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Listening and Learning From Local Food Stakeholders in New Mexico

Posted by Ken Keck, Agricultural Marketing Service’s Local Food Research and Development Division Director in Food and Nutrition Farming
Feb 21, 2017
AMS Local Food Research & Development Director Ken Keck (far right), AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (middle), and Rio Arriba County Agricultural Extension Agent Donald Martinez, Jr., (middle in the back with red shirt), check out the 'Tequila' sweet pepper
AMS Local Food Research and Development Director Ken Keck (far right), AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (middle), and Rio Arriba County Agricultural Extension Agent Donald Martinez, Jr., (middle in the back with red shirt), check out the 'Tequila' sweet pepper picked from the fields at Danny Farrar’s (far left) Rancho La Jolla in Velarde, NM. USDA photo courtesy of Peter Wood.

As part of National Farmers Market Week, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Anne L. Alonzo and I traveled to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. The bustling Santa Fe Farmers Market was the perfect place to kick off the week! While there, we also traveled to the beautiful countryside and met with key local food stakeholders during a special session and visits to local farms.  

The round table forum and farm visits allowed farmers, ranchers, and local food organizations to share their experiences. We heard from Danny Farrar, who owns Rancho La Jolla in Velarde and is also a member of the Farm to School Board of Directors. He told us that many of the northern New Mexico farmers who sell at farmers markets are growing fruits and vegetables on small family farms of just 3 to 5 acres and on land passed down through generations. He told us that keeping his land as a working farm is as important to his culture and heritage as it is to its profitability.

In the words of Don Bustos, who works on a farm passed down through many generations, “I’m not looking to make a killing, just enough to pay the bills and hope I can pass this land and farming on to the next generation.” 

We also heard from Serafina Lombardi who has worked on local farms and is hoping to establish her own farm with her family. Lombardi is part of the New Mexico Acequia Association, an association that supports the protection of water sources for communities to grow food and celebrates their cultural and spiritual traditions. She told us that maintaining water rights by continuing to farm the land is an important part of keeping the farming community viable. She also said that a major barrier for new farmers is the price of irrigated land. And that even though production can be achieved on a small acreage farm, acquiring even a small tract is very expensive.

Our stakeholders told us that providing clear, timely information to growers is important. Many folks expressed challenges when applying for USDA grants across agencies. They also suggested better guidance to states implementing our grant programs and more details in our sponsored training workshops.

Secretary Vilsack identified strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA’s commitment to rural economic development. The diversity of agencies represented at the round table is a testament to this commitment. We were joined by key stakeholders from other USDA agencies, state departments of agriculture and extension agencies. This included the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council, New Mexico state offices from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and local county extension agencies.

All of us at USDA are committed to supporting the local food sector during National Farmers Market Week and every other week! If you haven’t already, we encourage you to find your local farmers market and pay them a visit. We also encourage you to visit our Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative website, which coordinates USDA’s local food policies, resources, and outreach efforts.

AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo and Nicholas Maestas (center), Staffer from Congressman Ben Ray Lujan's Santa Fe office visiting Danny Farrar (right)
AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo and Nicholas Maestas (center), Staffer from Congressman Ben Ray Lujan's Santa Fe office visit Danny Farrar (right) at his booth at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. USDA photo courtesy of Peter Wood.
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition Farming