The City of San Elizario has partnered with Auburn University, in Alabama, to develop new specialty crop industries with desert vegetables, spices, herbs, dyes, landscaping plants and crops that harness bees to serve the city’s economic future.
Via a news release, City of San Eli officials shared, “San Elizario sits within the Chihuahuan Desert, which has the highest variety of bee diversity in all of North America and is most likely one of the leading regions of this characteristic in the world…initiatives [will be] based on unique “bee diversity” and include collaborations with San Elizario Independent School District, El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 and Auburn University.”
To kick-off this work, the City of San Elizario and Auburn University have been awarded $4,000 through the Texas USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service CFDA Program. And thanks to a partnership with El Paso County Water Improvement District #1, the funds will be used to create a community crops garden for a healthier food future at Parque de los Niños.
The space will be used to demonstrate specialty crops, which are better suited for our region and have been identified by the USDA as in high demand nationwide. In addition, the garden will supply compost, seeds and an educational space for participants in our Homestead Science initiative and Wild San Eli, a program in conjunction with the San Elizario Independent School District.
Homestead Science will provide 10 San Elizario residences with the training, materials and equipment to grow specialty crops that will be available for sale at our signature Bee Real event, slated for September 8, 2018.
Wild San Eli launches March 7, 2018 as students are introduced to pollinator research and future careers in sustainable agriculture. Approximately 20 students will be provided kits to “pan-trap” specimens that will be used in a Junior Curator Camp in August 2018.
A series of 2018 events, including three Bee Bloom Walks–the first of which is March 10 from 9am to 11am–and training for SEISD teachers via Bee-a-Biologist workshop will culminate with Bee Real, a festival to celebrate pollinators and introduce the community to specialty food, dye and medicinal crops. Additional Wild San Eli events have been scheduled for 2019.
“Due to the pollinator diversity, we regularly conduct research in San Elizario and since 2017, we have been working with local leaders to develop initiatives that support pollinator health and have the opportunity to create economic development based on high-value specialty crops, suited for the region that cannot be duplicated just anywhere in the country. These include crops that are historically native to the region but are predominantly being imported into the U.S.,” stated Bashira Chowdhury, pollination ecologist with the Bee Biodiversity Initiative in Auburn University’s College of Agriculture.
Mayor Maya Sanchez added, “52% of our constituents live below the poverty line. And when campaigning for incorporation in 2013, many expressed a desire to retain the unique rural makeup of our community. Our pollinator initiatives allow us to address both of these concerns. And in partnership with SEISD, we plan to grow our own workforce.”
Additional grants and collaborations are underway to support on-going work. A five-year plan has been developed to achieve short-term victories that will support longer-term goals.