Ruth Olivas Community Garden: Healing through Gardening and Community Activism

A few months after my 20th birthday, my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer. A little more than a month later, she passed away to the despair of her loved ones, former colleagues, and students. Now, a year later, some of her former 5th graders will form part of the group of students who are working to establish the Ruth Olivas Community Garden.

Desert View Elementary is a local elementary school in Los Lunas, New Mexico, off the Manzano Expressway between the Sandia mountains and Tomé hill. The school serves 82.6% Hispanic students, and is located within a food desert – as it is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food deserts are associated with low-income areas, and the prevalence of diet-related diseases, such as obesity. Valencia County has a 28.5% obesity rate that has doubled since 1990, mirroring our nation’s trends.

Retail Environment in El Cerro

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During my internship with the SouthWest Organizing Project’s (SWOP) Project Feed the Hood, I started to consider the idea of a community garden as a way to combat this resource-poor environment. SWOP’s work in planting seeds for community needs, served as an example of how community gardens offer an alternative to food deserts. These spaces are becoming tools for people to reclaim their agency in choosing a healthy and affordable diet. Community gardens have health benefits that positively affect nutrition, brain health, exercise, and stress relief. These and other benefits form part of the reason that I chose a garden space to honor the memory of my mom.

Kind Kids Club fundraiser, photo courtesy of Yvette Gonzales

Kind Kids Club fundraiser, photo courtesy of Yvette Gonzales

Desert View Elementary is supportive of the garden space with administration, teachers, and staff working together to make this a reality. But most importantly, the students are engaged with the planning and implementation process. The Kind Kids Club recently hosted a Flower Sale to fundraise for the garden, and raised over $250 to help get any materials we will need for the space!

During the summer, the garden will be supported in collaboration with the K-3 Summer Program at the school, and with the UNM Valencia Campus’ Upward Bound Program. The Upward Bound high school students from the 3 local high schools in the area, (Belen HS, Valencia HS, and Los Lunas HS) will work with the K-3 students to mentor them using the garden as an educational and relationship-building space.

This garden is a personal project for me, but I think it can be applied to diverse situations, and perhaps especially for people who seek to use their pain of losing a loved one in a productive way. My education here at the University of New Mexico influences my academic pursuit of learning how to start the process of creating food justice in my community. I understand this community garden as one way to start that process, and use it as a tool to improve access to produce in the community.

Mural in garden space, photo taken by Divana Olivas

Mural in garden space, photo taken by Divana Olivas

The Ruth Olivas Community Garden will be dedicated at Desert View Elementary’s Annual Spring to Student Success Event, on Thursday, April 9th 2015. My Abuelita and other close family and friends will join us in the dedication. The 6th grade band students will play a short piece, and the students’ research on the garden will be on display. To stay true to the community aspect of it, there will be sign-up sheets for anyone interested in learning more and/or volunteering with the garden.

Almost a year and a half after her passing, the garden will be dedicated in Ruth’s name. Losing my mom has been the single most impactful event of my life, and it will continue to shape everything that happens from here on out. The sadness is inexplicable, but I know that working towards creating something that will carry some part of her has made it feel a little better. Knowing that students will be learning how to live healthier lives in the garden makes all the hard work worth it.

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the Ruth Olivas Community Garden, whether it’s by starting your own garden or donating to our fund.

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-Posted by Divana

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5 Responses to Ruth Olivas Community Garden: Healing through Gardening and Community Activism

  1. Richard Robles says:

    Hi Divana. I was a classmate with your mom at the Valencia campus and my wife, Sra. de la Torre was your teacher. We are planning to be at the dedication. I think what you are doing with this project is a great testament to your mom and the values she instilled in you. Bravo to all your hard work in bringing this all together.

    • divanaolivas says:

      Thank you so much! Means a lot. I definitely remember Sra. de la Torre! See you both on Thursday for the dedication. 🙂

  2. almadelagitana says:


    You are changing the world one semillita at a time! I can’t wait to watch this garden grow as I have seen your project bloom!


  3. says:

    Estoy super orgulloso de Divana y me siento con mucha suerte de haber conocido a Divana y Nara. Son personas unicas y como buen Marianista entiendo que personas tan maravillosas vienen siempre de mujeres fantasticas como Ruth Olivas. Nunca conoci a Ruth pero puedo decir que la conoci por medio de sus hijas. Ruth siempre estara en el corazon de Divana, Nara y de cada persona que la conocio a ella.

    Un abrazo y exitos con el proyecto comunitario.


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