For years, a number of organizations in the southern part of the state, some associated with New Mexico State University, worked together to develop approaches for commercial agriculture that called for less tillage, greater use of cover crops and other techniques to build soil health and crop yields. In 2019, after years of development, the partners joined a Zone collaborative to address the question: What can be done to accelerate the return to and wider-scale adoption of regenerative agricultural practices?*
As a collaborative, working under the umbrella of Cruces Creatives, the group cultivated partnerships across the regenerative agriculture space, including farmers, peer organizations, policy and advocacy groups, institutional purchases such as the Las Cruces Public Schools, public and private funders, and educators. Together, the collaborative established Seed Groups – long-term, geographically concentrated cohorts of producers who are interested in sustainable and regenerative agriculture and who cooperate in peer-to-peer networking and knowledge sharing.
While regenerative agriculture practitioners continue to face barriers accessing the latest techniques and best practices, the collaborative has created an open-source technology sharing platform for regenerative agriculture, currently in field testing with Seed Group members. In response to producer technology requests, the project has also successfully developed and field-tested nine other prototype technologies for sustainable and regenerative agriculture.
As farmers continue to work together and share resources, the networking and camaraderie developed through Seed Groups has helped the farmers learn about, apply for, and leverage additional funding sources. They have been awarded a USDA NRCS technical assistance grant to partner with the Doña Ana Soil and Water conservation district to clarify the application processes for EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), CIG (Conservation Innovation Grants), and CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) programs, to help new farmers, ranchers, and producers from historically marginalized communities access funding for sustainable practices.
Seed Group farmers are the producers driving regenerative agriculture in New Mexico. They are farmers who have been drawn to the land for various reasons – but are connected by a deeply rooted, universal desire to grow and cultivate local produce in a sustainable way for the future of our state. These are some of their stories, in their own words.
*Regenerative Agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
I’m from Zuni, New Mexico. I started farming as a youth with my grandparents and my parents. I never thought I’d be doing this today; I’m very fortunate with where my road has traveled because I’ve gotten to meet all aspects of life. I have learned, and am still learning, about soil health and nematodes.
I helped out farming as a kid, but it was more playing around – more being in the way. But, as time went on, I was lucky that I was out there playing around, seeing everything that was happening on the land. I lost my grandpa at a young age – about 11-years-old. So, everything he taught me was right there for me. When my uncles didn’t take the initiative, it was me and my dad.
As farming goes, there aren’t a lot of generations that will continue the family farming business. That’s where we have obstacles for today’s farmers – there’s not enough family members to continue for family farming business, because families have gone through hardship in the past with farming. There hasn’t been that much network to build emotional instruments of support. Ten years ago, you barely heard about agriculture. But agriculture is something that is aligned with what I want to do back home [in Zuni].
My people are known for farming. Generations and generations. We’re pueblo, so we’re known for that. Just observing over the years, it looks like we’re getting distant from it. We can’t really change anything overnight, so I know it’s going to take time – such as I took time. I know how long it took for me to really understand what point of direction I was going.
In 2018, I went into the Grow the Growers program [in Bernalillo County]. I applied and happened to be one of the lucky five who were picked. From there on, I started taking soil health seriously. I started to learn what I needed to know about erosion control. It did a lot of good for me to start implementing what I learned. And, as time went on, just in months, I saw progress. I figured that I was onto something real.
When I graduated from the 2018 internship program with Grow the Growers, I started farming right off in 2019. I grabbed a tool called a broad fork. It’s a big old, heavy duty hand tool that gives oxygen to the ground. You have to have a lot of patience with it, and work with it. I had done four, hundred-foot rows and I had triple the yield off that year. It was so amazing, and everything looked nice. To this day, I go with it. I really want to get into no till, but that takes a while. That’s the goal – no till, a lot of veggies, and to create a seed bank.
My cash crop is sweet potatoes. I grow onions, garlic – silver skin and soft neck garlic. I sell to the Agri-Cultura Network and La Cosecha.* I love garlic and I know other people love garlic. I also know that we import garlic in New Mexico. I’m not going to stop the import, but I would love to be locally growing garlic for New Mexico.
Farming, to me, it means growth. It’s the way of life – everything grows in a certain period of time. Human nature does the same thing. Sometimes, we rush into growing and we forget all of the minor, little steps. But when you see a plant grow, you nurture it. You see it grow from way before putting the seed in. You’re prepping the ground and putting minerals or organic matter in the soil. After that, you put the irrigation line down. Then you water, and put the seed down and wait for it to germinate. From there, you just steward it and watch it grow. When I saw that, it reminded me of my kids – when they were young, and I watched them grow. They’re older now, but it was like seeing how much I missed; it shined a light on that. Hopefully, this farming brings us all together back home.
