By Serafina Lombardi
The New Mexico Acequia Association hosted a farmer/rancher outreach workshop in Chimayo on December 13th. On the eve of a potential snow the 50 plus participants at the work sent up their prayers for snow and got down to business. The morning after, we knew we had a successful event as we woke up to snow!
The workshop was the first of six that NMAA's Farmer-Rancher Outreach team will hold across northern New Mexico in the next year. We asked participants to consider how they want to grow their farm or ranch operation, what their agricultural goals are, how they will steward their land through the drought, and which programs that were presented to them by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) might serve them in these endeavors?
Pilar Trujillo, NMAA Project Specialist, introduced the crowd to an overview of NMAA, and our newest staff member Carlos Bustos shared information about our acequia governance project. We then heard from our USDA representative, Thomas Gonzales (NRCS, Rio Arriba County) and Sharon Elias (NRCS, Santa Fe County). They touched on programs available to support acequias and individuals and eligibility requirements (see article below by Patrick Staib for more details). They encouraged us to spend time considering what exactly we want for our farms so they can best assist us with technical and design information that will support time and money saving conservation practices.
Following the NRCS presentation, Sheryl LaRue of FSA, provided an overview of specific crop insurance programs, which are highly under-utilized in New Mexico; and loan programs that currently have historically low interest rates. Also, she encouraged us to take advantage of a process called "assignments" that allow you to pay contractors that are helping you implement a project by receiving a deferred payment contract, where the "cost-share" monies from the USDA go directly to the contractor once the project is completed to specs. This elevates the burden of the upfront cost of implementing a project. Cost-share means that the USDA will reimburse you a percentage of the project, usually anywhere from 60-95%.
Many of us are unfamiliar with government programs or what it would be like to partake in them. This was illuminated and demystified during a presentation by Marisela Trujillo. Mrs. Trujillo of El Rincon Farm on the Acequia de la Cañada Ancha. She explained, in detail, her experience in with working with the "friendly" staff of both the FSA and NRCS. She described some funding complications that were eventually worked out when applying for a cost-share program to get her settling pond lined with Bentonite clay. Pleased with the outcome of that project, she decided to participate in the "High tunnel" program, erecting a 30ft by 70ft plastic structure to extend their growing season. She reported how on a recent night it stayed 25 degrees warmer in the High Tunnel, under the row cover – to her surprise keeping their lettuce crop alive! That same day they harvested 15 pounds of lettuce that was sold to Cid's in Taos through Cosecha Del Norte: A growing Co-op.
Ms. Trujillo's experience was a true testament to the idea that season extension can bring some "off-season" revenue to your operation and feed your family and community fresh healthy food in the winter! The Farmer-Rancher Outreach team was there to remind everyone that we are here to support you through the process of identifying, applying, funding and implementing programs. Growing crops in a high tunnel may be new to many of us, yet our team can assist you with ideas about what to grow and when to plant.
The evening closed by focusing on local issues. Kenny Salazar, NMAA Acequia Governance Specialist and president of the Santa Cruz Irrigation District (SCID), reported on the important and long-term work being done to be shovel ready and fully funded to raise the Santa Cruz Dam by 8 feet, which will give acequias in the area an additional day of water storage for a total of four days. We are grateful for the tireless efforts of the SCID to realize this effort.
Workshop participants also heard from Joanne Medina of the Low-Rider Art Gallery representing the Chimayo Association of Businesses. As promoters of local enterprises they are here to collaborate with us in considering a local farmers market or other promotional activities. This stirred up lots of interest in the crowd and brought to light the work of the Chimayo Citizens for Community Planning which has explored having a local harvest festival. Further exploration of this topic had to be left for a future community gathering.
Our efforts in making these programs accessible are intended to support acequieros in keeping their operations viable. This empowers acequia farmers to continue their traditional practices by putting the acequia water to its highest use – feeding our communities and teaching the next generation. We encourage you to contact the NMAA Farmer/Rancher outreach team to support you in implementing the exciting programs that are available.