The Several Difficult Community Challenges Facing Doña Ana County

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults have at least two hours and thirty minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity (e.g. brisk walking) every week and muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week. Children need more physical activity than adults. But achieving these recommendations takes a combination of strategies, including a supportive built and natural environment, opportunity for acceptable activity, and more. Communities play an important role in helping shape how people live, learn, work, and play. Health outcomes are influenced by multiple factors that have a direct or proximal impact on disease and health status. As demonstrated in the chart below, an estimated 50 percent of health outcomes are determined by individual behavior such as smoking, eating well, and exercise.      

Doña Ana County is presented with several difficult community challenges including high rates of 1) poverty, 2) hunger, malnutrition, and a poor food system, 3) poor student achievement in the STEM fields, and 4) environmental conservation issues that threaten water, soil health, and biodiversity. In Doña Ana County 39% of children live in extreme poverty compared to 27% in New Mexico and 21% of children nationwide (Kids Count Data Book 2017). The City of Las Cruces has a population made up of 57.2% Hispanic, making it a minority-majority city, with 53% of students considered economically disadvantaged. Doña Ana County, has 28% of the population in poverty, which is significantly lower than the state, making this an economically disadvantaged community within the state (Kids Count Data Book 2017). This extreme poverty goes hand in hand with food insecurity, and in New Mexico, 1 in 4 children struggle with hunger. Las Cruces is located within a known "food desert," which is a region where residents don't have access to plentiful, nutritious, and affordable food. Las Cruces and Doña Ana County suffer the challenges and that has resulted in high rates of malnutrition, obesity, and increased health disparities in the region including increased rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancers.

The early years are when you give your child a foundation for establishing a proper diet. If kids learn about the importance of eating healthy early in their lives, they will not have to relearn as an adult.” Nicole Henderson

New Mexico consistently ranks at the bottom of student achievement, sinking to 49th in the nation in quality of education according to Education Weeks (2017) study, giving NM a D- grade. In New Mexico 78% and 79% of eighth graders are below proficient in math and science respectively (NAEP 2017). These are dismal prospects for the future success of New Mexico since the future economic success and quality of our workforce are determined by the opportunities our children have today.

The DYGUP & SUSTAIN Program addresses all of these issues through the lenses of regenerative agriculture and using 21st Century STEM skills. By donating you will contribute to improved education outcomes for economically disadvantaged children, providing STEM education to economically disadvantaged children, support economically disadvantaged students prepare for success in post-secondary educational institutions, and support responsible stewardship of the environment, protect clean air and water, and provide an opportunity for improving physical activity and nutrition in youth. During the academic year (35 weeks) students will attend the program during normal school hours for 1.5 hour classes one to two days a week. During the summer semester (10 weeks) students will attend the program for 4 hours a day, 5 days per week during the morning when temperatures are cool enough to work outside (8am-12pm). Students receive course credit for participation in the program and teachers have a way to enrich classroom learning. The community farm will produce healthy food, as part of the program, which will be donated to the Food Pantry at the First Christian Church, El Caldito Soup Kitchen, and used in the local area school lunch program to help combat hunger, malnutrition, and improve access to fresh healthy foods for vulnerable members of our community.

Local NPR (KRWG) Kirsten Rodgers reports on the DYGUP & SUSTAIN Program: Listen to students reppin’ about what they have learned.  One student expressed, “I think I’m the most passionate about this because people I didn’t think I would ever be friends with are now my friends because we were able to grow something together.  We were able to get dirty together. We were able to put work in together and not only give back to the school but to the community, and that is great!”

Chihuahuan Desert Charities is proud to be the fiscal sponsor for DYGUP & SUSTAIN and support their important work in the Las Cruces community. The DYGUP & SUSTAIN Program has many partnerships in the community including Taylor Hood Farms, Backyard  Farms LC, First Christian Church, and Las Cruces High-School.

Support the DYGUP & SUSTAIN Program at Legacy Farm in Las Cruces by visiting