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The right to grow food and have access to water

Don Bustos in his kitchen at Santa Cruz Farm
Don Bustos in his kitchen at Santa Cruz Farm Photo: Lucy Duncan / AFSC

This is an excerpt from an interview with Don Bustos, program director with AFSC in New Mexico. Please visit Acting in Faith to read the rest of the interview and share your comments.

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.

We do incorporate a little new technology that allows us to grow produce year round using nothing but solar energy, like cold frames.

We reconstituted the land grant here several years ago. We have been able to petition the state to acquire some land. 

The original land grant was 44,600 acres. It started just down the road, went down past the river, then all the way up to the mountains in the Chimayo area where the Santa Cruz reservoir is now. 

We've been able to find about 4,600 acres that we lay claim to now as communal land, and we want to expand the land grant, so that eventually we hope the families will be interested in revitalizing the communal land grant, build housing, the whole community can grow their food, have their jobs, feed their kids, and still be a sustainable system.

We're talking about revitalizing the old food system, regenerating that, then allowing it to be sustainable for hundreds of years to come, and not rely on a lot of outside food production.

We still irrigate with our ancient acequia system that was dug hundreds of years ago, ours here is earth dug, it hasn't changed, the only thing that has changed is the pathway of the water itself. We irrigate off the Santa Cruz River; our acequia is called the Santa Cruz acequia. We have a small communal reservoir that the community financed, not the government. It was built in the 1920s.

The Santa Cruz River is a stream about 3 inches deep, about 6 feet wide—that's it. Right now there are 5,600 families that depend on the Santa Cruz River for some kind of production, perhaps not the way we do it, but to continue to grow their food, or orchards, or livestock. We live on the edge of the Sonoran desert. That's why the water is so valuable. When you depend on the amount of water to flow to your farm—to feed your family and your community—you've got to be really careful about how it's used, use it several times, then return it to the river where it charges the aquifer and then starts to create that system again.

We've known that for hundreds of years, so how do we continue that knowledge so future generations know the importance of it—so they can continue to grow their food?

If you grow your food, if you grow your own seeds, you're a free person, you don't become a slave to the food system where you have to work and buy the food at any price that's mandated. To us, it's an empowerment issue. It's a human right to be able to grow our own food, and have access to good water, fairly and equitably.

Our training program is protecting land and water, and we're training people to be business men and women. They choose sustainable agriculture. Our job is to give them the tools, then they make critical decisions that allow them to be successful businesspeople, thereby protecting their land and water.

LD: Successful, but also collaborative...Don Bustos' Farm

DB: It's about communal development. How do we aggregate our product, so we can meet the needs of institutional buyers? That means creating cooperatives, or networks, getting people to sit at the table when they sometimes have differences, having those discussions occur, and then figuring out that the best solution is for the community to work together to create a food system that allows the whole community to flourish.

We go in the community and say we don't know everything, but with your help, we'll all learn. Then in three years, AFSC walks, win, lose or draw, it's up to our trainees to take it over and run with it or it's not going to work. You see that transition happening in Albuquerque. At first it's a little rocky, they want us there, but then they say, "How come you're still here?"

LD: This seems to counteract models of scarcity, people don't change their minds theoretically, you have to experience something else…

DB: People are really asking us to replicate the model, not only in New Mexico. I've been traveling out to Indian country, up in Navajo area, and to the Dine and Hopi. We're trying to figure out how to partner with them. Hopefully we can go to the next stage. We are setting up this model and at some point in the future we can go to the USDA Farm Bill and set up a federal program that will put resources in place for aggregation within underserved communities. We could actually have a piece of legislation that all of us could work to get passed. That won't happen until 2016 or 2020, but we're laying the ground work. 

LD:  Sayrah was telling me that people want this program because it is an economic alternative to the military.

DB: In Chapparal they are recruiting very young men and women to become part of the military, but now they see an option in the farming, it may not be as developed as we like, but it holds them over. Now there is an option in northern New Mexico. When I was growing up, the military was the one economic option, now this is another option. New Mexico has a 48 percent drop-out rate from high school. So, what else is there? This is the alternative. This is the alternative or there is no alternative. This is an alternative for formerly incarcerated people, too. There is a lot of impact on a lot of levels.

Read part II: On returning to organic methods