GROWING PRODUCE FOR FOOD PANTRIES

Faq

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SEED2NEED QUESTIONS

Why are you doing this?

Top 5 reasons to get involved: 1. Helping others and having a positive impact on your community. 2. Meeting like minded individuals who care about the world they live in and are willing to sweat to make a difference. 3. Gardening provides physical activity. 4. Recent studies indicate that digging in the dirt builds your immune system and that it is good for your emotional well being. 5. It's a good excuse to be outside rather than cleaning your house on a Saturday morning.

How did you get started?

Start small. The entire process is a learning curve. We have detailed instructions available on the Get to Know Us Page. We started with a small garden in a neighbor's horse corral. The alliance with the Sandoval County Master Gardeners allowed us to expand. Partnerships with various church groups, community groups, etc. have also allowed us to expand. As a project dependent on labor, it is always the volunteer turnout that determines how much we can handle. Funding is fairly easy to procure. It isn't hard to convince people that alleviating food insecurity is a good cause. If you have questions or need to know more, please email Seed2Need@gmail.com

How much does it cost to do the gardens?

The recurring costs associated with the gardens is approximately $5000/acre, though our costs have been higher for the last couple of years as we invest in equipment and infrastructure (tomato cages, additional gardening tools, on site shed, greenhouse, and mulch layer). We have virtually no administrative costs other than insurance and the cost of the porta potty. Our endeavor is based on 100% volunteer effort, with the exception of intern opportunities created in 2015. The internship position was established to provide ongoing maintenance and weeding, which has been difficult to do with fluctuation in volunteer turnout, and to get younger people more involved. The cost is minimal, but the additional help allows us to continue expanding as we develop our volunteer core.

Who funds Seed2Need?

In 2010 and 2011 Rio Grande Food Project served as our fiscal sponsor. We became a 501(c)(3) in April, 2012, which allowed us to start applying for grants. That represents another learning curve; one that we are still figuring out. Fortunately we have been supported by the community, with funding provided by a combination of private party donations and local business contributions. In 2013 we received a $10,000 grant from the PNM Foundation as well as a grant from Keep New Mexico Beautiful to plant fruit trees. In 2014 we received a $10,000 grant from Seeds of Change. We are fortunate that our costs are low and support has been consistent. Based on donations received we are experimenting with an internship program in 2015. This program offers leadership opportunities for high school and college students interested in learning more about gardening while doing work that benefits the community.

Who does Seed2Need serve?

Currently we are serving 17 food pantries and soup kitchens in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Corrales, Bernalillo and Placitas. Many of the smaller pantries send volunteers to help with the harvest, taking what they need for their patrons. This allows us to get produce to the pantries fresh, often distributing within hours of harvest. The larger pantries typically send trucks to the gardens to pick up produce. We meet three times a week throughout the season, scheduling pantries on a rotating schedule based on size and when they are open. When the gardens hit peak harvest we call in Roadrunner Food Bank. They send a truck to collect overflow and distribute it to other pantries throughout the state.

What does Seed2Need grow?

We focus on vegetables that generate ongoing, heavy yield. We take local tastes and nutritional value into consideration as well. We have tried many varieties recommended by New Mexico State University over the last several years. We have evolved and adapted over time. Initially we focused on tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers and eggplant. We quickly discovered that heirloom tomatoes were not suitable. They don't transport well. They are beautiful, but they turn into tomato sauce when stacked. Eggplant is not a hot commodity. Green beans are appreciated by the food pantries, but the volunteers aren't wildly excited about picking them, because they seem to grow faster than you can pick them and the dirt in New Mexico will scald your knees in July. Everyone loves watermelons, including the kids that come out to help at the gardens. There is no such thing as enough green chile in the state of New Mexico. We plan to add jalapenos in 2014. In 2013, we planted approximately 2200 tomatoes, primarily Big Beef and Celebrity, 3500-4000 green chiles (Sandia and New Mexico 64), cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, carrots, zucchini and green beans.

Is Seed2Need 100% organic?

