âWeâre surrounded by agricultural land but we have no food security. Right now weâre strapped to the global market,â said Miguel Santistevan, a New Mexican farmer and biologist. âSome people are trying to figure out how to set themselves free and are showing other people. Itâs as if we were all tied to a train thatâs headed off a cliff, and pretty soon a lot of us are saying, âHey, Iâm going to jump off this train before it goes.â
Miguel and his partner Margarita GarcĂa are helping youth reclaim knowledge about traditions behind lands and waters. Sol Feliz Farm, Miguelâs grandfatherâs house east of Taos, is an acre of spiral gardens, rock gardens, and straight rows. The farmâs Agriculture Implementation Research and Education (AIRE) project is capturing the imagination of an impassioned group of youth in northern New Mexico. At AIRE, the youth get to engage in everything from planting seeds to plucking chickens to visiting the state legislature. On any given morning during the summer, you can find the youth irrigating the field, using the traditional acequia method of diverting flowing water to the land via hand-dug channels.
âYou figure maize agriculture, 10,000 years of agricultural evolution, at least,â Miguel said, âand weâre losing all that cumulative knowledge.â Miguel is a walking encyclopedia about plants and water, but not the type of encyclopedia youâd find in any local library. âPeople try to put together equations. âOh, well, you have this many acres and this much corn, and corn requires this much water, so youâve got to irrigate this many times.â And I say, âDude, nature doesnât work that way. Go talk to the Hopi about how much water corn needs.â I know an elder Hopi who said, âIt doesnât even need to rain. A cloud just needs to fly overhead.â
âAll these people think that, dammit, this system has to conform to the mathematics of engineers, lawyers and economists, with the help of politicians. Thatâs why I like working with youth, because the youth donât buy it. They buy a lot of it: this rap music, and the gangster stuff, and the drug subculture. When it comes to whatâs happening to the mountains, whatâs happening to the rivers, whatâs happening to the elders, they donât buy it. Some kids are saying, âOh well, the worldâs gonna end anyways. The older generation, they already destroyed the planet. Might as well just party, have a good time.â But other kids are saying, âHowâre we going to fix it?â
âOur part in this process is not just about social change and justice, itâs also about food production and how do we feed ourselves.
âThe other day, we were harvesting corn. Some of these kids are on probation, getting in trouble in school, dropping out of school. Just to see that look on their faces and the wonder as theyâre opening that corn up, just amazed at the sight of the kernels, the colorâŠ it was awesome. That wonderment, thatâs how weâre going to get to the next stage.â
Other New Mexicans are focused on creating a âregional foodshed,â a local food ecosystem that bases its boundaries on ecological parameters like water flow, rather than on arbitrary state lines. One important contributor to rebuilding the foodshed along the Rio Grande Valley is La MontaĂ±ita Co-op food market. A 37-year-old store with five locations throughout the state, one of La MontaĂ±itaâs slogans is âfair fresh local.â
The ecosystem dictates what the co-op sells, said Robin Seydel, membership coordinator. âWe want to utilize all the eco-climes up and down the Rio Grande Valley.â Currently, 20% of the storeâs sales come from more than 1,500 different items produced by nearly 900 local producers. The goal is to increase that to 50%. The co-opâs local production coordinator develops plans with farmers to increase the diversity and seasonality of local foods. âThat way weâll have quinoa from Southern Colorado, chili from New Mexico,â said Robin. La MontaĂ±ita also provides training in land-stewardship practices and product improvement, and negotiates pre-payment on some contracts to help out struggling farmers.
Over the past few years, as Robin and others at the co-op watched many local farms go out of business, they realized that a major challenge for farmers â especially given the skyrocketing cost of gas â was transporting their products to market. The co-op now leases a refrigerated truck to bring local goods to its stores, like milk from one of the only two dairy farms in the state that still produces and bottles milk for local consumption.
Some other pro-agriculture, pro-environment initiatives in New Mexico include:
* Preservation of agricultural lands, both through direct purchase and mechanisms like conservation easements and agricultural land trusts (see, for example, the Quivira Coalition);
* Community kitchens for small producers so that, without the hefty cost of starting their own commercial kitchens, they can create value-added products and capture a better price (see, for example, the Taos Food Kitchen of the Taos County Economic Development Corporation);
* Production, distribution, and marketing alliances to help small farmers increase their sales (see, for example, the Southwest Grassfed Livestock Alliance);
* Programs to help small farmers sell to restaurants, schools, and other institutions, (see, for example, Farm to Table New Mexico); and
* Farmer-to-farmer trainings to exchange innovative practices and information.
Miguel said, âThe revolution isnât going to be fought with guns. Itâs like [Iroquois author and activist] John Mohawk said: the revolution is going to be fought with the hoe. And the shovel. And not against people, but with people, working the land.â
Download the Harvesting Justice pdf here, and find action items, resources, and a popular education curriculum on the Harvesting Justice website. Harvesting Justice was created for the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, check out their work here.
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