Youth ranch grows with its giving

Corey McKenna (left), 17, and Jessica Andry, 18, both residents at the Pippin Youth Ranch, pick yellow squash on Tuesday at the ranch north of Clovis. Photo by Eric Kluth.

By Helena Rodriguez

Get your free veggies!
Yellow squash, okra, cucumbers, watermelons and cantaloupes are ready for the pickin.’ Best of all, they are also free at the Pippin Youth Ranch’s annual community garden northeast of Clovis.
The ranch is located four miles north of Wal-Mart and 2 1/2 miles east, off of County Road 17, next to the Ned Houk Motor Sports Complex.
The only catch is people have to pick the produce themselves and are encouraged to bring their own bags and buckets. But that doesn’t seem to be a deterrent in getting fresh summer produce for nothing, according to Brian Stacey, administrator of the youth ranch.
“We usually don’t have leftovers once the word gets out,” Stacey said.
He said the ranch has sponsored the community garden for the past two years on a five-acre patch of land.
Stacey said cantaloupes and melons are ripening every day and yellow squash, okra and zucchini have been popping up just about all summer.
The Pippin Youth Ranch sponsors the community garden with seeds donated by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. Some of the ranches’ 10 youth, ranging in ages from 17-19, helped plant the vegetables on the weekend after Mother’s Day and help pull weeds and care for the crops.
“The community garden gives the youth the idea of giving to others,” Stacey said. “Many of them are also city kids and don’t know the difference from a plant from a weed when they first get out of here, so they learn, too.”
Stacey said the youth ranch has donated some produce to local churches, senior centers and other places, including the Lighthouse Church Mission, which helps feeds needy people through its soup kitchen.
Susan Armijo, a cook at the Lighthouse Church Mission, said, the mission appreciates the fresh produce, which can be expensive and would be hard for the mission to provide on its own.
“We put the vegetables on tables so people can take them home and cook them for their families and we also use them to make dishes, like squash with hamburger meat and corn,” Armijo said.
Armijo added that she freezes leftover produce to help the mission have vegetables to serve in the winter.
Since many of the people who come to the community garden are elderly, Stacey said the ranch began planting icebox melons, which are small melons that can easily be lifted and fit into a conventional size refrigerator.
Stacey said people are welcome anytime to pick vegetables, but recommends early mornings or evenings when it is cooler. He said that if community response continues to be good this year, they will look at expanding the community garden next year.