Yerba Mansa Project

Yerba Mansa Project
Published: 30 June 2021
Last edited: 19 July 2021
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Summary

The Yerba Mansa Project (YMP) is an Albuquerque-based community-supported non-profit organization started in 2014 to reestablish the connectivity of people, plants, and the land in the Middle Rio Grande Valley. Our work with the Rio Grande Valley State Park supports the health of ecologically and culturally important native edible and medicinal plants and provides an opportunity for people to reclaim their role in caretaking our land and perpetuating our culinary and healing traditions. Regional botanical healing practices are of increased importance as we navigate an ongoing pandemic and will remain integral to the wellbeing of people moving forward. Our volunteers work to restore some of our most legendary nutritive and healing plants, teach youth and adults about their importance, and help to protect critical habitats and associated cultural knowledge for present and future generations.

Classifications

Region
North America
Scale of implementation
Local
Ecosystem
Desert ecosystems
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
Hot desert
River, stream
Temperate deciduous forest
Urban ecosystem and build environment
Theme
Adaptation
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Invasive alien species
Outreach & communications
Restoration
Species management
Traditional knowledge
Challenges
Desertification
Drought
Erratic rainfall
Extreme heat
Floods
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Wildfires
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Invasive species
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 9: Invasive alien species prevented and controlled
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge

Location

Rio Grande Valley State Park, New Mexico, United States
Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Challenges

The YMP was established in response to the degraded ecosystem in the Rio Grande Bosque (riparian environment) and the cultural importance of many declining native plants inhabiting this environment. During the last 150 years extensive flood control measures, water diversion, groundwater pumping, and land conversion have resulted in:

  • severe ecosystem alteration,
  • rapid decline of native plants including keystone species (cottonwoods Populus deltoides wislizeni and willows Salix sp.),
  • proliferation of nonnative invasive species (Tamarix sp., Saccharum ravennae, etc.),
  • and increased fire hazard.

This environmental deterioration is directly connected to cultural practices related to native edible and medicinal species such as yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica) and others that rely on surface flows and groundwater. These changes negatively impact residents’ ability to engage in cost-effective culinary and healing traditions that have long supported health and are of increased interest given the pandemic.

Beneficiaries

The beneficiaries of the Yerba Mansa Project are the Rio Grande floodplain, its native plants and wildlife, the greater Albuquerque area community (900,000), and future generations that will inherit and sustain the solution.

How do the building blocks interact?

Building blocks of the Yerba Mansa Project intersect as land health and human health are woven together and community partnerships enable progress for both. We see the reciprocal restoration of ecosystems and culture through native edible and medicinal plants. Restoration of native species and critical habitats improves biodiversity and supports ecosystem functions while drawing people into natural environments and into connection with the land. Educating about the roles of native plants in ecological systems and as nourishing healing components in our lives fosters investment in the sustained work of restoration and encourages people to care for critical habitats, steward wild plant populations, and prepare healthful foods and remedies born from local landscapes. While nature-based wellness, herbal remedies, and wild foods have been gaining popularity in recent years, the pandemic has propelled these topics to the forefront as many of us confront the reality of disease prevention, home healthcare, and food scarcity. Planting native edible and medicinal plants and promoting the continuation of local botanical culinary and healing traditions will help us to ‘build back better’ beyond the pandemic by fostering resiliency in the land and the people.

Impacts

Environmental:

Despite a 15-month pandemic hiatus, YMP volunteers have dedicated 2,000+ hours in the field. Impacts as of 6/2021:

  • Hand-removal of 2,000+ nonnative invasive ravenna grass (Saccharum ravennae);
  • Live replanting of 9 native plant species;
  • Reseeding 8,000+ square feet of native shrubs, grasses, and forbs;
  • A dataset documenting vegetative changes with photography and geographic information systems showing significant native plant recovery and dramatic reduction of ravenna grass.

 

Social:

  • A yearly average of 10 free educational events for all ages of the general public creating multi-generational gatherings;
  • Increased appreciation of the ecological value of land and the cultural importance of edible and medicinal plants;
  • Community reinvestment in land stewardship and continuance of our local botanical culinary and healing traditions;
  • Engaging 16 schools (K-12) with restoration work, free field classes, and student research projects;
  • Creation of the free online Plants of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque Field Guide (150 species) via iNaturalist.

 

Economic:

  • Reviving native wild food and botanical healing traditions improves quality of life and saves money on grocery and medical bills. These benefits are pronounced for rural populations with poor access to nutritious food and medical care.
  • Reaching underserved schools with free educational field programs to meet curriculum requirements.

Story

Yerba Mansa Project

Restoring land and native plants is uplifting on its own but seeing the effects on our community’s youth has been most inspiring. The YMP includes everyone in our ecological and cultural stewardship programs with children and teens playing a prominent role. School participation brings many students into this landscape who have never previously visited and lack a meaningful connection to the land and its cultural uses. By planting native plants, researching traditional botanical practices, publishing their work in our field guide, and participating in field trips, students are discovering an enthusiasm for the land and their ancestors. Participants report reconnecting with their family lineage through grandmothers and aunts who are curanderas (healers) by asking questions about the plants they are researching. In this way, our young project participants are perpetuating cultural continuance of wild food and medicine knowledge and recognizing their role as advocates for the land that sustains these traditions. Students told us they felt pride in publishing cherished family traditions in the field guide as a resource for others.

 

In addition to restoring family connections to the land through botanical traditions, young people are developing important new perceptions of ecological and cultural connectivity to help us move through a future of climate changes that will undoubtedly affect life in profound ways.  Younger students say they now feel responsible for the land. After planting shrubs and herbs, they visit with their families to check on plant progress. Parents tell us their children initiate conversations regarding the land as a living entity and plants as intelligent beings whose lives should be valued. YMP activities are helping to advance a renewed commitment to reciprocal restoration of land and culture on the local level. Our project has the potential to foster a new generation of ecological and cultural stewards who are developing the requisite knowledge and passion to spearhead new initiatives as environmental science professionals, sustainable land and water policy advocates, and leaders in cultural preservation.

 

“My experiences with YMP have been nothing short of incredible. I was fortunate to bring students on their Ecology and Herbalism Bosque Walks in 2018 and 2019 and they were fantastic…. The work they do is essential to the long term health of the Bosque and the community.” Jordy, High School Teacher of Biology, AP Environmental Science, Geography

Contributed by

Dara Saville Yerba Mansa Project, Albuquerque Herbalism

Other contributors

Jim McGrath
Native Plant Society of New Mexico, Albuquerque Chapter
Shannon Jones
Yerba Mansa Project
Francesca Shirley
MRGCD (Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District)