If the popular outcry of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 was “Give us land, or be done with us!” perhaps the cry of the Nuevo Méxicano people of 2016 ought to be “The land is the source of our identitad, survival, health, strength and happiness. Let us reclaim her!”
Undoubtedly, when New Mexico’s land is cultivated, it is capable of generating life, health and an economy. For centuries, this land—though perhaps spartan in outward appearance—allowed its inhabitants to be both self-sufficient and healthy. Its people depended almost exclusively on the sustenance that surged from its soil, a soil consecrated across generations by the offerings and ceremonial dances of its native Pueblo peoples, as well as by the prayers and supplications of the humble, hard-working Mexicano people, who, after centuries of toil, conflict and amalgamation, also became heirs to the sacred and beloved tierra.
Because of this history, even today there is an abundance of arable plots of land throughout northern New Mexico. Although most are modest in size and lie fallow, they still constitute an important available resource for recovery of the health, vitality, economy and cultural viability of the region. This is also possible because of a tightly woven network of rivers, streams and acequias that ensures the region’s fairly reliable water supply that is fundamental to growing food.
Despite the pulverizing effects of the forces of materialism, drugs, alcohol and imprisonment, as well as a continuous exodus of talented native people, it is conceivable that northern New Mexico could develop the sort of workforce a resurgence of sustainable agriculture would require. Although difficult, many of those afflicted by these scourges could recover, particularly if they were to return to the rhythms of nature, creatively engage the land and work among a robust community of healthy people.
Reinforcements for this much-needed revolution of training and retraining people to reclaim the land are already here among us. They are la gente, who, in recent times, have arrived en masse from México and other parts of the world with the will to work la tierra and see it become productive. This is already happening in many places.
After languishing for a long time, the centuries-old, traditional small-scale agriculture of northern New Mexico finally met its demise by the late 20th century for several reasons. Chief among them were the low prices that agricultural products fetched in regional and national markets. This was the fate of all Third World countries and regions. Reinforced by modern education with its emphasis on commercial, industrial and technological pursuits, industries such as Los Alamos National Laboratory and huge mining and timber operations diverted the workforce away from farms.
With the collapse of the agricultural way of life that gave a certain meaning, beauty and coherence to life, huge numbers of people from rural communities relocated to New Mexico’s larger cities, where today they live out the frenzy of the cash economy and urban sprawl.
Recent changes indicate that it may be a positive thing for northern New Mexico’s people to return to cultivating the land, to whatever extent possible. Those in possession of land and the will to work it are now in a favorable position rather than at a disadvantage. The market has made an about-face. Large numbers of people, businesses and institutions are willing to pay a fair price for fresh, local and organic produce. Restaurants, public schools, wealthy and medium-income people value the rich flavor of locally grown frutas y verduras and their higher nutritional value. Well-established farmers’ markets in many communities can provide a tremendous boost to farmers and buyers.
Recent technological innovations have also contributed to the feasibility of small-scale farming. These days, it is possible to grow broccoli, kale, cauliflower, spinach, beets, turnips and other vegetables for eight or nine months out of the year if one takes advantage of the heat- and water-conservation qualities of cold frames and greenhouses. Moreover, as of late, government programs are making it simpler and cheaper to do so. Indeed, individuals in many communities are taking advantage of such programs.
Drip irrigation systems have dispensed with the need to use large quantities of water or to irrigate anything other than the plant itself. In addition to proven local heirloom varieties, the availability of seeds from around the world for common foods such as tomatoes, squash, melons, beans or wheat and access to plants such as blackberries or kale, largely unknown in this area, has added to the interest and profitability of regional small-scale farming.
The reclamation of land for growing food for local consumption and for the local market is bound to strengthen the economy, cultures and communities in a multitude of interconnected ways. Reclaiming fallow land overrun with invasive species, though arduous, may also prove to be catalytic to forging strong and well-rounded youth and familias.
Preferring glitzy virtual reality and the hypnotic magnetism of round-the-clock communication and entertainment over ordinary reality, many young people are no longer able to perform basic tasks such as preparing a meal or executing a simple carpentry project. In the electronic age, the average American has become even more isolated from both el mundo and, ironically, otra gente. Because of this, it is not uncommon to come across young people who lack a deep feeling toward other human beings, as well as all other life forms.
Some who have studied this disturbing trend are convinced that the only way out of this dead-end situation is for young people to creatively reengage with nature—our original teacher—together with a community of active people. Unlike the computer, nature is free of preconceived, finite programming. Instead, at every turn, nature can fully engage the body, mind and spirit with unfolding phenomena of infinite complexity. Interacting vigorously with nature, plants and animals, as one does on a farm, people come alive and respond to the things that need to be done such as the preparation of soil, sowing of seeds, irrigation, weeding, thinning, protection of plants from pests, mulching, harvesting, food processing and much more. Each of these processes can strengthen the body, sharpen the senses, inform the mind and inspire the spirit. When carried out in community, these activities foster sharing and cooperation, stimulate authentic communication and help build solid relationships.
When people of any age take on the challenge of planting a garden, unless they are the victims of circumstances such as drought or flooding, they will be immensely rewarded, not only by the outpouring of an abundance of produce at the end of the growing season but, also, at each stage of the plants’ development. Even if one claims to understand the workings of science, these experiences will transport the imagination—together with other human faculties—to the very heart and source of life itself. On a given day, a corn plant may not yet have produced a tassel; then, on the following day, one begins to appear, and, on the third day, it fully and gloriously proclaims to all creation its magnificence and ability to pollinate.
In time, acts of witnessing and participating in nature’s amazing workings become the building blocks of the wisdom that we hope to attain—the sort of wisdom many of our viejitos had. And so it is that by cultivating our beloved tierra we can be transformed into happier, more caring, sensitive and aware human beings. ¿Qué más queremos? What more do we want?
Alejandro López, writer, photographer and educator, grew up farming. He has spent many years helping restore his family’s 75-year-old farm in northern New Mexico. email@example.com