Harvesting Hope: Charity Works To Turn Food Bounty Into Community Bounty

Food is Free Albuquerque founders Trista Teeter, left, and Erin Garrison, right, with former University of New Mexico footballer Jorge Enriquez. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal)

Erin Garrison and Trista Teeter do the heavy lifting.

The duo are the driving force behind Food is Free Albuquerque (FIFABQ), a charity that focuses on the cultivation and sharing of food.

Some of the problems they solve are in the realm of what to do with an abundance of apples, an abundance of blueberries, a plethora of plums.

Chances are, Garrison and Teeter have the answer.

“We were both canned and saw some unused trees,” Garrison said. “We posted a Craigslist ad for additional fruit, and people responded. We harvested 200 pounds from these early trees – more than we needed. “

Feeding a community

Recognizing an opportunity, Garrison and Teeter reached out to Food is Free, based in Austin, TX.

They requested permission to use the name, and Food is Free Albuquerque was born in 2014.

“We never canned again,” Garrison said.

But they contacted the community again, this time asking on behalf of the others.

“We knew there was a hunger problem in New Mexico,” Teeter said.

Today, one of the main goals of Food is Free Albuquerque is to help harvest the “forgotten foods,” the fruits and vegetables left in the fields after producers have taken all they wanted and had. need. Amateur gardeners, family orchards and small farms can contact FIFABQ and the organization will glean the designated trees or fields.

Harvest time is an event that lasts for months for FIFABQ. The blackberries will be ready to harvest in May, and the harvest will continue through October, with pumpkins, potatoes, and apples, and whatever else you can grow in between.

While 30 days notice is best, one month before harvest they harvested with 24 hours notice. And Garrison and Teeter don’t do it alone. They have a core of volunteers of all ages, including their own children.

“The children of Food is Free are truly inspiring human beings,” said Garrison.

The organization collected and redistributed over 14,000 pounds of food to kitchens and shelters in 2019. Even bruised and crushed produce finds its way to another goal: to domestic canneries and farmers for animal feed, respectively. From harvest to final destination, Garrison said, the goal is to get the produce back into the community.

“Food is Free believes that fresh food is a human right,” Garrison said. “Everyone deserves to have access to fresh food.

Gardening goals

Volunteers with Food is Free Albuquerque and Used Equipment Sales are working on the construction of Jorge Enriquez’s garden.

Harvesting is not food is Albuquerque’s sole focus.

Another function of the organization is to help people grow their own food.

Former University of New Mexico football player Jorge Enriquez was on the verge of graduation in 2006 when he experienced episodes in which one side of his body became numb. He was 23 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that damages myelin in the central nervous system.

Six years ago, Enriquez took up gardening. But a few years later, his illness threw him into another loop and progressed to the point where he struggled to access his plants.

Enriquez – who uses a wheelchair – thanks his family for connecting him to Food is Free Albuquerque and nominating him for an accessible garden.

March was the dream stage, he said, but work began in April.

“(They) built me ​​a garden paradise,” Enriquez said.

“(It was) a really inspiring thing to work on, really fun to make the whole plan dream and see it come to fruition,” Garrison said.

“I had the pioneer garden,” said Enriquez, describing his garden, the first one built by FIFABQ.

This first garden was sponsored by a local company, Used Equipment Sales. With the FIFABQ, volunteers and family members, they installed raised beds, an enlarged cobblestone path, a compost cup and a rain barrel.

“Lots of cobblestones,” Enriquez said. “Having that extra 12 inches (along the path of the original paver) is huge… a godsend.”

The raised garden beds built by Food is Free Albuquerque for Jorge Enriquez.

Enriquez now grows many vegetables including squash, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes and his favorite, zucchini.

“I don’t have such a big harvest yet,” Enriquez said. “I give to my neighbors with whom I grew up over the past 30 years. I made bread for my neighbors with things from my garden.

Teeter said: “It inspired them to create their own (garden)”.

“An apple or 1,000, sharing is what’s important, sharing with the neighbors,” Garrison said. “We are all neighbors.

FIFABQ hopes to continue building dreams like Enriquez’s.

Building the future

In 2020, the organization plans to build four more gardens for people who are prevented from gardening due to physical or other limitations. And they are also looking for local businesses who want to help sponsor these gardens. Interested companies can contact FIFABQ at [email protected]

“(What) started out as randomly giving food increased,” Garrison said.

When the gardens come back to life around Albuquerque in the spring, Food is Free Albuquerque will be ready. You might see them driving down the street in a car stuffed with corn, a chassis close to scratching the road, or in a front yard, building and creating dream gardens like Enriquez’s, for others who just need a helping hand.

As for Garrison and Teeter’s personal garden goals, they say their talents lie elsewhere.

“We’re not talking about the plants indoors,” Garrison jokes.

Both prefer to focus on the growth and maintenance of food and community.

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