The Cooperative Development Center of New Mexico

 

Seth Roffman

In early spring, members of the High Peaks Deep Roots Agricultural Cooperative in Truchas, New Mexico, will gather to plant organic vegetables as a team for the second season in a row.

Incorporated last year as a farmer’s cooperative, High Peaks Deep Roots consists of seven farmers and their families who hope to revitalize their community and help themselves economically. In its first year, the co-op was able to find and develop a farm site, create and implement a farm plan and join four farmers’ markets in northern New Mexico. They also were able to sell their produce at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market.

Co-op members bought and erected a cold frame to extend the growing season; they developed and implemented a drip irrigation system, including creation of an irrigation pond; and they met regularly to build the co-op’s management capacity.

With an initial organizing year under their collective belts, co-op members are now looking forward to a rewarding and productive year in the high Truchas landscape.

We have always been farmers,” said co-op member and president John Chávez. “But the co-op has given us a way to maximize what we grow and to actually help our families economically.” Incorporating as a co-op made great sense to the Trucheños, said Chávez, because the concept of working collaboratively to benefit each other is an ancient and living model in the village through its still-existing 10,000-acre land grant and its numerous acequias.

Many of the original Spanish and Mexican land grants were often awarded to a collective of families who petitioned the Viceroy or the government for settlement lands across northern New Mexico. This collective model of work echoes the modern co-op system.

Acequias also were—and are—cooperative economic models. Nearly 10,000 years ago, desert dwellers in what is now modern-day Yemen and Afghanistan developed communal irrigation systems that permitted them to feed themselves in a harsh and arid landscape. That communal model—imported into New Mexico by Spanish colonists—took root over centuries into a sophisticated and viable economic system in New Mexico.

High Peaks Deep Roots Farmer’s Cooperative was formed with help from the Cooperative Development Center of New Mexico, said CODECE executive director Arturo Sandoval. “We expect to form another farmer’s co-op in Truchas this year,” he said. “Our model keeps co-op membership small, so that members can have full ownership of their co-op.” Sandoval said CODECE’s model seeks to ensure that control of each co-op is completely localized. “Eventually, we expect to create many, many small co-ops, each completely owned by local Hispano families,” he said. Economies of scale will be achieved by bundling their products through CODECE’s region-wide marketing expertise, he noted.

Working with CODECE, the High Peaks Deep Roots Farmer’s Cooperative has joined with the Albuquerque-based Agri-Cultura Food Distribution Network to expand their organic produce markets. The Agri-Cultura Network is developing a statewide network of organic growers and plans to create a highly sophisticated marketing plan that emphasizes each of the state’s different growing seasons to maximize market impact and sales.

CODECE received a USDA grant late in 2011 to purchase a state-of-the-art food catering truck. CODECE will use the truck as part of its cooperative development activities with two other new Truchas ecotourism co-ops: one providing recreation and outdoor services, the other focusing on arts and culture, especially food culture.

The plan is for the two ecotourism co-ops in Truchas to provide organic meals to tourists engaged in outdoor activities on the Truchas Land Grant and in the Pecos Wilderness. Much of the food will be purchased from the High Peaks Deep Roots Farmer’s Coop during summer and fall activities.

This spirit of cooperation among the three new Truchas co-ops has become contagious, said Mark Willuhn, CODECE director of ecotourism and executive director of the Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance based in Managua, Nicaragua. “All three co-ops now share an office, meeting and gallery space right in the heart of the village,” Willuhn said. “All of the co-op members have pitched in to clean and repair our space and all are working closely together to help each other succeed.”

This spirit of cooperation has extended to other community-based organizations in New Mexico, Willuhn noted. He said the co-ops are actively seeking collaborations with other organizations that are focused on helping revitalize villages across New Mexico. “The key for us is partnerships,” said Willuhn. “We need other groups and organizations to help us succeed and we can also help them do well. That’s our mantra.”

Sandoval said CODECE just received its second year of funding from the USDA to continue its cooperative development efforts in Truchas and across other northern New Mexico Hispano villages. He noted that historical agricultural practices found in Truchas have actually positioned local farmers there to be ahead of the curve in efforts to join the organic food movement. For example, he said, “Farmers in Truchas have never used chemical fertilizers. Never. That has made it so much easier to get their lands organically certified by the New Mexico Commodities Commission.”

Sandoval said Truchas in particular and northern New Mexico in general, mirrors the emerging economies in the rest of the world, including Brazil, Russia, India and China.

CODECE’s senior policy and strategic development advisor Manual Montoya said, “As we begin to understand the forces that will shape the global political economy in the 21st Century, we are also beginning to understand that the success of the planet will rely on sustainable land-based practices that leverage community identity properly.” Montoya, a native of northern New Mexico, a Rhodes Scholar and professor of global structures at UNM’s Anderson School of Management, added, “What is happening in New Mexico is no different than what is happening throughout the world right now. This is the perfect opportunity for New Mexico to become a business partner with the rest of the world in a meaningful way.”

Sandoval added, “We have the social and economic elements in place to succeed at a very high level in this new and emerging global economic situation. We just need to keep working hard.” CODECE uses a three-pronged economic development approach to revitalize rural villages. Those areas are organic farming, ecotourism and affordable housing.