Connecting A Thousand Points of Light

Erin Ortigoza

 

…Part of what defines our querencia

Which gives us this sense of place, is our food,

Contrary to those who say that there can be no sense of place

In today’s global experiment.

And our food cannot be separated from how we work the

Land and how we water our crops…

 

– Estévan Arellano, New Mexican historian, farmer and writer

 

A thousand points of light make up the past, present and future of an agricultural legacy that shapes our querencia. Santa Fe County has a rich agricultural heritage. The valleys and ranges have been in production for thousands of years, supporting diverse populations throughout history. Farming and ranching are profoundly embedded in the local culture and economy and have shaped lives and landscapes for generations. This deeply forged connection to place fuels a passion and a lifestyle that continues to the present day. 

 

Demand and economic opportunity are on the rise for fresh, local agricultural products, which are increasingly incorporated into restaurant menus and school lunch programs, and highlighted in grocery stores. Even with an increasing demand for local food, agricultural and ranching land uses are in competition with non-agricultural development. Fewer landowners are able to keep their land in production due to environmental, social and economic factors such as limited water supply for irrigation, advanced age, lack of resources, other job commitments and children leaving rural communities. These factors undermine the capacity of the local food system, and yet they have inspired work toward maintaining and enhancing the local agricultural economy, which is seen as essential to health, economic well-being and quality of life.

 

In response to these challenges and in recognition of the work being done by community members and organizations, the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners adopted the Agriculture and Ranching Implementation (ARI) Plan on July 26. The ARI Plan is designed to connect the “thousand points of light,” or farmers, ranchers, markets and agricultural efforts in our region to support the local food system. Enhancing relationships with community members and organizations active in agriculture is a crucial aspect of the plan, which was written with extensive community input and builds upon existing initiatives and agricultural partnerships.

 

The ARI Plan is a guide to build a collective awareness of agricultural lands, resources, challenges and economic opportunities within Santa Fe County by: 

 

          Promoting awareness of agricultural land preservation options;

  •                       Increasing access to existing agricultural programs, resources, incentives, financial and technical support;

          Demonstrating agricultural and ecological projects;

          Establishing baseline information regarding Santa Fe’s capacity to produce food;

          Identifying market niches to strengthen the local food supply and demand chain; and

          Developing economic opportunity in the agricultural sector.

 

The ARI Plan outlines key actions in the following five focus areas.

 

Protecting Land and Natural Resources

Agricultural sustainability requires the protection of existing farm and ranch land. In order to support the preservation of existing agricultural land, Santa Fe County has initiated the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, a voluntary, incentive-based, market-driven approach to preserving agricultural land, open space and other environmental resources while encouraging development in designated areas.

 

The TDR program benefits agriculture by providing landowners a way to protect agricultural resources, maintain ownership of their land and water and generate revenue by selling their development rights. The ARI Plan calls for ongoing outreach to communities and stakeholders countywide to familiarize residents with the concepts of the TDR program and for the establishment of the TDR Bank to support the program.

 

In addition to TDR outreach, county staff will collaborate with partners to become familiar with other “tools” in the land conservation toolkit to provide landowners a comprehensive range of options for preserving agricultural land. 

 

Connecting Farmers and Ranchers to Resources

It is clear that more connections need to be made between people producing food and the resources they need to do it. These resources range from equipment to technical/financial support and access to land, water, quality seed and helping hands. There are existing programs designed to provide these services. The county will work with partners and community members to increase awareness of these opportunities. The ARI Plan calls for ongoing outreach to communities and stakeholders to build relationships and provide information about community-based resources to support more efficient food production and compile information on agricultural resources and programs. 

 

Promoting Innovative Approaches to Agricultural Use of County Properties

Agricultural and ecological (agro-ecological) demonstration projects provide educational opportunities to showcase the mutually beneficial dynamics of well-designed agricultural and ecological systems in a landscape. When designed with holistic landscape management principles, agricultural projects can contribute positively to overall land productivity/grazing potential, water quality, drainage, wildlife habitat, erosion control and flood resiliency. 

 

The ARI Plan provides several examples of sites where the county should consider developing agro-ecological demonstration projects. Concepts include edible landscaping, native “forage forests,“ orchards, water harvesting for food production, community gardens and grazing plans designed for grassland health. These projects are exciting opportunities for the county to partner with community members and groups for long-term agricultural stewardship of the land.

 

Understanding the Capacity of Our Local Food System

Today’s local food system encompasses multiple scales of production and buyers who provide access to local food throughout the community. It is critical to understand the existing capacity of resources in our foodshed ecosystem in order to strategically plan for the viability of future local food supply and demand. 

 

Agricultural Resource Inventory

The Agricultural Resource Inventory will compile information about the status of agriculture and ranching in Santa Fe County. It will document market and production capacity, as well as infrastructure options such as cold storage, aggregation and transportation options that may be underutilized or further coordinated. The inventory is focused on building relationships with members of the agricultural community. Stories from the fields are living history, and there is both economic potential and local character embedded in those stories. By speaking with people, the county will have a better understanding of the needs and challenges faced by local growers and will be better positioned to offer targeted support.

 

 

For more information about the Agriculture and Ranching Implementation Plan, contact Erin Ortigoza, Santa Fe County Senior Planner: 505.986.6125 or eortigoza@santafecountynm.gov

 

 

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