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Revitalizing sustainable farming in New Mexico

Don Bustos Photo: AFSC

New Mexico farmer Don Bustos offers this introduction to sustainable agriculture in northern New Mexico on the occasion of the publication of the new training manual, Farming for a sustainable community.

"For generations, New Mexicans have survived using the natural resources the earth has provided. We have an enduring connection with the land and water that is at the heart of our culture and heritage.

We are blessed with a resilience that defies easy explanation. Historically, our people and communities have been challenged by weather, successive government intrusions, and bad policies, and economic forces threatening our livelihood—livelihoods that are linked to that land and water whose wise use is our responsibility and our independence and freedom.

The New Mexico Office of the American Friends Service Committee has created a farmer-to-farmer training program so that people of the land can increase their income by using the land, water, and sun in a sustainable manner and so that future generations can continue to raise their children and grandkids on the land.

This training program is also an important way we have chosen to save our water from commodification. We believe that everyone and everything has a divine right to fresh, healthy, free water. We also know that growing organic, healthy food, and making it available to those who need it, is an essential piece of a sustainable food system in our state.

People of the land abide by the principle inherent in the question: “How much is enough?” We are not trying to save the world, but this business philosophy considers how much is necessary to feed the family, pay the bills, and save a little bit for a rainy day.

This training is focused on small acreages that allow a family to make enough money to sustain themselves and save our land and water for agricultural activity that benefits local communities."

Food system approach to agriculture: Local vs. centralized

"Our current food supply is based on a centralized model of agriculture that does not provide the vital needs for sustaining vibrant communities. Impoverished sectors of our communities have limited access to fresh, nutritious foods, even though there is the potential to have enough healthy food for everyone.

Presently, it is difficult for small-scale organic farmers to compete for market access. This American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) project and farmer training program strengthens small farmer access to the local food system by encouraging growers to collaboratively market to area institutions and the local food service industry.

Locally grown produce has the potential to benefit consumers while reducing New Mexico’s dependence on external sources of food.

AFSC’s farmer-to-farmer training program offers unique skills acquisition as well as opportunities for personal growth and entrepreneurial expertise. Our training emphasizes the formation of a network of regional food processing hubs that connect community-based growers to new produce markets. We have several approaches for development of these networks, and no two are alike.

Given land, water and sun, the next vital link in the food chain is the producer/farmer/business person.

That is why we have a year-round training program that teaches how to grow food 12 months a year using nothing but natural resources and locally available inputs. Our training manual includes business and farm planning, soil and site assessments, and crop selection and planting dates. One of the main training areas is market development and how to access farmers markets—and the more complex task of how to break into the market of large institutional buyers such as schools and hospitals.

The new training manual is based on AFSC’s New Mexico farmer-to-farmer training program that was piloted in the South Valley of Albuquerque, N.M., made possible by a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant and collaboration with strong community partners. The manual presents models for land selection, soil preparation, crop planning, cultivation, handling, marketing and season extension with point-by-point instruction, case studies, illustrations and descriptions. It includes the experiences of the trainers and farmers in forming the Agri-Cultura Network, a grower-owned, South Valley–based local produce brokerage, which is a result of this three-year training and collaboration.

In defense of ancestral water rights, three South Valley organizations that make up the membership of the Agri-Cultura Network—emerging communities, La Plazita Institute and Valle Encantado—have collaborated to implement small-scale, low-impact, economically viable models for small-scale vegetable production. These models are based on the lifetime experience and knowledge of my family, which has farmed in the Española Valley for centuries.

This training program guides farmer-to-farmer training in organic vegetable and fruit production for the local market. We grow our crops according to the seasons and lunar cycles using appropriate technology such as cold frames with layering that lets us harvest salad and greens in the middle of the winter using the sun as our energy source. Then, knowing how to market year-round produce will allow for profitable small farm business.

These indications and recommendations are by no means an absolute recipe for success in smallscale agriculture. This model strictly relies on timely and consistent manual labor and keeping a close eye on crops as they grow. It requires thorough business planning and competent business and labor management.

Thanks to those who are drawn to this document for the purpose of increasing food security, reducing hunger and malnutrition, and maintaining arable land in diverse produce production for their local markets."

Farming for a sustainable community: A training manual

This manual documents the knowledge of Don Bustos, lifelong New Mexican farmer and director of AFSC's New Mexico program, and the farmer-to-farmer training program developed by AFSC to pass down the knowledge he and his ancestors have known for generations.

Community guide to organizing small farms: Stories from Atrisco
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