Albuquerque veterans find sanctuary in local farm project

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Albuquerque residents don’t have to go very far to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Veterans have found sanctuary in one of the city’s open space lands, and they’re doing something pretty cool.

KRQE News 13 spoke to the people behind a local veteran farming project that’s not only producing fresh food, it’s providing therapy too.

“It’s very meditative in my experience,” explained Kent Swanson, with the City of Albuquerque’s Open Space Division.

A garden in the City of Albuquerque’s north valley open space land is more than just a place to farm.

“I come out usually two, three times a week at least, I bring my grandson sometimes,” Ronda Zaragoza told KRQE News 13. Zaragoza is a retired, disabled Air Force Veteran who served in Desert Storm.

She volunteers at the garden weekly as part of the ‘Veteran Farmer Project.’

“Horticultural therapy is a large part of what happens here, and community building,” Swanson explained. “That’s kind of the overall goal.”

Swanson said the group teaches people farming skills and allows people to focus on caring for their crops.

“Whether it be beans, squash, lettuce, herbs, the active taking care of something and investing your energy and just being really focused on what you’re doing,” Swanson explained.

Veterans are growing green chiles, potatoes, cabbage, fennel and basil, just to name a few.

“I was on a lot of different medications, over 25 of them when I first started because of PTSD, depression, medical issues from the military,” said Zaragoza.

La Montañita Co-op, and Rio Grande Community Farms partnered with the City of Albuquerque to use part of the open space land near Alvarado Elementary School for people like Zaragoza.

Zaragoza has learned to grow her own fresh produce. “I’ve gone from over 25 medications down to 12 because of not only the organic gardening, but working here,” she said.

Zaragoza said the environment alone is relaxing, and gives her a chance to get away from the noise of the city. She said she’s eating healthier and building friendships.

“It’s definitely therapeutic, plus you get to meet other veterans and talk about issues that sometimes you can’t talk about with your family,” Zaragoza explained.

The produce veterans harvest there is often taken to the VA Hospital Grower’s Market or volunteers can just take it home to their families.

Their fresh produce is a hit at the VA Hospital each Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon, or until they sell out.

“You see the fruits literally of your labor,” said Swanson.

It’s hard work, but for volunteers with the project, the payoff is priceless. Zaragoza said she’d recommend the project to anyone.

The Veteran Farmer Project currently helps around ten people, but they’re working with the city to expand and make the garden more accessible to veterans with disabilities.

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