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Backyard Abundance, Fresh Food is a Human Right

Redistributing backyard food offers hunger relief and closes gaps in food waste systems.

Photo of Erin Garrison
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Food is Free Albuquerque

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.


Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?


What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Albuquerque is located in the beautiful Southwest, rich in diversity and history. It is a city strife with social problems and laden with the magic of movement. The enigmatic energy of the city captured our imaginations and ignited our passion for service. This is a city filled with thinkers, doers, and big dreamers. It is also a city where despair can be seen nearly everywhere you turn. Home is defined as a place where one lives permanently as a member of a family. Albuquerque has become this, a home with a large, diverse family. 

The relationship we have developed with our community has nurtured and inspired us. Our dream was born here. A dream of an equitable food system, a dream where none of our community need to know the anguish which is hunger. We found a sustainable and previously hidden resource growing right before our eyes. In yards throughout the city grows an abundance of unused fruit, creating an oasis in the high desert. Not just an oasis of food, but connecting homeowners to their community, allowing them a bridge to help less fortunate members living on the fringes of society. Building more than just working professional relationships but long lasting enriching ones. It is these relationships which have fostered a vast amount of growth. 

Each year we have doubled the amount of fresh food harvested, and thus provided to our community. Each year we have seen eyes light up at the sight of fresh summer apricots, a delicacy which is easily taken for granted by many, but for those unable to access this through conventional means it is a bright yellow piece of love. It is love that connects us to this place. A love for the people, a love for the trees, and a love for the abundance the earth has to offer.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Albuquerque is a city of over half a million people. Two major interstates bisect the center of the metro area (what locals call The Big I). To the east, the Sandia Mountains tower in the background. An aerial view shows a sprawling city, but zoom in and you will find a big city with a small-town feel. It is not uncommon to find yourself engaged in riveting conversation in the produce section with a complete stranger or to discover a new friend who knows over half the people you know. We call it New Mexico magic. It is this magic that has connected us with so many members of our community. 

A short drive eastward will place you in the rolling East Mountains, dotted with small townships and hidden treasures. It was here I was first introduced to this magic. Signs lined the highway in celebration of Earth Day, leading to a small village that lies in a valley where the seasonal creek flows. From the road, a willow tree could be seen, surrounded by blowing colorful flags. A multitude of people roamed about in front of an ancient-looking adobe church. Not one to miss a good gathering, I took a chance and drove down onto the dusty lane. I was greeted by a vivacious woman, the organizer of the celebration. She was an artist and local community organizer. She whisked me away to meet everyone present. One of those women turned out to be the wife of a gentleman I had given apples to a few days prior. This realization instantly bonded me to this group of wonderfully hospitable people. This is only one instance of what would become a regularly occurring story. 

Moving westward from the mountain, leaving the mountains to your back, you see the sprawling land that is New Mexico. In the distance ahead of you is Mt. Taylor, often topped with a layer of vibrant snow. Approaching the Big I, one can see the design ingenuity of this intersection, merging the two large thoroughfares. 

Traveling south, long-dormant volcanoes dot the landscape in the distance. After a short drive, you will find yourself in the heart of the South Valley. Walls lined with murals and artwork will inspire you on your drive. Maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to see a few chickens hanging out at the small gas station on the corner. The cottonwoods and shade trees here give away the presence of the Rio Grande and its fertile valley. The orchard we are visiting is nestled amongst all of that; an orchard over 60 years old. We find ourselves here during a time of great abundance that the owners cannot utilize. Ms. Sophie tells me stories of her childhood spent in that orchard, and stories of her mother’s apple pie. In one exceptionally large apple tree hangs a tire swing. One can almost hear the sounds of children laughing giddily while crunching into the most perfect apple. 

This is our home and we welcome you.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

New Mexico is a leading state in endemic poverty and childhood hunger. Albuquerque sees a high number of homeless residents and those struggling with housing stability. Albuquerque is rated as one of the nation's most dangerous cities in the country, ranking at #8 in the top ten. Homelessness continues to be a hard truth that many are facing. The Point-In-Time count has shown an increase in those experiencing homelessness each year. Organizations work overtime to meet the most basic of human needs, unable to focus on comprehensive programs to provide long term solutions. These challenges, coupled with limited resources available, have made Albuquerque a triage center.

