By Patrick Jaramillo, Associate Program Director
In the final months of 2019, AFSC New Mexico program staff helped the Cabrera family build a passive solar coldframe on their farm in the South Valley of Albuquerque. This most recent coldframe, also known as a hoop house or high tunnel, is the 33rd that AFSC has either purchased and/or helped build in the last ten years of the program.
AFSC began building them as part of our curriculum and hands-on training while we were implementing our farmer-to-farmer training. We have continued building them as part of the technical assistance component of the program.
Coldframes are a very critical piece of infrastructure on a small-scale family farm. This season-extending tool allows a farmer to plant a couple of months earlier than would be possible and harvest for a few months after the crop-killing frosts of fall. If used wisely, a farmer can harvest well into winter.
Using nothing but the power of the sun, these solar coldframes benefit the farmer and their community in a couple of different ways. First, by providing produce during a time when it would otherwise not be available, the farmer can increase the revenue of their farm, making it a more economically viable operation. Second, the increased availability of fresh local produce means that the community has access to healthy produce during the coldest, darkest months of the year.
Some of the primary beneficiaries of this produce are the many New Mexican school children whose schools buy from local farmers. AFSC has worked for many years to create and incubate farmer-owned growers cooperatives that, by aggregating their produce, can meet the greater demand of the larger institutional market the schools provide.
In addition to building the capacity of farmers to provide fresh, healthy produce to the school districts, AFSC has successfully lobbied for legislation at the state level to make more money available for the school districts to buy local food, since school districts cite cost most often as the reason for not sourcing food locally.
Coldframe construction and infrastructure development is only one method AFSC New Mexico uses, but it is a very useful and tangible thing we can do to better the lives of those who steward the land and those of us who benefit from their labor.
To learn more about this work, please contact Patrick Jaramillo at PJaramillo@afsc.org.
Patrick Jaramillo of AFSC, left, with Maria Elena, Luis and Steve. (photo: Patrick Jaramillo)