This Is One Place They Come From

 

Juan Estévan Arellano

 

When I was in school in the ‘50s and ‘60s, schools used to buy fruit and produce directly from our parents, since at that time most everyone still did some farming. In the mid-‘60s, when I attended McCurdy School in Santa Cruz, NM, the school still had an active farm with chickens, milk cows, hogs and a garden. But by the time I graduated, the farm was a thing of the past.

Suddenly, in the ‘60s, the school lunch bureaucracy became impossible for the small farmer and producer to navigate. As a result, all the food served at school came from afar, and though there was still plenty grown in the area, there was no market. So from the mid-‘60s to the ‘90s there was a total disconnect between what was served in the schools and what was grown in the area.

Today things are changing. This year Fred and Ruby Martinez, from Cañoncito, in the fertile Embudo Valley, sold about 1,400 boxes of apples to schools throughout the state, thanks in part to the work done by Farm to Table, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe.

Each fall, people from Albuquerque, Río Rancho, Santa Fe and other places mistakenly descend upon Dixon, north of Española, looking for the famous Dixon’s Orchard apples. (Dixon’s Apple Orchards near Cochiti was, unfortunately, destroyed by fire and flooding in 2011.) They ask the local residents, “We are looking for Dixon apples. Where can we buy some?” And since almost everyone in Dixon has apples, they reply, “We have some,” or, if not, they send them to Fred and Ruby Martinez’s orchards a short way down the road.

Since Fred and his dad installed wind turbines in 1964 to heat their orchard, the Martinezes’ have had a crop every single year, though in 2011 the harvest did not compare to this year’s crop of 7,000 boxes. Fred farms about 23 acres in Cañoncito, where he has 3,500 apple trees and about 350 peach trees. Because he grows many different varieties, the fruit ripens throughout the summer, spacing out his harvest. Fred’s father, Delfín, started the orchard in the 1950s. Throughout the past 60 years, the family bought more and more land. What began as a modest orchard, planted in standard trees with the common varieties (mostly Double Red Delicious and Golden Delicious), is now a very modern operation.

The Martinez family irrigates their orchard from the Acequia Arellano y Martinez, aka Acequia Leonardo Martinez, one of the 10 acequias off of the Río Embudo. Their acequia, the first to draw water, is one of the smallest in terms of acreage, but it is probably the one that produces the most fruit. In order to make sure his fruit is pollinated, Martinez rents bees, usually around 30 boxes, that he places throughout his orchard for a couple of months each spring when the trees start to bloom.

These days, semi-dwarf varieties that make it easier for Martinez, 70, to maintain and harvest, have replaced the standard size trees. He also has replaced some of the old Red Delicious with more modern varieties such as Gala, Arkansas Black, Fuji and others. Today he has 16 varieties of apples. Each different variety is planted in what he calls “a separate block.” He also has eight varieties of peaches and five of cherries. His cherries ripen starting in early May to mid-July. “In this business you constantly have to be changing. I plant about 200 trees every year,” says Fred, whose family has been in the valley since 1715. “Varieties that don’t sell, I remove and plant what consumers want.”

At a meeting last October, held at his manicured orchard at the mouth of the Río Embudo canyon, Fred stressed that today he uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control pests. This approach allows him to only spray the orchard once in the spring when the trees start to leaf. Other apple growers who still use the old method spray upwards of 10 times during the summer, dumping a lot of pesticides, not only on the fruit, but also on the ground, which eventually makes its way into the river and the water table.

Farm to Table staff members were present at the meeting on the Martinez farm, as were several chefs and school food service directors from as far away as Los Lunas. Martinez announced that a NM Apple and Fruit Growers Cooperative had recently been formed, and that he would be serving as president. Danny Farrar from Velarde, whose father was a pioneer in the apple business, is serving as vice-president. Robert Naranjo is secretary and Gene López from Lyden is treasurer. Other board members are Rick Romero, Longorio Vigil, Tim Martinez, Norman Medina and Chris Bassett.

Martinez is happy that he is able to sell his apples to schools across the state. The Farm to Table program not only helps the local small farmers like Martinez sell their products to schools by helping them “navigate bureaucratic and transportation issues,” the program also helps schoolchildren enjoy the flavor of locally grown fruit—just like the old days.

Fred, Ruby and their family also participate in several farmers’ markets throughout northern NM, including the one in Dixon on Wednesdays from June through October, and they sell their fruit at the Dixon Co-op Market. During the annual Dixon Studio Tour, held every year on the first weekend in November, Ruby offers her homemade apple pies and cider. Their enterprise has been featured in numerous magazines throughout the nation. Fred was recognized as Farmer of the Year in 2008, first by the Embudo Valley Acequia Association and then by the NM Acequia Association.

 

Farmer, researcher and community leader Juan Estévan Arellano has devoted most of his life to documenting the traditional knowledge of the Indo-Hispano in northern NM. He is translator-editor of the book Ancient Agriculture. 505.579.4027, estevan_2002@yahoo.com

 

 

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