Naco Wellness Initiative Grant Report
The Naco Wellness Initiative, of Bisbee, Diocese of Arizona, has submitted the final report for their 2014 Jubilee Ministry Impact Grant. The grant exists to aid a Jubilee Ministry in making a positive and measurable impact in the lives of those in need.
The Initiative serves the border region of southeastern Arizona and northeastern Sonora, Mexico, where 80% of the population lives below United States poverty standards. Affordable nutritional food is difficult to find in the region, resulting in devastating health effects and declining household economic conditions.
Their application indicated that the $1,500 award would be used for the development and support of a sustainable, healthy, and reliable food stream, based on small-scale agricultural education and community gardens.
According to Tom Carlson, Director of the Naco Wellness Initiative, “The harvest is good.” Since January 2015, when the grants were disbursed, 26 family gardens, as well as a garden at the Naco Orphanage in Sonora, have been developed in the communities they serve. The past several months have included ceaseless work, from installing a drip irrigation system, to monitoring over 8,000 feet of new drip tape, to providing supervisory and advisory support, to daily chores, to composting, mulching, weed and pest control.
Though the work was intense for Naco volunteers, moments of joy were never in short supply. For all the work of preparing the soil, planting the seeds, and tending the crop, there was also the excitement of watching what were once tiny seeds produce an abundant array of fresh, healthy, and delicious produce. According to Carlson, “It has been an enlightening, enriching, and empowering experience for all of us.” Among the crops planted and harvested were tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, onions, carrots, radishes, lettuces, chilies, garlic, cabbage, corn, beans, cilantro, watermelons, cantaloupe, blackberries, and strawberries.
While the bounty is staggering, there is more to the ministry than the act of harvesting. Carlson explains, “The ongoing results have been truly inspirational. Gardens have been faithfully tended and families are enjoying the benefits of their labors in abundance.” He continues, “The delicious tastes of freshly picked vegetables and fruits are new experiences for many—neither [are] available nor affordable from the grocery store.”
Time spent working with regional stakeholders has also been important to the Initiative’s work; some volunteers taught children at the orphanage how to tend their plants, others provided lessons at a local Vacation Bible School, others held a community garden fair in the Naco Colosio neighborhood, and still others offered a workshop with the Cochise County Department of Health and Social Services and Native Seed/SEARCH of Tucson for 15 graduate students at the University of Arizona’s Zuckerman College of Public Health. Since early 2015, the Initiative has been working with an independent filmmaker from Tucson and the director of the University of Arizona’s Hanson Film Institute to produce a video about the gardening program, to be used in fundraising and other venues.
The Naco Wellness Initiative has also taken the time to celebrate the community and their gardens; in June 2015, during the initial harvest, the gardeners took a day to show off prize vegetables, share recipes and dishes, create music, and award certificates to recognize each other’s’ efforts and accomplishments. According to Carlson, local gardener Yerena Soberanes took home the winning prize for her blue ribbon zucchini, onions and beans. In August, children from the Initiative’s summer program, where health education is combined with crafts and games, put on a skit about the effects of healthy and unhealthy foods, complete with oversized food props they had made.
As this remarkable season closes, Carlson is certain that the Naco Wellness Initiative can and will sustain the goals and objectives they have thus far achieved. Plans are currently in the works to plant an additional 25 gardens for the Harvest for Health project, and there is much interest in not only traditional planting methods but also hydroponic and aquaponic methods. The technological growth in these fields may shorten the growing season, increase crop yields, and minimize the amount of water used in crop production—ever a concern in Arizona.
In closing their report, the Naco Wellness Initiative thanks The Episcopal Church’s Jubilee Ministries. Carlson writes, “Our successes are in large part due to your generous funding and willingness to share and support our vision of empowering these families not only with healthy food for their tables, but also a sense of pride in their accomplishments. As… a single mom gardener, with three lovely kids, said to me this past week, while holding an armful of freshly picked vegetables, ‘We owe all of this to you people who have made this possible.'”
Jubilee Grants are awarded annually by The Episcopal Church. For more information, please visit Domestic Poverty Ministries at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/domestic-poverty-ministries. Like and follow Jubilee and Domestic Poverty Ministries on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/episcopaljubilee/ and Twitter at https://twitter.com/Matthew2537.
The Rev. Melanie Mullen
Director of Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care