Tonight we gave a presentation to the Taos Municipal Schools Board of Directors about the nature of the relationship between our non-profit organization and the Taos Schools. AIRE has been in existence as an official organization since December of 2010. In the Fall of 2011, AIRE was recruited by Rocky Mountain Youth Corp to identify a “Master Gardener” who might be willing to steward a Grow Dome somewhere in Taos area for education and production of local food. A partnership was forged between Carlos Garcia of Chrysalis and Miguel Santistevan of AIRE to care for the Dome and use it for educational and local food production purposes.
In February of 2012 an Memorandum of Understanding was signed between AIRE and the Superintendent of the Taos Municipal Schools, Dr. Rod Westin. This relationship was made possible by the idea and capacity building by Jason Weisfeld, 5th Grade teacher at Enos Garcia Elementary School and President of the Board of Directors of AIRE. We prepared a 100′ X 60′ section of Parr Field for a milpa and two raised beds with a mobile greenhouse system. This work was completed in partnership with Bob Pederson and Tierra Lucero.
In August of 2012 our Executive Director Miguel Santistevan secured employment within the Taos Schools as a Math and Science Teacher at Chrysalis Alternative School. This development became a chance to integrate AIRE’s programs within the school setting in a more intentional and consistent way. AIRE was able to strengthen its support of activities and curriculum such as the maintenance and use of the horno as well as the Grow Dome from within the school. During this time we constructed an horno at Chrysalis and inaugurated its use through two batches of chicos and the cooking of 5 turkeys for three Thanksgiving Feasts.
In 2013 we continued the tradition of putting the ‘field’ in Field Day at Parr Field by getting the garden ready and having the students of Enos Garcia and Ranchos Elementary plant the field. Much of this facilitation was in conjunction with the students and some paid interns from Chrysalis. In addition, AIRE came together with the UNM-Taos CAMP program to provide internship opportunities for college students to support AIRE’s mission while gaining college credit and a stipend from the CAMP program. We planted the field with over 500 students and provided a seed packet containing seeds of locally grown corn, beans, squash to each one. We hosted a photo contest to give the students incentive in planting a garden.
AIRE has also done much in the Grow Dome over the year with the participation of the students at Chrysalis. We have acquired almost 40 bluegill fish from the NM Department of Game and Fish and are beginning our aquaculture program. We grew many greens and tomatoes in our Grow Dome this year in addition to some melons and jalapeños. We found out, too late, that we were having problems with overheating in the Grow Dome and will have to invest in a shade cloth and maybe some solar-powered fans for 2014.
We cared for the Parr Field Garden and the Grow Dome over the summer hosting workshops and visiting groups. We harvested some green beans for blanching and left the rest to mature into seed for the students for Field Day 2014. When the corn was ready to make chicos, we had over 300 elementary students help us harvest. We harvested so much corn, we quickly realized we were going to have to make two batches of chicos! In addition, we harvested 418 pounds of squash, several ristras of red chile, and 5 bottle gourds.
After we made chicos in the horno and had our fill of fresh tasty chicos, we strung them up and hung them to dry under the porch at the school. After a few weeks they completely dried and we went to work desgrandolos, or shelling the chicos from the cob. We then used a high powered fan to separate the dust and corn cob pieces from the chicos themselves. When we were all done, we had over 4 gallons or over 25 pounds of chicos. When we harvested and processed all the seed corn left behind in the field, we had another 4 gallons of sweet corn seed. This is the corn seed we will give to the students for Field Day 2014.
All in all it was a successful year with much product and learning to show for it. As we enter the third year of a three-year MOU with the schools for the Parr Field Garden Project, we are confident that we have developed the program and relationships to the point where it is more than likely we will secure another three-year MOU with the schools for the Parr Field Garden Project in 2015! We are also looking forward to strengthening our programs at Chrysalis and our Grow Dome with the construction of more raised beds and the refinement of our aquaculture program to include implementation of aquaponics. We are honored to be able to facilitate these activities and know that this investment in our youth right now will have incredible returns for the conservation of our local food traditions, the inspiration of young people into agriculture, and the adaptation of crops for our high elevation, short season, and water-stressed environment. Stay posted for developments in these areas in the future!