We do use organic methods as frequently as possible. Many of the solutions developed over the last several years have proven very effective; BT for hornworms, gypsum for blossom end rot, and jumping up and down on squash bugs. Ideally we would love to be entirely organic; however, our objective is to maximize our harvest so that we can serve as many families facing food insecurity as possible. We have limited resources in terms of labor due to the reliance on dedicated volunteers rather than staff. When we exhaust all organic options, we will consider alternatives that are not organic. However we have been fortunate to find organic solutions that have been effective. With water coming from so close to the Rio Grande, and the unavoidable fire retardants, chemicals and contaminants in the water supply, it doesn't seem feasible to pursue an entirely organic model. Additionally, we do soil testing every year and fertilize with compounds based on the results. Our seed is NOT GMO; however, many varieties are hybrids. There is a difference. The hybrids have been bred for productivity or to resist diseases and pests. The genes are not altered through external means. We try to source suppliers that are not affiliated with Monsanto, though that is becoming more challenging as Monsanto is quietly buying many of the smaller seed suppliers. Essentially we do what we can, but there is always room for improvement.

Most daunting challenge?

Mother Nature presents a variety of challenges every year, in the form of drought, plant disease, pests and endless weeds, but the biggest challenge has been having enough volunteers to keep up with the work that needs to be done weekly. Like housework, weeding and garden maintenance seem like futile endeavors, but they are critical to a successful garden. Volunteers are critical to our success. If you would like to volunteer, please email Seed2Need@gmail.com to be added to the mailing list or check out the calendar for work sessions. If you are part of a community service group, please email to schedule a time for your group. We can always use more help!

Do you need more land?

We are limited by our volunteers, time and equipment. We planted two acres in 2013. We added a 1/2 acre orchard around the greenhouse in the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014. In 2015 we expanded to another property on Manierre Road. Staying consolidated makes it easier to get farm equipment and volunteers to multiple locations during each work session. This becomes critical when we start harvesting to avoid neglecting smaller gardens. Volunteer turnout fluctuates dramatically.

When can you come pick my tree?

We are available to glean fruit from local orchards when time and volunteer availability allows. Often we are unable to accept every orchard offered due to limited volunteer availability and equipment. Many of our 'core' volunteers are senior citizens, which makes ladders a perilous prospect in terms of liability. As of 2015, we are receiving additional assistance from local Boy Scouts troops. Our goal is to help other groups, like the Boy Scouts, coordinate the gleaning separately from the gardens so we can accept more of the fruit donations offered while focusing our attention on the gardens. If you would like to donate fruit from your trees, please contact us at Seed2Need@gmail.com. We need at least two weeks notice to arrange for volunteers and equipment, particularly as the gardens hit peak harvest in August and September. Everything harvested is donated to local food pantries and soup kitchens. For larger orchards we need additional time to arrange for Roadrunner Food Bank to pick up.

I'd like to help. How do I volunteer?

You can be added to our mailing list by emailing Seed2Need@gmail.com. We meet Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings from 8 am until 10 am. As of July 1, we will meet at 7 am (due to heat). Occasionally extra sessions are called when orchard gleaning opportunities arise, etc. You can follow our progress on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. If we need to cancel work sessions due to weather, we will post on the home page of the website by the calendar.

GARDEN QUESTIONS

What is the source of water?

Due to the drought water restrictions have been implemented making it difficult for farmers to reliably access water for their crops. Conserving water is increasingly vital to our project like ours. We utilize t-tape to minimize water use. The water distribution covers a 12-18 inch path, providing ample water for the plants without saturating the entire area. By covering the rows with plastic mulch we prevent evaporation. The property owners associated with each Seed2Need garden provide land, water, and pay for the electricity to operate the pumps. The gardens are watered by wells on each property (rather than flood irrigation). Were it not for the generosity of the property owners sharing their water rights, we would not be able to do this project.

How do you prevent squash bugs?

