Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Share via:


Empowering youth to restore the earth while producing food by implementing and evaluating desert-adapted agriculture.



Based on the teachings of agro-ecologist, Gary Nabhan, the Desert Oasis Teaching (DOT) Garden is an ambitious outdoor education project to enhance environmental programming for students and families in the Albuquerque community. Located on 2 acres of land at Albuquerque Academy, we are developing garden scale educational activities and farm scale food production. To demonstrate the feasibility of being "carbon neutral" we plan to power the operation with a rooftop solar system, install a rainwater harvesting system, and amend the soil to capture both rain and carbon, as well as use innovative and traditional technologies that enhance food production in a "hotter, drier land".  The DOT garden will demonstrate water conservation, sustainable energy production and ecologically sound food production, applicable to all arid regions of the world. Every aspect of the DOT garden programming will be linked to academic curriculum and feature hands-on, experiential learning. The DOT garden will be utilized for academic courses, after school programming, summer school, and adult continuing education. Students will participate in every aspect of the DOT garden program. Goals include:

A. Development of a profound understanding and appreciation for the relationship between prudent use of energy, water and soil in the human food production system.

B. A detailed knowledge of how to grow food in an arid climate.

C. A deep understanding of the impacts of climate change and development of a spirit of hopefulness in mankind's ability to address the impacts of climate change. 

D. Fostering the skills of resiliency, creativity and innovation in addressing global energy and sustainability issues.

E. Teaching students the skills and fostering the courage to be the agents of change.

Through participating in the DOT garden, we hope to instill in our youth the enthusiasm and dedication to public service that will be necessary to address the challenges of the future impacted by climate change. 

Category of action

Youth Leadership on Climate Change

What actions do you propose?

Many school gardens are being established as part of educational curriculum to teach important skills and knowledge, such as health and wellness.  However, we have found that few gardens, either community-based or school-based, address how to grow food sustainablly in a land that will become increasingly drier and hotter as climate change grips our planet.  The new DOT garden is unique in its mission as well as its capacity to reach beyond the school grounds and into the greater southwest community.

The DOT garden's Mission:

The Desert Oasis Teaching Garden cultivates resilience in individuals and the community inspiring action today and seeding hope for tomorrow.

The DOT Garden teaches ecological restoration and food production gardening; implements and evaluates desert-adapted agriculture; unifies the power of innovative technologies with the strength of New Mexico's diverse cultural heritage; and demonstrates respect and reverence for nature and humanity.

As the DOT garden develops over time, students and the broader community will create pollinator habitat, investigate traditional and innovative agricultural technologies, produce food, harness solar energy, create and use on-site compost, decrease water use, harvest rainwater, and capture carbon in both soil and vegetation. These actions will be accomplished by developing and implementing innovative curriculum, engaging students as teachers, providing community workshops, measuring success with data collection and communicating the DOT garden’s progress with blog posts and a website.

Our food production systems depend on pollinator species for fertilization.  Pollinators across the globe are declining in both number and diversity due to a multitude of reasons, including climate change.  Students will help both design and plant a pollinator garden to help fertilize crops as well as bring awareness to the pollinator crisis.

Traditional and innovative agricultural technologies will be taught and employed throughout the garden to help reduce water consumption. These technologies which include using biochar, constructing rain gardens and soil sponges, installing olla, drip, wick and micro irrigation will help students and the community understand alternatives to conventional water-wasting irrigation that is the norm throughout the desert southwest.

Water harvesting systems will capture roof-top runoff in large above ground cisterns and earth surface run-off in berms and swales.  These captured water sources will be used to irrigate crops, instead using either the declining river water or the city’s fossil aquifer water.

