Growing San Elizario

Our world is going from green to an unending concreate jungle. No matter where you look, natural spaces are disappearing; and buildings and parking lots are replacing them. It’s depressing.

The City of San Elizario has a solution to the encroaching concrete and the ideas we have about not being able to create any new green spaces, or even grow food. I met with Maya Sanchez, City Administrator for San Elizario and Octavio Hernandez, who works with the City of San Elizario and the University of Auburn in Alabama.

What’s the plan? The City of San Elizario has launched an Urban Agriculture program.

“What was done many, many years ago is people would grow food in their houses, and would either use it for personal consumption or would get together with a community and do what we call now farm markets and sell it to everybody else in the community,” Hernandez said when asked about the San Elizario Urban Agriculture program.

“San Elizario has had a history of farming for many, many years, going back generations,” said Maya Sanchez. “When the city incorporated in 2013, one of the things that we heard, because I was a part of that process, was that they [the people who live there] didn’t want San Elizario to become a city, per se, but to try to protect the lifestyle that people could enjoy out here. And obviously we’ve lost a lot of that farming and agricultural heritage.”

That’s the sad thing about growth, the loss of what made a person who they are, or the overall heritage of a community. San Eli still retains much of that heritage. As Ms. Sanchez explained, there are still large plots of land that are used for commercial agriculture. However, not everyone has fifty acres, or the ability to grow produce on a large scale.

I don’t have a lot of space in which to grow anything, nor do I have a green thumb. When I’m asked to housesit my friend’s plants, I always tell them to say goodbye because no matter how closely I follow their instructions, no matter what I do, the plants die. I’m not the only one that can’t grow a plant, and the Urban Agriculture program has even thought of that.

“As you know, a lot people’s frustration with, with gardening is if you try something and it fails and then you just can’t find the answers necessary,” said Sanchez. “Well in this they’re going to have that support. We are expecting some things to fail, but failure helps you realize and helps you get to the point of what is the best solution. And that’s where the City and Auburn [University] comes in so that they’re just not floundering on their own.”

Not only is San Eli and Auburn University going to provide ongoing support, they are already showing that you can grow your garden anywhere.

“Just to show people that they can grow anywhere, our Bee Real Bee Spots pretty much how we set it,” said Hernandez. “We’ve had a couple of restaurants helping us out in our Bee Real event, which is an annual thing that we do. These restaurants actually helped us out in creating little plates using some of the crops that we’re trying to grow out here.”

According to Hernandez, it works like this: the restaurants who have participated in the Bee Real event grow food that will later be used in the dishes they serve. Restaurants don’t have a lot of space so growing in pots is the perfect solution.

“So, in every restaurant right now—we have about five of them here in San Elizario that are participating—they all have their own pot and they’re growing. Uh, we put, we put in our violas, which is an edible flower, a radish, mustard, and cilantro,” said Hernandez.

Now, when you come to one of these restaurants, not only are some of the items locally sourced, the plants beautify the neighborhood.

“One thing that’s really cool about this is the plant material, the seeds, it’s all going to be provided by the City through efforts of the City and the University of Auburn,” said Sanchez. “Even if people want to participate and think, Oh, um, I don’t want to dish out money for this. Most of that, besides the technical support, they’ll be getting a lot of materials at no cost to residents.”

What do you have to lose? Not only is the City providing the material free of charge, but there is supported to call upon if needed and it will increase the number of green spaces in our City.

We may not be growing broccoli, eggplant, beets, or a host of other vegetables, but we will learn what grows best in our environment and how to use it in our daily meal preparation.

“One of the things for the community, more than anything, is when you think of gardening, a lot of people might think of having to fight the earth to get what they want. We want to change the thinking and change the perspective. Just because a flower is pretty, or a vegetable is tasty, or never going to be growing strawberries in San Elizario, but there’s a host of other things we can grow that are equally delicious or equally beautiful,” said Sanchez. “So, if one you first change your thinking to what is beautiful, what is tasty, and focus it more on, well, given my climate and the environment in which I live, I want to learn how to do that thing. You won’t be fighting with your soil, with your dirt, it’ll actually work for you.”

Window boxes, pots in and around your yard, a small two-foot by two-foot space is all it takes to start your own Urban Agricultural adventure.

To get involved in the San Elizario Urban Agricultural project, and I highly recommend you consider it, give either Maya Sanchez or Octavio Hernandez a call at 915-974-7037.

I encourage you to listen to the audio above, there is so much more to be learned abou tthis projct.

If you’ve decided to become part of this project, let us know, we would love to follow you and your success over the season!