Ursula Beck

 

There is no doubt that the experience of living in northern New Mexico is unique and is of interest to visitors from all over the world. In 2007 a diverse group of neighbors—small farmers, ranchers and cultural entrepreneurs—got together and formed an association: Taos Cultural Farm Visits (TCFV). Their intent was to offer multidimensional immersion experiences for visitors who are sincerely interested in the history and ways of life of northern NM. The visitors are treated as guests, not merely tourists.

 

TCFV has since evolved into a consortium with over 30 members—all land-based farmers with at least three acres under cultivation. They do not simply offer agritourism, which sometimes mostly emphasizes products; TCFV provides a multi-generational view of farming with a focus on culture and deep respect for the land.

 

For the farmers, opening their farms to visitors creates a “new crop,” an additional source of income. TCFV’s website allows members to place a description of their site, the activities they offer and contact information. Thus, each member can offer what suits his or her particular situation. Viewers can choose what interests them and contact the farm directly. The farmers set their own prices and collect their own revenue. None of the money goes to TCFV. It has remained an important benchmark for the group that it is structured as a “bottom-up” organization run by the farmers themselves rather than by someone who is neither from the area nor an active farmer.

 

While TCFV honors the individuality of its members, the group also wants to take advantage of their synergy to accomplish three goals: marketing, sharing and legalizing.

 

Marketing a farm or ranch as a site for visitors is simply beyond the means and skill-set of most of the farmers. Being able to place ads in national publications as a group and pay for memberships in organizations such as Farm Stays US, International Agritourism and WWOOF-USA (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) benefits all of TCFV’s members.

 

Sharing has become an essential benefit for the group’s members, who quickly found that there is much to learn from each other, such as: when to plant, who has extra chickens, which garden had a good crop this year, whose mare is due to foal in time for a group of photographers, and much more. As a result, three years ago they started offering visitors opportunities to see more than one site. For example, last year a group from Texas was easily coordinated to visit three sites tailored to their interests. First they walked along an acequia at a vineyard. Then they strolled across a hayfield to a second site with a large garden to pick fresh produce. Their tour culminated at a neighbor’s kitchen, where the produce was used in a cooking class, ending in a sunset feast in a meadow. What fun! By having each site offer what was unique and authentic to their farm and putting it together in a package, TCFV was able to offer its guests an inimitable experience.

 

TCFV makes sure that all of the enterprises are operating legally and safely. The group’s status as a nonprofit organization is in process. Regulations for hosting visitors can be a complex labyrinth. Some of TCFV’s members are actively researching the ins-and-outs to share with everyone. A group of members has even formed a committee to contact officials in order to make suggestions concerning legislative changes the group thinks would be beneficial to this sort of initiative.

 

Below are some of the activities and experiences TCFV is currently offering. New activities are added each year. The group says members have as much fun thinking up and offering the activities as their guests do experiencing them. TCFV’s commitment to each other as a group spills over into a joy of sharing with their guests.

 

Cultural Farm Stays: Beautiful landscapes and traditional farms attract visitors to come and stay for a week with a local family.

 

Acequias: Tours of New Mexico’s unique acequia heritage.

 

Farm-to-Frame: This is an opportunity for artists to experience first-hand where their materials come from. For example, fiber artists can visit a working sheep ranch, see the unique Churro breed, purchase pelts and then enjoy a traditional feast. Potters can dig their own clay and fire their finished work in a traditional dung pit.

 

Children’s Camp: This weeklong experience introduces children to the source of their food. Peas do come from pods and potatoes live underground awaiting small hands to harvest them. There are cows to milk and eggs to gather. It culminates with a bonfire feast and “some-mores.”

 

 

Equine Tourism: Horse-riding enthusiasts seek beautiful places to bring their horses on vacations. Riders can stay with their horse and ride in the surrounding mountains. The local national forest trails are a much under-utilized resource.

 

 

Farm Internships: Guests can stay with local families while assisting in the work of keeping the lands productive. This is a movement called “woofing.”

 

 

Photography Tours: Taos offers awe-inspiring mountains, beautiful rivers, charming villages, wild backcountry and more to entice photographers.

 

 

Horse Boarding: Small boarding facilities near the mountain riding trails encourage participation in the hard work of maintaining the hay fields.

 

 

Art Classes: Art classes are offered on a limited basis for visitors. People can spend time on a farm to paint. Patchwork fields here have attracted artists for many generations. The Taos Art School has continued this tradition for 23 years.

 

Winery Tours: This is also a destination for wine lovers, who can tour vineyards in northern NM and enjoy the high-altitude sensation.

 

 

Traditional Northern New Mexico Cooking: Stay on a small farm and learn to cook unique and delicious regional foods from the people who have been doing it for generations.

 

 

Food Preservation: Lessons are offered on drying, freezing, canning and the benefits of a root cellar. These were essential skills only a generation ago.

 

 

Gardening at 7,000 feet: This is a real challenge, but northern NM has been doing it for centuries and has lots to show. These valleys used to be the breadbasket of NM, growing winter wheat.

 

 

Gift making: Visitors can spend a day on a farm creating gifts such as herbal vinegars, lavender soaps and cornhusk dolls to take home as presents.

 

 

Flower pressing for note cards and bookmarks: Starting in early spring with the first “Johnny-jump-ups,” there are flowers to pick. Learn how to press and dry to preserve the color.

 

 

Birdwatching: One farm currently has a pair of nesting Eagles. Eighty other species have been identified in the area.

 

 

Natural Dye gardens: Many plants that grow on our farms can be used for dyeing wool and other materials. Learning to use the right mordant (fixing agent) and temperature can be demonstrated in an afternoon.

 

 

Cornfest and Bonfire: For one week in late summer, heirloom corn is at its peak. Guests can pick their own and enjoy them at a bonfire roast.

 

 

Specific Events Such as Country Weddings or Themed Children’s Parties: One of the farms recently featured a beautiful white Arabian horse at a wedding. He was in all the photos, led by the bride, also in white.

 

 

Galleries/Studios: Purchase unique agricultural art from small home studios.

 

For more information, call 575.758.0350, email taosfarmvisits@newmexicoagritourism.org or visit http://taosartschool.org/ecotour.html

 

 

Ursula Beck, a parciente on the Acequia del Monte ditch, was the founding director of the Taos Institute of Art. She currently heads the Taos Arts School, the Taos School of Equine Arts and Taos Cultural Farm Visits.

 

 

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