Food production will include annuals, perennials and fruit and nut trees.  Students will help select seed and crop varieties, learn about heirloom varieties, and learn how save seed for future plantings.  Students will learn about dry-land adapted species such as Guar from India, and the Tepary bean from the Sonoran desert.  Students will learn to plant, prune, and tend tree orchards. Students will grow, harvest and eat the food produced for the school’s dining hall.  Students will learn about integrated pest management to combat the increase pest infestations predicted to occur due to climate change.  Students will learn to grow food without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicideds, which are both dependent on the use of fossil fuels, as well as harmful to the environment.  Students will create signage in the dining hall that will help the community make the connection between the food they eat and the health of the planet.

The school produces 1,700 lbs of food waste each week.  This food waste is currently composted on site, reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as landfill waste.  Using this compost in the garden will help students and the community understand how each person can contribute to climate change solutions. Composting their food waste each day in the school dining hall and then seeing how this waste can be then recycled into a valuable resource, while reducing GHG emissions will encourage them to promote this practice at home and in their community.

Solar panels will be installed on the new outdoor classroom that will power the irrigation systems, as well as other energy needs.  Students will help design the system, construct and maintain it.  The solar panels will be prominently displayed on the new outdoor classroom with explanatory kiosks and display boards.

Display boards will be installed to help the community understand the feasibility of using solar energy to make food. The display boards will communicate the data collected from solar energy produced, water used, food-waste composted and water harvested.  The display will be computer accessed and the date will be inserted into a carbon calculator to convert these metrics into carbon dioxide equivalent emissions averted. Specific metrics for measuring success will include: Kilowatts collected from solar panels compared to power usage, gallons of water harvested from rooftop rain collection system, pounds of food produced from the DOT garden for school consumption, soil analysis to measure improvements in soil quality, and pounds of food waste converted into compost.

Students teaching students and their community will help to empower the youth as agents of change.  Students will learn and teach in both curricular and extracurricular activities.  An example of this pedagogy was practiced this year.  Each student in the Bio E class designed and developed a project to help the garden grow.  Projects included building soil sponges to help the garden’s trees from dying, constructing worm bins to produce organic fertilizer for the garden, designing interpretative signage to educate the goals of the garden, and designing a pollinator garden. Each of the students wrote about the importance of each project and how to accomplish it in a student blog entitled, Student Investigations in agro-ecology For the soil sponge project, the students led a workshop for the community.  For the worm bins, the students taught younger 6th grade students how to grow, feed and tend the worm farm. Community members, such as a NM Natural History curator and a landscape architect mentored students with their projects.

In past years, students have held conferences and festivals to educate their peers.  In the past 10 years, students have led workshops for other students at the annual water festival.  The environmental club organized an all-day conference on sustainable food production.  All of these student initiatives can now be tied to climate change in a direct and powerful way.  Examples of the student leadership developed by the DOT garden have been profound at both the local as well as national level. One of the student environmental club leaders single-handedly organized our local rally to activate our community around climate change.  This student, Akilah Sanders- Reed was nationally recognized in 2012 for her activism.  Another student, Bethany Bauer, a current 10th grade student won an international prize last year for her work with climate change and environmental activism.

Educational workshops held on the campus will be open to the public including the Albuquerque Academy community, other area schools, local neighborhood and garden associations, girl and boy scout troops, summer school and after school programs.  These workshops will educate the public on specific ways to help adapt to changes brought on by climate change, including setting up water harvesting systems, building soil sponges, irrigating with ollas, improving soil health with compost and biochar, tree doctoring and simple solar energy collection systems.  This past year, workshops included cooking with solar energy, how to improve the soil health while increasing carbon capture, how to set up a fruit tree orchard, and how to improve tree health in a drought impacted landscape.

The DOT garden will have experimental plots to develop new strategies, technologies and dry land-adapted plants.  For example, as the number of chill hours decreases as the climate warms, fruit set on trees will be impacted.  We will need to plan for this warming by testing varieties not previously grown in our area.  We intend to develop a dwarf-tree orchard that will be planted with multiple new varieties to determine which varieties grows best in our progressively hotter, drier land.  Because the trees will be dwarfed, drip irrigation will be a sufficient means of irrigation and the trees will bare fruit within 2 to 3 years, so that students will be able to see their experiment come to fruition.

