Cosecha del Norte is a co-op comprised of 10 Española Valley area farmers seeking to make chemical-free, healthy local fruits and vegetables available to community members. The co-op sells to schools and businesses. Cosecha del Norte stands apart from the other two growing co-ops in New Mexico sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in that most of our members come from an historically long line of farmers and ranchers. As descendants of the first European colonists who came to north-central New Mexico, we have been guided, desde chiquitos (since we were children), to manage seeds and acequia water wisely.
When we were invited to get together and form a grower’s co-op, the tricky part was not necessarily the actual growing of food, but more about creating time to meet regularly and invest ourselves as farmers in becoming better producers. What did that mean to a bunch of busy people whose families were, for the most part, already producing enough corn, beans, squash, fruit and meat to satisfy the needs of their families? Mostly it meant extending that paradigm from the village into the greater community. It also meant being willing to share farm plans, seed and know-how to increase yields and fill orders.
Our approach to meeting our goals was to get to know each other better and familiarize ourselves with each other’s farms and families. So, for the first year our monthly meeting was held at members’ homes. From Santa Cruz to Velarde to Chamisal and Chimayó, we would break bread and discuss the logistics of successfully filling an order to, for example, Cid’s Food Market in Taos. That was something most of us had never even considered doing, but something a few of our members had accomplished.
We began to discuss the possibility of supplying our produce to the public schools. With the assistance of AFSC, our members found themselves becoming more in tune with the concept of growing together to supply a larger amount of greens for sale. At the end of our first year, we received our letter of incorporation from the state of New Mexico. We were now one body represented by several farming families. At that time, AFSC began showing us how to broker our produce: Mondays, all available produce is taken into account and calls are made to interested buyers. By Wednesday, the washed and prepped produce is picked up and delivered to the stores. Within a couple of weeks, invoices and payments are recorded and checks sent out to the member/producers of La Cosecha del Norte. A percentage of each sale is invested back into the co-op. The last quarter of 2013 has been encouraging, with sales approaching $4,000. We even got the first contract with Española Valley Schools: 150 pounds of local red chile for the children’s Frito pies!
As we take a small breather for the holidays, Cosecha del Norte is thankful. We have hung in there and are beginning to savor the fruits of our mutual labor. In 2014 we hope to continue our relationship with Sostenga, the farming program at Northern New Mexico College, where our monthly meetings are now held. We hope to increase our production and get even more local food into our schools and grocery stores, thus strengthening our ancestral food traditions and water rights. Our first meeting of the new year has been scheduled for farm planning and seed ordering. Our grandparents would be pleased.
Camilla Trujillo is a grower/member and treasurer of La Cosecha del Norte. She teaches pottery at La Tierra Charter School in Española.