Create a Chain Reaction – Albuquerque Journal

The Story Riders program teaches middle school Native and Latino students about nature and bike care as they ride down the Bosque. Here, students visit the Cornelio Candelaria Organics farm in the foothills of the South Valley. Pictured, 12-year-old Tyler Koteen prepares to return to school after visiting the farm. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

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It’s a Friday afternoon in early March and a group of college kids have gathered at a South Valley farm to listen to an elder’s lesson on the sanctity of Mother Earth and the need to know how to grow your own food. . Bikes were dropped in a loose circle on the ground behind them.

“Every time you grow a plant, you understand the goodness of Mother Earth,” said Lorenzo Candelaria, whose family has owned the farmland for more than 300 years. “It’s not just the food that comes from the grocery store.”

The students come from the Native American Community Academy and the Story Riders afterschool program, which aims to connect Latino and Native youth to their culture, nature, and exercise. To get to the farm, off Atrisco and Sunset Gardens SW, the middle schoolers cycled just over five miles from the school.

The Story Riders program teaches middle school Native and Latino students about the nature and maintenance of bicycles as they ride along the Bosque. Here, students discuss with farmer Hector Candelaria why planting is so important. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The subsidized program is free for participants. Its parent organization, the Southwest Culture Center, promotes economic development and cultural educational programs for Indigenous, Mexican, and Chicano communities.

light pointAfter Candelaria’s presentation, in which he showed his rows of blackberry plants and the fields where he grows chili peppers, corn, spinach and more, the students cross an arroyo and climb a steep sandy hill.

Marco Sandoval, who launched the group in 2017, watches over them. He said the idea of ​​integrating bikes into activities came naturally.

“We just wanted to tell stories, get to know our elders and then we think, ‘Oh, are we going to hire vans every day or are we going to walk?’ “Walking is too slow, vans are too expensive, so a good way is by bike. Bikes are really representative of childhood and youth, they are exercise, they are affordable,” Sandoval said. and accessible.

He said they surveyed neighborhoods and posted flyers and social media appeals asking for bicycle donations and they soon had enough. During the first two days of the program, kids learn to do basic maintenance at a Casa Barelas shop, then they can take the bikes home to keep riding.

Several of the students on the ride told the Journal they hadn’t cycled much before joining the scheme, with one 12-year-old saying his favorite part was when ‘a cool breeze turns into a peaceful breeze’ while he is driving.

The Story Riders program teaches Native and Latino middle school students about the nature and maintenance of bicycles. Students visit Cornelio Candelaria Organics Farm in the foothills of the South Valley before returning to school. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Sandoval said most of this group of nine students have been participating in the once-a-week after-school program since last fall. He said they were also doing another program – a two-week option with students from South Valley Academy.

“It’s more intensive; we see them every day,” he said. “It’s better for relationships that way.”

Sandoval said he discovered that bicycling – often an expensive hobby – was out of reach for the young people he worked with and that he had heard from many of them that they had never visited. the Bosque, although they live nearby.

Now he tries to teach them to identify the plants they encounter.

“We’ll usually spend a lot of our time in the Bosque, we’ll be riding,” Sandoval said. “Some future experiences we’ll have will be with herbal medicine, talking to people who have a lot of knowledge about it, but we’re waiting for the herbs to come out.”

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