NMSU’s Student Gardens earn organic certification

For immediate release: Oct. 31, 2014

Media contact:
Katie Goetz, Public Information Officer
575-646-2804 office

Students, research scientists, and members of the public gathered earlier this week to celebrate the recent organic certification of New Mexico State University’s (NMSU) gardens where students get their hands dirty by putting into practice what they’re learning in nearby classrooms.

NMSU’s three-acre Student Research and Education Gardens joins approximately 150 other certified organic operations in the state.  The certification was made by New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s (NMDA) Organic Program, which is accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) to offer organic certification to farms, ranches, and other food/agricultural entities in the Land of Enchantment.

The farm is located just a few hundred yards from the buildings that comprise NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

“Students are learning in Gerald Thomas and Skeen halls, and they can just walk over here to the farm instead of having to take a bus or a van,” said Mark Uchanski, associate professor of horticulture in NMSU’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.  “The university’s conventional farm plots are close by, too, so students have both perspectives to learn from.”

Students learn not only how to grow and harvest organic produce from the newly certified farm, but they also see the process through to marketing and selling it at Crimson Creations, the student-run retail store inside Gerald Thomas Hall.  That store is open when school is in session, weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

With the harvest winding down, what you’ll find at the farm right now is okra ready to pick, as well as the last of this year’s squash and watermelon.  Come next summer when production is at its peak again, customers at the store can expect to find a much wider variety of produce for sale.

“The organic market is the fastest-growing segment of agriculture in New Mexico,” said New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte.  “This farm is a perfect training ground for students to go on to become good growers and equally good marketers after college.”

Witte said that the state’s organic production is estimated to be worth $50 million a year.  And the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference has ranked as the state’s best-attended agricultural conference for the past several years.  The 2015 conference takes place in Albuquerque in February.

NMSU boasts other properties across the state where a portion of the acreage is also certified organic: the Experiment Station at Alcalde, as well as the Experiment Station at Los Lunas.  The Student Gardens, however, is the only property on NMSU’s Las Cruces campus that’s certified.

Uchanski and the farm’s student interns engaged in organic practices even while letting the land rest from conventional practices for three years, as required by the NOP.  Now Uchanski wants to help other farms make the same transition.

“We’re looking for growers in southern New Mexico who might need assistance in getting certified organic,” Uchanski said.  “And federal funding through the USDA Organic Transitions grant NMSU just received can help them do that.”

Growers interested in transitioning from conventional to organic production should contact Uchanski at uchanski@nmsu.edu.

Learn more about NMDA’s Organic Program.