NM Organic Farming Conference Set for Feb. 20-21, 2015
Organic farmers, ranchers, market gardeners and researchers will gather at the Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid Feb. 20-21, 2015 for the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference. Thirty-six breakout sessions will take up production issues ranging from soil building to pest management to water harvesting, pollinators, understanding the biology and ecology of common New Mexico weeds and farming for the wild. On the 21st, participants will feast on local, organic food at a luncheon recognizing the New Mexico Organic Farmer of the Year. Farm to Table, the N.M. Department of Agriculture and N.M. State University Cooperative Extension Service are organizing the conference. La Montañita Co-op, Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute, Skarsgard Farms, N.M. Farm and Livestock Bureau, Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union and the Silver City Food Co-op are the main sponsors.
The Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 by organic pioneer J.I. Rodale to study the link between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people. “Coach” Mark Smallwood, executive director of the institute, will deliver the conference’s keynote address: “From America’s Oldest Organic Research Farm: Intriguing Questions & Lessons Learned.” Coach is a long-time organic farmer and biodynamic gardener who raises chickens, goats, sheep and pigs and drives his own team of oxen. He began the Agriculture Supported Communities (ASC) program at Rodale Institute. The program brings fresh, high-quality organic food to underserved communities and provides an intensive training program for farmers. Coach hosts a one-year organic farming certification program designed for military veterans. In addition, he has brought heritage livestock back to the institute’s 333-acre farm, created a Honeybee Conservancy to train and steward backyard beekeepers and launched “Your 2 Cents,” a national campaign to support and promote a new generation of organic farmers.
Conference registration, which includes Saturday’s luncheon, is $100 and will be available Dec. 1 online at www.farmtotablenm.org. For questions, call 505.473.1004 x10 (Santa Fe) or 505.841.9047 (Albuquerque). Special room rates are available if reserved by Jan. 1.
Coalition Pokes Holes in NM’s New Chile Certification
“Why do I have to register to be able to call my chile what it is?”
In August 2014, the New Mexico Chile Association (NMCA) launched a program, which they had the New Mexico Legislature approve, to certify New Mexico’s chile. Some of the state’s growers aren’t happy about it. They say it’s not fair to generations of traditional chile growers.
Isaura Andaluz, of the Save New Mexico Seeds Coalition, says that if you want real New Mexico chile, you need to go somewhere like a local farmers’ market or roadside stand. That’s where you’re likely to find chile grown from authentic seeds, from chile that has been grown in New Mexico for over 400 years.
Many of the growers here farm on a small scale and are not registered with the state’s Department of Agriculture (NMDA). Because they have not put up the $500 fee, they are not part of the new certified chile program and, with the new regulation, they can’t technically call their peppers “New Mexico chile.” The legislative bill—approved through a questionable procedure—criminalizes any grower who uses the name of any place or geographic location in the state unless the grower is registered. “This is an attempt to take control of our local identity and our chile by blurring and commodifying a staple food crop,” said Paul Romero, a farmer from Velarde. “This law threatens local autonomy of seed and food sovereignty.”
“Why do I have to register to be able to call my chile what it is?” Andaluz said. “It infringes on our basic freedom to farm.” The coalition sees other problems with the new certification program, too, such as a weakening of the brand. The law defines New Mexico chile as capsicum annuum. “Now, any pepper grown in the state is called New Mexico chile,” Andaluz said. “It applies to every single type of pepper, whether it’s a jalapeño, Italian sweet pepper, yellow hot, etc., and does not require a 100 percent guarantee on a product labeled “New Mexico chile.” So, if you are making salsa and it says New Mexico chile on it, it just has to be 95 percent New Mexico–grown; the other 5 percent can be from China, India, Perú or who knows where? And also, they can add chile resin.”
The new certification also allows for registered chile growers in any part of the state to call the green chile they grow “Hatch” chile. “The NMCA, which largely comprises chile industry processors and businesses—some who also have operations in Texas, Arizona and Mexico—would love for you to believe that there really is a Hatch chile, but a native Hatch chile does not exist,” Andaluz says. “New Mexico State University (NMSU) developed modern chile varieties for the industry, primarily bred to be grown and processed in the southern part of the state. Those seeds are not saved, unlike landrace chiles, sometimes called chile nativo.” Save NM Seeds says that the new certification program was established for the benefit of NMCA and NMSU and, also, that the NMDA should not be functioning as an enforcement arm of the NMCA. The coalition wants New Mexico lawmakers to address these problems.
The Agri-Cultura Network in Albuquerque’s South Valley
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), established in 1976 in New Mexico, provides hands-on year-round farmer-to-farmer training to beginning organic farmers. In 2009, in Albuquerque’s South Valley, AFSC, community partners and three beginning farmers created the Agri-Cultura Network (ACN), a farmer-run association. AFSC incubated the network and encouraged farmers the group trained to collaborate, jointly market their food and sell to the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS). By 2012, the farmers were able to run the program independently. ACN has grown to 12 farms and has sold to APS for the past four years. The network has created an innovative Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that works to ensure local organic food is accessible to low-income families. In its first year, 20 families were part of the CSA. It has now grown to 250 families, half of whom are low-income and receive a bag of produce every week for only $5.