Prevent? Short answer. We don't. As we go into our fifth year growing on a large scale the tally is Squash Bugs 5 vs. Seed2Need 0. Planting in mid-July allowed us to get significant squash production the first few years, but the vile little creatures always emerge and propagate exponentially at some point. As the plants get larger, it is harder to check every leaf on hundreds of squash plants. The last two seasons we lost almost all cucurbit crops, with 2014 being a total loss in terms of cucumbers, squash or melons. The squash bugs barely let the cucumbers get out of the ground. We tried to plant a batch of zucchini early in 2012, but the squash bugs were so prolific that we pulled the plants, tilled the rows to stir up the soil, with one person following behind with a propane torch. That was more gratifying than effective. It scared the neighbors more than the squash bugs. Our second round of zucchini, planted after July 4th, 2012 didn't have nearly as many squash bugs. Based on these experiences we are going to try crop rotation this year, planting cucurbit crops (melons, squash, cucumbers, etc.) at a new location, further down the road, that has been fallow for many years. We are going to cover the rows with hoops and Agribon to try to keep squash bugs in the neighborhood out...theoretically. Update to follow.

Does the color of plastic mulch matter?

We tried this method based on a study done at Cornell University. The ultraviolet light generated by the red plastic encourages plant growth. In 2012 we planted tomatoes on black plastic and red plastic (see photo). The tomatoes in the photo were the same variety, planted on the same day, in adjoining rows. Whereas the red plastic works well for tomatoes, we realized in 2013 that it was less than ideal for green chile, because it also seems to promote weed growth under the plastic. Though satisfied with the red plastic mulch's effectiveness, we resumed using black plastic mulch in 2014. In 2015 we decided to try two tone mulch. The underside is black to inhibit weed growth. The top is white to reflect light, keeping the soil slightly cooler and reflecting additional light for the plants. This, too, is intended to promote plant growth while inhibiting weeds. It's an experiment. See our links section for more information about the studies regarding different colors of plastic mulch and the impact on plant and weed growth, as well as additional tips and tidbits from various extension offices and agricultural schools.

How do you remove the plastic mulch?

In 2013 we used a raised bed mulch layer, as an experiment, prior to investing in the equipment. We pulled the plastic up by hand at the end of the season. We were pleased with the results, in terms of suppressing weeds, conserving water and deterring the resident creatures and critters from using the t-tape as their personal water fountains. The grooves associated with the raised beds were treacherous to navigate and unnecessary so we opted for the flat bed mulch layer. The flat bed mulch layer seems to secure the edges with more dirt than the raised bed attachment, which is handy given the spring winds. This does not make it easier to pull up at the end of the season. The easiest tactic is to get the edges loose before trying to remove it. Otherwise one side or the other will be compacted dirt, ripping the plastic, resulting in having to search out the bits of plastic embedded in the soil. If the plastic isn't removed, it gets tilled in.

Why cover the tomatoes with white tents?

Agribon is light fabric that is air and water permeable. We cover the rows of tomatoes to keep beet leaf hoppers off of the tomato plants. Beet leaf hoppers love the mustard that grows wild in most areas of New Mexico. They carry curly top virus, often resulting in devastating crop loss. Tomatoes are consistently our top producer, in terms of weight. Since implementing the tomato cage and Agribon method, we have lost very few plants to curly top virus. Even the plants that are lost throughout the season produce fruit prior to dying. Several local growers have copied the design with similar results. We use concrete reinforcing wire, cut into two pieces. Each sheet makes two 9' cages. I use them in my home garden for tomatoes and climbing plants, like cucumbers and pole beans. The beauty of the design, beyond effectiveness, is that they can be stacked, making storage during off season more space efficient. We use 8-9 per row, allowing us to cover 90-100' rows with row cover. Depending on the weight of the wire, the cages can be used for many years. We have been using 8 gauge wire and have replaced very few cages over the last six years.

Where can I buy the tomato cages?

We build our tomato cages out of 8 gauge concrete reinforcing wire. They are sturdy, stackable, and allow for long rows, which are covered with Agribon to inhibit pests. There are instructions available on the Get Involved page. The design is based on ease of installation, stability (no t-posts required), wind resistance, storage and the ability to cover long stretches with row cover.ire. Every year or two we tend to make more tomato cages, though we really haven't had to replace them and it would seem like we have enough at this point. It is less expensive to make them in bulk and the apparatus for bending the wire requires more than one person. The last several times that we have built tomato cages, we have ordered extra wire, selling cages to the volunteers that help us at cost. That tends to occur in late April. Several local growers have copied the design, building their own frame for bending the wire.

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