By: Stefany Olivas, Business Manager | Photo By: Scott M. Roberts, Photojournalis
Former student and Project Feed the Hood coordinator Rodrigo Rodriguez said the goal of Southwest Organizing Project is to empower communities to address several social, economic and environmental inequalities occurring within their community.
The 32-year-old Southwest Organizing Project functions on many levels in the community to build support and awareness for grassroots movements, he said.
“We’re an initiative-based organization, so we have various campaigns. It’s about connecting the micro of food justice to the macro of social and environmental justice. We try to support other folks doing things to establish long-term policy shift and engagement strategies,” said Rodriguez.
The goal of the food justice initiative is to have educational resources, create jobs and make local produce accessible to everyone in a community by building local gardens, said garden coordinator Travis McKenzie.
“When people talk about health care, they don’t talk about gardening. They’re not talking about relationships, diet or exercise. They are talking about pills, money and hospitals. That’s not everything about healthcare,” said McKenzie.
Southwest Organizing Project has worked with community members, individuals in the education system and public officials to establish many community gardens in schools and throughout the city, said McKenzie.
“Going into it, we never thought we were going to feed everyone in the neighborhood, but the functionality of the gardens are to be education and organizing spaces,” said Rodriguez.
McKenzie said that as the community learns about gardening, many connected topics come up, like conserving water in the desert, unaffordable food and the rising costs of medical care.
“The community garden is a vehicle for social justice. We want to use the garden as an educational space to teach people how to garden and use it as a space to talk about other issues,” said McKenzie.
With the support of the project, community members are able to make long-term changes and improve the policies of the area they live in, said Rodriguez.
“We’re not always necessarily trying to pass a bill. It’s more about cultivating the masses to be able to support a bill,” said McKenzie.
Community members have begun to build coalitions to make changes within their neighborhoods and schools, said Rodriguez
“Between a few schools we have programs from pre-K all the way up to twelfth grade. Potentially, students will go through the entire K-12 system with gardening all along the way,” said McKenzie.
Southwest Organizing Project began the food justice initiative in 2010 and has since helped develop many gardens in Albuquerque working with systems already in place.
“We have been working a lot with schools. We can make changes first through APS, and then the state education department to ensure the work around community health would be institutionalized. Instead of being extracurricular and functioning after school, it would be ‘intercurricular,’” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez and McKenzie encourage students to volunteer at a garden with SWOP or get projects going within their community.
SWOP can host presentations in a classroom or after school program. To get involved with the food justice initiative, contact Rodriguez at Rodrigo@swop.net. To check out more initiatives by SWOP, call 247- 8832 or visit swop.net.