Campus News - December 3, 2001

Partnership provides opportunity in Valley

By Carolyn Gonzales

James Maestas by the South Valley acequia.  Photo by Carolyn GonzalesRCRP, Resource Center for Raza Planning; RGCDC, Rio Grande Community Development Corporation; IHAAAS, Indio-Hispano Academy of Agricultural Arts and Sciences, Inc., sounds a bit like alphabet soup, but like soup, when the right ingredients come together it spells success.

The partnership between these organizations is serving the Albuquerque’s South Valley socially, economically and environmentally.

A conference for HSIAC (Hispanic Serving Institutions Assisting Communities) directors was recently held in Albuquerque. They came together from all over the United States to share information about their respective projects. Teresa Córdova, RCRP director and professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, took them on a tour of projects UNM, a HSIAC institution, is engaged in.

The group traveled to Sanchez Farm where James Maestas, IHAAAS vice president, showed them how the HSIAC grant helped them to buy seeds and equipment to raise corn. He also toured them through the acequia that had been cleared of brush and weeds rendering it capable of carrying water to crops once more.

“With the acequia opened, the neighborhood can move into production. The land in the South Valley was, historically, used for agriculture. That vibrant activity can exist once more with water flowing through the acequia,” said Córdova.

“We employed 13 youth from the community custody program this summer and five students from the South Valley Academy this fall,” said Maestas, noting that 40 bushels of corn were harvested and sold at a growers’ market.

“The young people who helped raise the corn reaped the benefit of it,” he said. A corollary benefit is that the young people develop a relationship with the earth and appreciate the heritage and legacy of the South Valley, says Maestas.

Because of the relationship between the RGCDC, Indio-Hispano Academy and RCRP, plans are underway to develop a small business incubator in the area. Through a grant that RCRP acquired, they have the necessary funding for the first phase of construction. Initially, the facility will house a commercial kitchen, a daycare facility and the business incubator.

The commercial kitchen will allow South Valley growers the opportunity to present their produce to create products for restaurants and commercial sale. This will “add value” to the produce and provide economic development of the sort desired by area residents.

“We know what kind of business the South Valley residents want because we conducted a door-to-door survey,” said Córdova, adding that another household and business survey will be conducted to assess employment, skills training, retail and services that exist and are desired.

The commercial kitchen and the daycare facility provide area residents with a shot at self-employment. “The daycare facility is not just a place where people can get a job at minimum wage. We intend to teach people how to become daycare operators,” said Maestas, who is retired from the Welfare to Work program at UNM Continuing Education.

“Self-employment, a component of welfare reform, is an important source of community health and household wealth,” he said.
The expertise and assistance provided by UNM, through the RCRP and Teresa Córdova, have been critical, said Maestas.

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