How Rural Indio-Hispano Communities Are Getting on the Ecotourism Bandwagon

 

ARTURO SANDOVAL

 

How does a mobile food truck help a rural community interested in promoting ecotourism?

That idea sprang from the minds of the Cooperative Development Center of New Mexico’s (CODECE) staff as a way to create linkages among three co-ops formed last year in the northern New Mexico villages of Truchas and Córdova. It was also a way to launch CODECE’s efforts to see food preparation as a cultural activity.

Through an innovative grant from the USDA, CODECE—a project of the Albuquerque-based Center of Southwest Culture—received funding for a mobile food truck. The truck is part of CODECE’s Sustainable Communities Initiative, which is underway in collaboration with the Truchas Land Grant. To date, CODECE has formed three cooperatives—Organic Farmers, Outdoor Services and Arts & Culture—all under the High Peaks Deep Roots branding strategy.

So why a mobile food truck? CODECE’s sustainable tourism director Mark Willuhn said, “We saw very quickly the rich culinary traditions on the land grant and were surprised by the variety and high quality of food from the first matanza (traditional Hispano community celebration where neighbors process a large pig, goat or sheep) last year.” He added, “This put us on the track to use cultural heritage through food as a driver for the sustainable tourism efforts.”

The grant was awarded based on alternative marketing channels for local organic farmers. So instead of greasy burgers and the traditional junk food truck, CODECE embraced the national trend of innovative mobile food trucks and is developing organic healthy traditional foods that will appeal to “herederos” (inheritors) as well as tourists visiting New Mexico for the first time.

Said Willuhn, “As this idea became reality, we realized we had the perfect integration vehicle, because in addition to offering meals, the truck can also go to farmers’ markets and be a draw for selling produce from the organic farmers’ cooperative, create jobs for the members of the Arts & Culture Cooperative, while promoting sustainable tourism packages (fly fishing, horseback rides and hiking) on the land grant for the Outdoor Services Cooperative.”

Some interesting ideas are being developed around having a traditional matanza on the land grant two Sundays a month, starting in June. CODECE staff and co-op members are jointly exploring having this become an optional two-day activity where participants can come to the land grant on Saturday morning and observe the preparation of the borrego or cabrito. The full experience will include seeing how land grant members fully utilize all of the butchered animal’s parts, going to the fields and helping co-op members harvest the vegetables used in the meal’s preparation, and learning how the full traditional process is carried out.

Once the animal is roasting, participants can enjoy activities on the land grant—star gazing in the evening, early morning bird-walk, a half-day trail ride and other recreational activities,” Willuhn said. “The following Sunday afternoon they can partake in one of the most succulent meals they likely will have ever had.”

Our creativity is really our only limit,” Willuhn said. “Looking a little longer term, the mobile food truck has the potential to be the catalyst for reinvigorating traditional fiestas in the communities of Truchas and Córdova.” He added, “With a mobile food truck we can draw tourists to specific areas and manage impacts. We will make sure the specific areas are appropriate, willing and ready. It’s really an interesting tool (the food truck) from a managing tourism impacts perspective, since we can move it to specific sites for a specific period of time and prevent areas being overrun and over-loved by visitors. It really allows the land grant members to control their own destiny.”

Willuhn said that while this is all very exciting, the increasing complexity of social media and marketing a mobile food truck is a bit overwhelming. To support Truchas Land Grant members, CODECE has entered into a cooperative agreement with the University of New Mexico Global Business Students Association. These graduate business students visited the land grant in March to learn about the different cooperatives and to develop a marketing plan using the mobile food truck as creatively as possible. They are looking at strengthening each cooperative as a stand-alone entity, while understanding how interconnected all the efforts are. Dr. Manuel Montoya, a Rhodes Scholar and current professor at the UNM Business School, is guiding the students’ efforts. The UNM connection is a key ally in CODECE’s efforts to create collaborations as a critical part of long-term sustainability for the co-ops it is helping to create across New Mexico.

Other entities working with CODECE in Truchas and elsewhere include the Chimayó Youth Conservation Corps, Agri-Cultura Network, New Mexico Women’s Foundation, the Truchas Land Grant and Rio Arriba County.