read Jim Kunstler's blog entry What Next.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Outrageous Garden

If urban sprawl eats up farmland as it does in the City of El Paso, then locally-grown food becomes less and less available. You can look at agricultural reports for the County of El Paso at the turn of the twentieth century and beyond and you will see plenty of vegetable farmers up until the 1940s. Increasingly then - especially with federal subsidies - farmers turned to cotton or perhaps pecans. With the rise of the supermarket, locally-grown became almost an oxymoron everywhere in North America.

One solution to urban sprawl is urban farming or community gardens. Yvonne Scott of Albuquerque, New Mexico has developed what she calls the Outrageous Garden - a simple garden utilizing recyclable kiddie pools or vehicle tires to create the garden space and good soil along with some tender loving care. Her idea will soon be put to work in Albuquerque. Yvonne tells us that on
"March 21st if you're in the Albuquerque, NM area, you can participate in creating a community garden on the site of a former parking lot utilizing recycled materials and above-ground gardening systems. These designs come from all around the world, are cheap, easy to set up and maintain, productive and efficiently utilize limited available water and nutrients."

Scott is motivated by her desire to do something about poverty and hunger. "Hunger is preventable. What's important is to provide options for those without access to a tillable land base, a backyard or community garden."

Her workshop on March 21st will show you "how to create a simple food growing system nearly anywhere."

Cutting-edge landscape architect and owner of Quercus, David Cristiani says that Yvonne Scott has "nice ideas to bring food into the landscape and create something better than the 'NM rockscape' as she calls it."