A joint garden project in Bernalillo called New Beginnings has received recognition from the 2023 David Gibby Search for Excellence award in Overland Park, Kansas. The award was granted at the International Master Gardener Conference, which took place from June 18-22. The project placed second in the Special Needs Audience category at the conference.

The New Beginnings Garden is a joint garden project located on the grounds of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Bernalillo. It was initiated in 2011 between the Sandoval County Extension Master Gardener Program and the Valle del Sol Adult Psychosocial Rehabilitation (PSR) Program, according to a press release. The Master Gardeners help out with various behavioral health organizations throughout Bernalillo, and they are now working with the TeamBuilders Behavioral Health PSR program.

“Volunteers and PSR clients alike have enjoyed the camaraderie and team spirit that grows each year with this project. The New Beginnings clients have gained an amazing appreciation for nature, gardening and harvesting fresh produce along with individual enhanced self-esteem,” reads the press release.

The clients grow vegetables and ornamentals with the help of veteran Master Gardener volunteers. The project incorporates horticultural, environmental and nutritional education during the warmer months. The plants that they grow at the garden include watermelons, tomatoes, potatoes and loofahs, which can be dried and used as sponges.

“I’m very proud of their skills in planting and watering, and seeing something through to completion where they’ve planted it, and now it’s an edible or a usable product,” Sandoval Extension Master Gardener Project Co-Chair Sheila Conneen said.

Co-Chair Sandy Liakus also commented on the benefits to the clients, who usually get to keep the plants that they harvest.

“They come out here watering on their own, so they take responsibility and leadership,” Liakus said. “It’s something they look forward to.”

This wasn’t the first time that a New Mexico gardening project received the Search for Excellence Award. A garden in Corrales called Seed2Need won the award in 2011. A low-water usage garden in Rio Rancho called WaterWise  also won in 2008, and it was featured on the television show “HGTV Home and Gardens.”

Sandoval County Program Director and 4-H/Agriculture Agent Steve Lucero commended the New Beginnings garden.

“The Sandoval County Master Gardener program is one of the state’s most resourceful and energetic groups,” Lucero said. “They have boundless concepts, and they get things done.”

The annual training class to become a Master Gardener begins in January and lasts for 15 weeks. Those that finish the program join 154 existing certified Master Gardeners in Sandoval County.

The New Beginnings Garden welcomes all community members to volunteer with the garden. For more information, contact Sandy Liakus at [email protected], visit sandovalmastergardeners.org or contact the Sandoval County Cooperative Extension at 505-867-2582.