Communication and outreach for The DOT garden will be enhanced by the new website, blog and facebook page that we developed with the help of students;, the facebook page and the student blog  These social medias will help connect the community to the mission, the events and the teachings that the garden will provide.

Who will take these actions?

The director of the DOT garden is Karen Temple-Beamish. Her role as teacher, leader of the Environmental Club, AA Sustainability Director as well as her deeps roots in New Mexico’s environmental education community will assure the garden’s mission to address climate change will get full exposure both at the school, the larger Albuquerque community, and potentially in national and international arenas. Temple-Beamish’s selection as the NM finalist for the 2013 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching and her more recent appointment by EECapacity as a Community Climate Change Fellow will help her increase the DOT garden influence. Temple-Beamish brings with her a team of 4 dedicated community members to help her empower a multitude of youth to help the DOT garden grow; As technical advisor, Karen Bentrup’s agricultural expertise includes large-scale grain crops, no-till row crop farming systems, urban community gardening for alleviating food insecurity, and farm-scale fruit and vegetable production. As education coordinator, Julie Hirshfield brings her experience as a teacher with Abuquerque Public Schools, as well as the Farm Camp Coordinator/Agri-Nature Center Planner for the Village of Los Ranchos. As Development Director, Minor Morgan brings his 15 years of farming experience in New Mexico. Morgan is a retired social worker and was Executive Director for 5 years of the largest community farm in New Mexico.  Emma Dixon, the garden intern, expertise is in social media and urban ecology.

The DOT garden partners with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bernalillo County Parks Department, City of Albuquerque Water Department, the New Mexico State University (our land-grant agriculture university) Extension Office, the NM Department of Agriculture as well as several non-profit agencies. These partnerships will be instrumental in helping to provide resources, expertise, disseminate knowledge, and further expand capacity.  

What are other key benefits?

The DOT garden will provide an opportunity to build a stronger community by sharing ideas and sustenance, providing hope, building resilience and inspiring creativity. The garden intends to bring both young and old together to learn from each other.   By developing relationships with underserved youth and communities, the garden hopes to ensure that all people bring their resources, will and abilities to the solutions to climate change. Newly developed partnerships with the USFW Urban Wildlife Refuge have already broadened the outreach into an area of town that is economically deprived.  The DOT garden intends to bring Native American traditional skills, Hispanic agricultural traditions as well as technologies from across the desert communities of the world to broaden perspective and inclusion.  The DOT garden’s focus on organically grown fruit and vegetables, as well as physical activity will help students understand the importance of health and wellness in their lives. 


What are the proposal’s costs?

Short term 1- 5 years projected costs;

  • Rain water Harvesting System: $50 K
  • Garden Design: $15K
  • Marketing and Fundraising: $50K
  • Full time/year round garden teacher: $50K/year
  • Curriculum Development: $10K/yr
  • Full time/Year round farm manager: $ 50K/year
  • Construction of Outdoor classroom, storage: $75K
  • Garden Supplies and tools: $50K
  • Installation of solar panels: $25 K
  • Installation of Display and computer software $10K
  • Garden Construction: $20K
  • Outreach to communities including school group transportation to and from garden site: $5/K/year
  • Presentations and workshops to communities; $ 5K/year

Although the DOt garden is located on Albuquerque Academy's land, funding for most of the garden's needs will not be supplied by the school's operating budget, so independent funding sources will be necessary. Since the beginning of the project in November of 2103, water rebates totaling $75K, have been applied for and received to help the garden germinate.  To date, community volunteers have donated hundreds of hours developing the youth programs, construction, development of the garden, marketing and fundraising.  However, substantial funding is still required to help the DOT garden fulfill its mission. 

