Felix Torres wants to grow high water-use forage crops (like alfalfa) with a low-water use method like hydroponics. This year, his organization, the Indio-Hispano Academy of Agricultural Arts and Sciences (IHAAAS), was awarded a grant by the governor's Water Innovation Fund to study the subject. Now the academy will be growing test crops in a 5,000 square foot greenhouse in the South Valley and looking at the impact hydroponics might have on water conservation techniques in New Mexico. He'll also study the social, cultural and economic aspects of what it would take to implement the practice. Convincing Valley farmers to switch to hydroponics could save tons of water, but it would be a tough sell. But Torres' project, he hopes, is bound to make it happen.
The hydroponics project is one of many that the IHAAAS juggled this year, all in an effort to preserve the local cultural heritage. The academy also tries to involve young people from the South Valley and Isleta Pueblo in the projects, taking in students from the South Valley Academy and kids who are referred from the juvenile justice system. This spring they planted 29 acres of land with vegetables and chile. During the summer they worked the fields and sold produce at a growers market. Next year Torres would like to introduce them to food processing and packing at the South Valley Business Incubator's kitchen.
"We want to be able to teach the kids how they can become entrepreneurs through farming our land and selling the produce," Torres says. He says Albuquerque needs more locally grown produce, and he wants to find out what it will take to get more Valley residents involved. "Maybe we need to work with them on a greenhouse project, since water is such an issue," he says.
Torres tries hard to tie in every aspect of the agricultural landscape. The academy is pursuing a Bosque restoration training program because Torres sees opportunities for job creation. "It's all tied in to agriculture: the watershed, the river, the acequias. Bosque restoration is something that they can do that's in the community and that involves science." And science isn't something that most of these kids would have said they were interested in before coming to IHAAAS. Many were already on the verge of dropping out before joining charter schools that partner with IHAAAS. Torres hopes that by showing them the interconnectedness of science, agriculture and their community, the 600 kids IHAAAS has worked with will be more likely to stay in school, graduate and make positive contributions to the community and its unique character. (GD)