The high desert, while a beautiful place to call home, is a landscape that can be harsh and unforgiving. Each thing grown here is a miracle in its own right. The water required to sustain each living thing is a blessing not to be wasted or squandered. This environment has played a role in the resident's diets. For example, our great passion for green chile. This little pepper thrives in our Southwest dry heat. Come to New Mexico prepared to answer the all-important question "Red or Green?" This plant is a testament to the resiliency needed to prevail here.

Some of the most resilient people live here. Regardless of the social problems that exist, the community exudes creativity and spirit. The artist community is lively and vibrant. The growers' community is vast, innovative, and diverse. All signs lead to a bright future for this beautiful state. The level of tenacity found here is proof this community will thrive.

Water is our biggest threat, or the lack of water to be more clear. It is within our hands to create sustainable growing systems. Ones that protect, efficiently use, and store that water. We must grow responsibly, for the people and the planet. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

When communities come together many social problems begin to correct themselves. First, we have to feed our community. We start by harvesting the hidden resources found growing in our own neighborhoods. The connections created through this activity alone will last a lifetime. With zero funding, FIFABQ has harvested and distributed 20,000 pounds from this food source. Imagine how this number will grow as the mission spreads.

Second, we implement education programs on growing one's own food. We meet each community member where they are at in life. For some people, it's with their own Accessible Garden. For others, it is in a sprawling community garden. And for some, it is the ease of harvesting at a local community food forest.

Third, we educate about water. Hands-on training of techniques to keep the waterways clean and growing foods that are adapted to our climate. Applying these techniques ensures future generations will have access to clean water and plenty of food.

Eventually, we have a community where no one's diet is decided by their socioeconomic status. Each individual has access to fresh, healthy, locally grown food. They can be lifted from poverty through food and connected into a thriving community. Additionally, this will allow New Mexico to come away from poor national ratings, and become a thriving point of hope for many across the globe. We look forward to the day that poverty is no longer a driving force in our community.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

For community members on the fringes, having access to healthy food is a daily barrier. With our program, that barrier is removed. Gone will be the days when 1 in 4 of our children experience food scarcity. Each resident will know the bounty and have access to it. Hunger is not an issue of not enough; hunger is a symptom of unbalanced distribution.

Community members can now visit their neighborhood food forest to harvest apples. They can then take them to the Community Preservation Building. Here, they have access to the education and resources to process their apples into jams and sauce. They can then take them home to enjoy, or with a certification, can make them available for purchase.

A variety of community gardens provides space for anyone to grow their own okra and tomatoes. Working collaboratively is healing and connects us to those we share this space with. Ownership over the land is instilled in many.

People experiencing limitations can request a customized garden in their own front yard. Each garden is sponsored and installed by a local business with the help of FIFABQ. This empowers the individual through the ability to grow their own food. Being in the front yard encourages more community connection, which is often found wanting in this population.

Those not ready to grow and preserve their own food will be provided for through our gleaning program. The food rescued will continue to be handed to any human in need of food. We will not leave them by the wayside. They are us and we are them.

FIFABQ was founded on and driven through grit, tenacity, and creativity. It is seemingly too simple in the face of complex social problems. But it really is that simple. Sharing food. Sharing it over and over again while the dream takes hold. Suddenly this idealist vision becomes the groundwork for a sprawling metropolitan to take back their food sovereignty. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

When FIFABQ began, it was through sheer luck. The founders were in need of apples, meant to be preserved into delicious treats for the winter. The ad they placed was met with gusto from the community. These two women realized they had discovered a problem. Homeowners were overwhelmed with fruit. When the first tree elicited over 200 pounds of apples, they realized they had also found a solution.

Knowing the food scarcity issues plaguing New Mexico, the women began giving away their harvested goods. Community members were very touched by these gestures of free fruit. It was through these interactions that the two women again became aware of another need. That of community connection.

So it began. Two women with a city full of fresh food and hunger issues hellbent on becoming the solution.

In 5 1/2 years, FIFABQ has seen unexpected growth and has been embraced by the community in which they call home. The Harvest Program has successfully gleaned and distributed upwards of 20,000 pounds of fresh human edible food, feeding thousands of people throughout the city. They have hosted free markets, with some of the most beautiful produce laid out to be first eaten with the eyes. Local agencies often talk about "corn days" that come about in the fall, when FIFABQ brings them a truckload of fresh local corn. They giddily recount all the wonderful menu items they have prepared for their constituents. On the surface, harvesting unused food seems so incredibly simple. Digging deeper, it becomes more obvious it is also a sturdy and sustainable solution.

