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Seeds to Plant, Seeds to Save
The Bueno para Todos Farmers’ Cooperative
With the late monsoon rains comes the beginning of the harvest season. Ears of corn swell on their stalks, green chile is abundant, tomatoes come out of the garden in gallons, green beans by the basketful. After all the planting, tending, weeding, pest control and watering comes the enormous task of making sure that all of the long-awaited produce is processed in time.
Here in El Valle, N.M, on the Pecos River along Highway 3, the work of the Bueno Para Todos Farmers’ Cooperative (BPT) mirrors this process. Even far from harvest, both on our own and together, we learn about what community means and what the future holds for us. “It’s about learning from other farmers, gaining wisdom about working with the microclimate,” said BPT Director Yvonne Sandoval, “and how to be in relationship with the land, the sacredness of water and building relationships.”
Comprised of individuals who have lived and farmed in the area for generations, along with relative newcomers to the area and to farming, BPT began four years ago as a project to create community gardens through its mother organization, El Valle Women’s Collaborative. It was successful in bringing Collaborative members, local youth and community members together. BPT has since become its own entity, focused on revitalizing El Valle’s rich farming community.
While BPT member Jeanette Iskat does not farm, she helps others as much as she can. “I am committed to finding good seeds… and helping market and sell people’s crops,” she said. “New Mexico exports most of what is grown here and imports most of what is eaten here. That is not sustainable.”
Member Abel Aguilar also does not farm but harvests fruit from his property and other people’s land and preserves it by canning. “BPT can one day prepare produce for long-term stability for the area,” said Aguilar. “There is a need for local farm skill and labor. The valley needs more people involved in the process.”
This year, a 30-by-94 ft. hoop house, courtesy of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant, was erected on multi-generational farmer and BPT member Vincent García’s farm. Along with García’s family and friends, numerous community and cooperative members, a group of University of New Mexico students and the Cooperative Development Center of New Mexico (CODECE) lent a hand. “It is possible that the economy might come to a point that farming will become a necessity. Also, the negative side-effects of genetically modified produce might encourage more people to farm,” said García.
Not far down the road, another USDA hoop house was built on Sandoval’s farm this summer. Sandoval’s partner, BPT member Santiago Geronimo Hernández, feels these hoop-houses represent a lot. “There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes to build a farm—the planning, labor and projects, setting up and testing irrigation, getting people together. It’s not just about planting seeds,” said Hernández. “When people see what you are doing, it generates interest, and that’s part of the building process.”
Through another local organization, the Youth Farm to Market (YFTM) Program, sustainability continues in the truest sense of the word by engaging the next generation.
YFTM director and BPT member Eileen Mulvihill teaches a group of El Valle youth about farming with hands-on education. “I hope to help the local youth eat more healthy foods and experience a sense of community,” said Mulvihill.
YFTM’s second annual harvest dinner is coming up at the end of October at the El Valle Community Center. At last year’s event, locals were treated to a dinner created by YFTM participants and learned about the program through presentations by the youth.
To help YFTM and community members process their produce, the Villanueva General Store is working to create a large commercial kitchen. Danny López, whose family has owned the store for generations said, “The kitchen is for the valley, first and foremost. We need to generate income that starts in the valley and stays here.” Community members will be able to get commercial kitchen certification and sell items at the store, in addition to catering and classes on how to make regional foods. López expects the kitchen to be up and running by Thanksgiving.
García said that 90 percent of what his family ate growing up they grew themselves, and there was still enough to give away. Can you imagine looking on your plate to find that nearly everything there was grown by your own hand or by someone you know? “We plant and harvest produce grown by an ancestral lineage of at least eight generations before us,” said García. “Farming creates a spiritual bond with my religious faith, Mother Earth and my ancestors. My dad and I handle every seed planted.”
Nazca A.Warren has lived in El Valle with her family for the past five years. She is a small-scale subsistence farmer and a Bueno Para Todos Cooperative member.
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