"Wall panels with artwork titled "Manos a la obra" (Hands at work) by Manone line one side of the Community garden plots are just half of the Huerta del Valle (HdV) 4-Acre organic Community Supported Garden and Farm in the middle of a low-income urban community, where Co-Founder and Executive Director Maria Alonso and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Redlands District Conservationist Tomas Aguilar-Campos work closely as she continues to improve the farm operation in Ontario, California, on Nov. 13, 2018.
USDA NRCS has helped with hoop houses to extend the growing season, low-emission tractor replacement to efficiently move bulk materials and a needed micro-irrigation system for this San Bernardino County location that is in a severe drought condition (drought.gov). Huerta del Valle is also a recipient of a 4-year USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Community Food Projects (CFP) grant and a USDA funded California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP). She and her staff grow nearly 150 crops, including papayas and cactus. CSA customers pick up their produce on site, where they can see where their food grows. To pay, they can use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. The price of a produce box is based on the customerâs income.
Alonsoâs inspiration came from her desire to provide affordable organic food for her child. This lead to collaborators that included students and staff from Pitzer College's âPitzer in Ontario Programâ and the Claremont Colleges, who implemented a project plan and started a community garden at a public school. Shortly after that, the City of Ontario was granted $1M from the Kaiser Permanente Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zone initiative. Huerta del Valle was granted $68,000 from that grant for a three-year project to increase the scale of operation. The city of Ontario supported the project above and beyond the grant by providing a vacant piece of land next to a residential park and community center. Alonso says that this spot, nestled near an international airport, two major interstate highways, suburban homes, and warehouses, is a âgreen space to breathe freely.â
She far exceeded Kaiser's expectations by creating 60 10â X 20â plots that are in full use by the nearby residents. Because of the demand, there is a constant waiting list for plots that become available.
As the organization grew, it learned about the NRCS through an advertisement for the high-tunnel season extension cost-sharing program. The ad put them in touch with the former district manager Kim Lary who helped Huerta del Valle become federal grant ready with their Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) and System for Award Management (SAM) registrations and connected the young organization to NRCS as well as the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District (IERCD.) Since then, Alonso has worked closely with them sharing her knowledge with a broader community including local colleges such as the Claremont Colleges and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona).
Cal Poly Pomona is an example where education institutions help the community. Cal Poly Pomona Plant Science Nursery Manager Monica Salembier has produced plant seedlings (plant trays) for transplant at HdV for many years. Aaron Fox and Eileen Cullen in the Plant Science department have hosted HdV in their classes and brought many groups on tours of the farm to learn aboutÂ sustainable urban growing practices.
The shaded picnic tables in the center of the garden have been the site of three USDA NRCS workshops for regional farmers, students, and visitors. The site also serves as a showcase for students and other producers who may need help with obtaining low-emission tractors, micro-irrigation, and high tunnel âhoop houses.â
Alonso says, âevery day is a good day, but especially at the monthly community meetings where I learn from my community.â
For more information, please see www.usda.gov and www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/community-supported-agriculture
Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) is the Departmentâs focal point for the nationâs farmers and ranchers and other stewards of private agricultural lands and non-industrial private forest lands. FPAC agencies implement programs designed to mitigate the significant risks of farming through crop insurance services, conservation programs, and technical assistance, and commodity, lending, and disaster programs.
The agencies and service supporting FPAC are Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Risk Management Agency (RMA).
Natural Resources Conservation Service has a proud history of supporting Americaâs farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners. For more than 80 years, we have helped people make investments in their operations and local communities to keep working lands working, boost rural economies, increase the competitiveness of American agriculture, and improve the quality of our air, water, soil, and habitat.
As the USDAâs primary private lands conservation agency, we generate, manage, and share the data, technology, and standards that enable partners and policymakers to make decisions informed by objective, reliable science.
And through one-on-one, personalized advice, we work voluntarily with producers and communities to find the best solutions to meet their unique conservation and business goals. By doing so, we help ensure the health of our natural resources and the long-term sustainability of American agriculture.
For more information, please see www.usda.gov.
USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.