In August I spent a day in New Mexico, visiting AFSC’s farmer training program near Albuquerque.
I met the trainees, hearing from AFSC’s Sayrah Namaste about elements of the program and upcoming plans to expand state-wide, funded in large part by the Kellogg Foundation. I finished the day by talking with program director Don Bustos at his farm near Espanola.
AFSC’s New Mexico program works in underserved communities to train beginner farmers in sustainable agriculture practices. The farmers grow high value crops—gourmet salad mix, blackberries, asparagus, carrots—and sell their produce collaboratively to diverse markets such as restaurants, natural food stores, and institutional buyers.
An additional distribution channel is the Agri-Cultura Network, which AFSC established in 2009. The network aggregates produce from several farmers so that they have enough supply to attract institutional buyers, including the Albuquerque Public Schools.
Water rights are closely linked to farming in the New Mexico program. The state has a system of acequias—community operated waterways used for irrigation—which are regulated by commissions. Because water is scarce, there are folks interested in encroaching on others’ water rights, but if people who hold the rights can demonstrate that they are using the water for beneficial uses like farming, they can retain their access to the water.
The program Don and Sayrah have built in collaboration with community members demonstrates AFSC’s distinctive approach: to build programs based on needs in the community, but not to shy away from taking on the systemic issues that may keep the grassroots efforts from flourishing. Don advocates for state and federal farm policy that would benefit underserved small farmers using sustainable practices.
Lucy Duncan (LD): Tell me the history of this farm and its relationship to the AFSC New Mexico program.
Don Bustos (DB): The name of our farm is Santa Cruz Farm, after our church the Santa Cruz Church, and then the Santa Cruz de la Canada Land Grant. I still farm the same land my ancestors farmed over 300 years ago and as you walk outside, you'll see the same land, the same crops, and the same methods that my ancestors used. That's the knowledge we pass on to the trainees.