Where I come from, we always grew the three sisters: corn, beans and squash. That’s what I grew up on. You go to the grocery store, and you know about other vegetables. Carrots and all that other good stuff. I never knew I could grow them. Today, I can grow them. I don’t need to go to the store. I could grow them year ‘round if I wanted to, so that’s a good thing. I always thought that big ol’ corporations grew those. I never knew that a small group like Agri-Cultura could produce them. When I saw that, I thought, “If they’re doing it, why can’t I do it?”
My mother and my father’s sides were blessed with land. So, today, I am blessed with land. I have access to over a thousand acres back home. Most of it is grazing, but I’m trying to turn it around. What I really want to do is help out other farmers or people who want to become farmers. I’m hoping to work with people who have properties in Zuni and give them tools to start farming again – because, I think that’s what intimidates them: no tools and no support. We’ve got the land; we just need to utilize it and get back to our roots. That’s where I want to get to with not only my kids, but with our community’s kids.
I’m the owner and operator of Sublime Pastures, alongside my husband, Nathan Couevas. We are technically first-hand farmers.
My grandparents raised me – we’re originally from Las Vegas, New Mexico. My grandparents moved to Las Vegas, Nevada for jobs. I grew up on a pistachio and horse ranch, so I have some background in farming, but it was more of a hobby farm. I trained horses as a kid, and worked on the pistachio farm. That’s where my love of farming came from. I was a city kid – but farming was my outlet. It was my happy place.
When my grandparents retired, they relocated us to back to New Mexico. Our farm in Nevada was sold off to developers because there was no water; we couldn’t farm there anymore. We parceled out our five acres – the pistachios and horses – for development. We had lost our original land grant in New Mexico due to taxes, so we found this new property [currently Sublime Pastures]. I purchased this property from my grandparents in 2018, and took over their land.
In 2003, I got into a horrible car accident, and started having health issues. It took 10 years to get diagnosed with two rare autoimmune issues: relapsing, remitting multiple sclerosis and Stiff Person Syndrome, which is one in a million. Because of that, I have lots of food issues. That’s what started our farm – I began looking into growing food, because I can’t eat processed food, fried food.
I decided after my grandma had a stroke in 2016, I wanted a change of life. I’m a palliative care patient – no longer in treatment. So, I was not accepting death. I decided on herbals, and we moved to Belen and took over the property. That’s where the whole idea came from.
We run a regenerative farm that is kind of unique. We have Aberdeen cows, that are smaller cows for a smaller acreage. We take old hay fields and we take them into pastures. I have three or four other properties that I do this on. We use the cows to graze everything, and then the pigs come behind and pick all the weeds and the broad leaves. I fell in love with KuneKune pigs, so I became a breeder. I own four acres. I lease 12 acres for hay, and I lease another four acres to graze.
I do pork and chicken – the meat and the eggs. My trick is, I take grass and turn it into meat. All my animals are dewormed with herbs; there are no chemicals. We have dung beetles; we’re all about soil health. Healthy soil – healthy people. Healthy animals – healthy people. I sell at the farmers’ market [in Albuquerque] and people come to the farm, too. A lot of people come to the farm from social media. I’m the only organic chicken dealer at the Downtown Growers Market. We’re USDA processed, and approved for the chickens on the property.
I’m stubborn. Everybody told me I couldn’t farm. I laughed at that, and that’s what kept me going. I like challenge. My papa, he’s the one who says, “Go ahead! We’ll do it. We’ll do this adventure. That’s what life’s about.” Being raised around someone with that attitude, you just kinda go with it. Change is the only consistent thing in life.
If someone has the dream of farming – try it. Even if it’s on a quarter or an acre, you can do cover crops or chickens. Anybody who has that dream, take it and grow something. Even if it’s in a flower pot. Even if you have a window sill, start there and grow. We’re doing a farm-to-table program this summer with kids, because kids are so disconnected from their food and the ground and bugs. There’s a group of us that has teamed up to get kids in the dirt. There won’t be any restrictions. We’re trying to get kids in the dirt and away from spending so much of their time on computers. They need the sun, to feel connected to Mother Earth and to work together outside.
Being a farmer brings the community together. I’ve met so many people [in the Seed Groups] because of farming – farming means community. We can work with Mother Nature, and show that there are ways to farm without spending thousands of dollars on tractors and chemicals. There’s a way to live sustainably. This many people coming together for agriculture makes me so happy. We have a future in agriculture now. I was worried because people were selling off land – I was terrified of what that meant for the future.