ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A program at Albuquerque Public Schools is cultivating knowledge and life skills outside of the classroom.

A first-ever conference held Saturday brought together students, educators and the community to grow the unique program that is already producing great results.

“We have tomatoes all down this row,” explained middle school student Mia Miller as she walked through rows of vegetables. She is learning a lot from one particular class at Van Buren Middle School.

“I enjoy harvesting the food and bringing it home to cook meals,” she said.

Her southeast Albuquerque school has the district’s first ever gardening elective.

“With Mr. McKenzie, I think he’s a great teacher. It’s fun because he makes it fun,” explained student Ella Smith.

“We’re thinking of schools as a potential hub for food justice and food production,” said Travis McKenzie. He teaches the gardening course and says it is helping address big concerns.

“We have a lot of issues related to food insecurity. We have communities where there is no access to healthy organic food and traditionally we have a very strong agricultural heritage in New Mexico,” he said.

Van Buren Middle School is one of about 90 APS schools that have gardens. The goal is to expand the program throughout the district.

“Gardening is a huge part of what we do on a daily basis,” explained James Grainger who teaches at Kirtland Elementary. He says he can engage his students simply by taking his lessons outside

“All manners of education, math, science, social studies, everything can be incorporated into the garden,” he said.

Smith agrees, explaining how they “got 25 pounds of different foods yesterday (Saturday) from weighing it so it was pretty cool. It’s not just math but like we also get science and different subjects in gardening.”

This weekend’s Gathering of the Gardens Conference is all about showcasing the lasting impact gardening can have on students. A mission to help them flourish, by planting one seed at a time.

Another goal is to provide internship opportunities for students in the summer to care for the school gardens, providing them with work experience and healthy foods for their communities.

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