Time line

Short Term 

  • Completion of current garden design and expansion to 10+ acres of school grounds
  • Construction of hardscapes, outdoor classroom
  • Installation of rainwater harvesting systems
  • Installation of solar panels and displays
  • Marketing, fundraising, continuation of partnerships
  • Hire fulltime garden teacher and farm manager
  • Continuation of workshops and presentations to community
  • Curriculum Development for all subjects including art, history, science and math.
  • Phase I, II and III of gardens which include medicinal, pollinator, meditative, fruit and nut tree orchards
  • Development and application of innovative and traditional irrigation systems
  • Experimental plots installed, refined and lessons for improved systems applied.
  • Outreach to diverse and underserved communities


Medium Term

  • Expansion of garden to farm production scale
  • Continue to learn from and adapt to climate uncertainty
  • Reach goal of 100% food production for school’s dining hall
  • Produce food for local food banks, and school’s on-site farmer’s market
  • Expand outreach to include all city schools, community gardens and community programs
  • Expand partnerships and outreach to national and international arenas


Long Term

  • Continue to learn and adapt food production, water and soil conservation to climate uncertainty
  • All people and communities in desert communities have learned to adapt to climate uncertainty by composting, growing food sustainably, using solar energy, harvesting water and living comfortably within their ecological means.


Related proposals

  1. “Solve food/climate problem with Groasis Technology plant 2 B ha manmade deserts” This proposal may provide technologies that will be useful to the Desert Oasis Teaching Garden.  It claims to plant trees without drip irrigation – very intriguing.
  2. “Climate Change Adaptation Toolkit” One of the biggest challenges for climate change action is getting people the resources they need to understand both the problems and the solutions.  This proposal offers a website tool for communities – similar to the Desert Oasis Teaching Garden website’s resource offerings.
  3. “Urban agriculture: Organic vegetable gardens on the terraces of buildings”.  The location of the Desert Oasis Teaching Garden does not require roof top gardening as this proposal submits.  However, Albuquerque, NM is an urban environment and many of the constraints and opportunities are shared with with densely populated urban areas.


Gary Nabhan’s recent book titled, “ Growing Food in a Hotter Drier Land: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty” is the main inspiration and reference for the Desert Oasis Teaching Garden, Gary has offered his personal assistance in the coming school year with both on-site consultations and presentations. Nabhan provides background knowledge, practices and most of all hope that we can both reduce our human impact on the earth as well as adapt to our changing climate.  Additional guidance for developing rainwater harvesting systems is provided to the garden by Brad Lancaster in his books “ Rain Water Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond”,  Background information about the water resource crisis and its solutions are provided by Sandra Postel, the director of the Global Water Policy,  Her numerous books including “ Pillar of Sand” as well as her recent presentation to our school community about National Geographic’s “Change the Course” initiative have helped underscore the importance of water conservation and climate change to our community. GaryNabhan, Brad Lancaster and Sandra Postel each made presentations to the school in 2013. In addition, Janine Benyus and her emerging science of Biomimicry is a guiding force in developing our DOT garden.  By learning FROM Nature, our garden will adhere to Life Principles described by the Biomimicry Institute, By composting our food waste, we have begun to address the contributions of food waste to climate change.  According to the FAO, “food wastage ranks as the third top emitter of green house gases after the USA and China.”  According to the CCAFS, food production accounts for up to “30 % of all greenhouse gas emissions”, (  In the desert Southwest, climate change impacts to agriculture will be severe.  Oxfamwww.oxfam.orgrecently issued a major report stating that extreme drought and heat waves will create food shortages, price increases and "...devastating consequences for agricultural production."  In June 2013, the New Mexico legislature met in special session to review reports from NM ranchers, farmers and university researchers. The message was a sober one. The last 2 years of average rainfall of 3 inches, rather than the usual pattern of 6-10 inches, IS THE NORM, and will probably be the rainfall pattern for the next 200 years.

With the help of both local, national and international experts, the DOT garden will be an exceptional resource and inspiration for our youth to tackle the causes and impacts of climate change to our planet.