The Production of New, Existing, and Native Crops Under Conventional and Organic Production Practices in Costilla, New Mexico, Garcia, Colorado, and at Taos Pueblo
1. Demonstrate the production of new, existing, and native crops under conventional and organic/low input production practices in Costilla, New Mexico, Garcia, Colorado, and Taos Pueblo.
2. Perform an economic analysis on the above.
Project personnel sought funds to maintain and increase the momentum gained in a 1995 project funded by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) and to continue to develop localized sustainable agriculture in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado and at Taos Pueblo. The project hoped to increase the acreage planted to crops and to continue to plant demonstration plots of new and innovative crops. The project also wanted to develop a small greenhouse operation in Costilla, New Mexico.
To date, much has been accomplished. Grain acreage has grown from 150 acres planted in Costilla, New Mexico, and Garcia, Colorado, in 1995 to over 300 acres planted in 1998 in these villages as well as at Taos Pueblo. Demonstration plots of cool season vegetables and a wide variety of flowers were grown at Costilla, Questa, Taos, and at Taos Pueblo. The transplants for this project were produced in the greenhouse facility in Costilla. A market for all wheat produced in the project was established in Santa Fe, and growers received seven dollars a bushel for this year’s organically produced crop. In addition, due to the efforts of the growers, funds have been procured to establish a flourmill in Costilla in the coming year.
The setting for this project is Taos County in northern New Mexico and Costilla County in southern Colorado and includes the villages of Costilla, New Mexico, Garcia, Colorado, Questa, New Mexico, and Taos Pueblo. These villages have some of the highest unemployment rates in the two states and a high poverty rate. Employment opportunities are limited to seasonal work at local ski resorts or other low-paying jobs.
Residents do have land and water resources and limited equipment. Farm sizes range from one to 40 acres, with the average land holding being about ten acres per farmer. Climate is a major factor to the region; the growing season can be as short as 80 days. Water supplies for irrigation can be highly variable, ranging from nothing one year to a surplus the next. The infrastructure necessary to practice irrigated agriculture has deteriorated through lack of maintenance on many farms.
In addition to these problems, there seems to be an entire generation that did not work the land. Most of the residents who farmed these lands before World War II left the area to seek employment in major cities such as Albuquerque or Denver. Their children, now grown and mostly in their mid- to late 40s, are the clientele for this project. They have a desire and commitment to stay in their communities but often lack the hands-on farming experience.
In spite of these limitations, there is a strong sense of community in each village, a willingness to cooperate with one another within communities and between communities, and a strong commitment to remaining on the land. Alternatives to farming are few. In most cases, it is either farm or leave.
To date, this project has exceeded all expectations. The project has been expanded to include farmers in Questa, New Mexico, and to develop a small greenhouse project in Costilla. In 1998, ten farmers participated in the crop planting project (primarily wheat), demonstration plots of high value specialty crops (primarily cool season varieties) were planted in Costilla, Questa, Taos, and at Taos Pueblo, and nine people worked in the greenhouse demonstration project producing transplants for use by local residents and for sale at the Santa Fe and Taos farmers’ markets.
The primary focus of the project has been on expanding the crop base of the region and to develop and teach sustainable agricultural practices, with the focus on organic management techniques. Wheat acreage was expanded from 160 acres planted in 1995 to over 300 acres in 1998.
All growers became organically certified in August 1997 and again in 1998, after undergoing the New Mexico organic certification process. Certification in itself ensures continued use and development of organic agricultural practices such as developing and maintaining soil fertility and practicing crop rotation. By certifying, growers committed themselves to this program.
An important development for the project occurred when a certified organic flour mill was located in central New Mexico, and a high-end Santa Fe area bakery committed to buying all wheat produced from the project and to develop a completely new product line.
In a social sense and within the context of sustainability, this project has had the immeasurable impact of keeping families on farms, within their communities. It is has seen individuals coming together to work as a team during planting and harvest, in a cooperative spirit.
Educational gains were made by all participants, including the public as well as the private sector, in sustainable agricultural practices, in developing mechanisms for coordination and cooperation, and in bringing a crop to the marketplace. The impacts this initial year will have on participants in the program are immeasurable, but highly significant. Furthermore, the lessons learned this past year (and it was a learning year) will lead to definite improvement next year and in the years to come.
This project has had several positive impacts. First, land not farmed for an entire generation has been brought back into production. While most of the nation is losing farms, communities in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado actually gained a few in 1997 and 1998. More than anything else, it has allowed families and communities in an extremely depressed region of the United States an opportunity to remain where they want to be and to raise their children in a rural setting.
In addition, many of these farms have brought in income for the first time in a generation, and did so in an environmentally friendly fashion, without the use of chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. Net income is approximately $230 per acre, which exceeds net returns for alfalfa produced in the region.
Farmer Adoption and Direct Impact
This project has had direct and positive impacts on over 30 farmers and their families. An additional nine people participated in the greenhouse project. It has enabled many people to produce income from agriculture in 1997 and 1998. It has also positively benefited young women on welfare, an organically certified flourmill, one large bakery in Santa Fe, and the SARE program itself.
While no new hypotheses derived from this particular project, one valuable lesson has been learned. People working together, given adequate resources, can make a positive difference in their communities. The project has proved that a wide variety of state, local, and federal agencies can work cooperatively with private industry to stimulate economic development in rural areas.
This project has been successful to date because of the direct involvement of all parties participating in the project, and because trust has been established between growers, the project coordinator, and the other personnel participating in the project. If anyone would seek to replicate this type of project be aware that it is time consuming and that it takes additional efforts on the part of the coordinator and all participants to develop and maintain the relationships needed to sustain a program such as this one.
This summary was prepared by the project coordinator for the 2000 reporting cycle.