Unexpected outcomes from the Harvest Program have been the conversations and connections. Many of our homeowners are no longer at a stage in life to be able to physically harvest their trees. Our team not only provides a solution for their fruit and a way to contribute to the community, but we also provide a listening ear. Many hours have been dedicated to simply sharing space with those in need. This time spent has grown this program into a multi-faceted mission:  To save the food and to love the people.

In 2019, FIFABQ was approached about installing an accessible garden for a wheelchair-bound gentleman. It was an exciting offer and one they would not pass up. A local business owner stepped up as a sponsor and his employees came out to install the garden. Little did we know how life-changing this garden would be. Prior to their paths crossing, Jorge had been withdrawing from his community. His health limitations had left him unable to tend the beloved garden bed he had built. He could only look at it from a distance, the thing which brought him joy just out of his reach. FIFABQ built him a taller bed, widened his pathways, extended his patio, and planted his garden. Suddenly his world was opened again. Hosting barbeques for friends and family, showcasing his famous ribs, became a new favorite activity. He was growing tomatoes and sharing vegetables with his neighbors, inspiring them to start gardens. Something as simple as a raised bed and 500 pavers changed his life forever.

Jorge inspired FIFABQ to replicate this project for others. It was decided that four accessible gardens would be installed in 2020. When the call was put out for sponsors, local businesses quickly jumped on board. As the nominations came in, it was clear that we were again meeting a community need.

This city is ready for a real system change. While our focus is on food security, we know it will mean much, much more.

A fully-funded Harvest Program would be operated by paid employees, summer interns, and volunteers from the community. The back-of-the-envelope math speaks for itself:  There are 222,748 households in Albuquerque. Let's say only 10% of them produce 100 pounds of food (two laundry baskets full of apples, easily accomplished with a small apple tree). This totals over 2.2 million pounds of fresh fruit produced annually in Albuquerque backyards.

Harvesting June through October, employees would handle approximately ten harvests per week. Each harvest would produce about 100 pounds. To reach even a quarter of what we believe is available locally, we will need 21 employees. At this rate, 21,000 pounds of fresh food would be distributed throughout our community weekly. This is the equivalent of 84,000 servings of apples. Not to mention the ability to create jobs. Imagine the outcome of something so seemingly simple.

A fully-funded Accessible Garden Program would run year-round. It would be staffed with 4 paid employees, summer interns, and volunteers. This program can create 12 community-funded gardens for those experiencing limitations each year. These gardens are positively life-changing for those receiving. Not only are we providing them the tools to take control of their diets, but building an entire community around each individual. The model can be easily recreated by anyone wishing to help a neighbor.

A fully-funded Edible Community Food Forest (ECFF) would employ several people, host summer interns, and be driven by volunteers. This foodscaping project brings many benefits to the community. This includes a beautiful space provided by the increased tree canopy, retains water, and produces food. The ECFF's would be planted throughout the city, targeting vacant lots. Signage will direct people to help themselves. Joining with a preservation site would allow community members to preserve their harvests. Another top priority of ECFFs is carbon sequestration. We must begin doing the work to prevent the worsening effects of climate change. Using permaculture techniques we are ensuring the use of our resources in the most sustainable ways.

Seeds are stories waiting to be told and we too are seeds, waiting to tell our stories. Each year we receive thousands of packs of seeds to be shared within our community at our annual Seed Share. This event has become a yearly expectation, bringing out community members from all over the city. Members often come with lovingly saved seeds, ready to share their knowledge. But this is never required--one needs nothing to partake in our Seed Share, merely a desire to grow. A fully-funded seed program would create a seed library in our city. This program would employ 2 people, host interns, and volunteers. Creating comprehensive seed files, including the stories and knowledge to impart from one grower to the next. Sharing stories makes us human, sharing seeds makes us wise.

Food is Free Albuquerque may be a small group, in a city of challenges. Whatever we lack, we make up for in determination. What this organization has been able to create, seemingly out of nothing, has been a beautiful thing to witness.

FIFABQ has a team of thinkers, doers, makers, dreamers, and workers. The organization is on a mission, one of compassion and justice. A mission that has been and will continue to be fueled by community and care.

Fresh Food is a Human Right.

That is our mission. That is our fire. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website


Join the conversation:

Photo of Joe Cardillo

Bravo, Food is Free ABQ team...this is an amazing mission and vision, and to see you already doing the work of addressing hunger and sharing food that would otherwise go to waste is tremendously inspiring.

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