Soil stewardship in New Mexico

posted in: Champions, Regenerative Ag | 2

A small sample of farms and ranches showcasing innovative and time tested management approaches for soil health being implemented in our state.

We’re always growing 2 crops, one for us and one for the microbes.

Minor Morgan

North Valley Organics, Albuquerque

Farmers Minor Morgan and Matthew Draper affirm that when embracing the soil health principles, application will follow. Their prime directive: “We’re always growing 2 crops, one for us and one for the microbes” reflects a paradigm shift away from looking solely at crop yields. Instead, they focus on actual profit through greater soil health. When sharing what they’ve learned in the context of a small-scale urban farm, they emphasize that everything they do is replicable and scalable. Minor is a USDA/NRCS Certified Technical Service Provider (TSP) for farmers transitioning to organic practices, including large scale operations switching to no-till or minimum tillage.

Learn more about North Valley Organics in this webinar by NRCS: Improving Soil Health on Urban Farms

Visit the website of North Valley Organics

Tesuque Farm, Pueblo of Tesuque

Pueblo people have farmed in Tesuque since at least the 1300s. Through the centuries they developed methods to raise their crops with a limited source of water. At Tesuque Farm, director Emigdio Ballón and farm manager Gailey Morgan blend traditional methods with innovative agricultural practices that build soil, increase the farm’s resilience and make the most of available water. These include the use of perennials and cover crops to keep living roots in the soil year-round, composting and vermicomposting. Drought resistant and locally adapted seeds of cultural importance are preserved in the most extensive seed bank in the state.

Seed Memory, Santa Fe Reporter 02/28/2017

I love the wildlife. As they say, what’s good for the bird is good for the herd. 

Jim Berlier

San Pablo Ranch, Encino

Through planned grazing that provides adequate pasture recovery time and strategic stocking rates, Jim Berlier has achieved significant increases in soil health as well as plant and wildlife diversity on his 10,000 acre ranch. To avoid cattle congregating and overgrazing near central water tanks, he designed a water system involving 15 miles of pipe to serve all his pastures. Planned grazing has been good for the bottom line, because with more cover, including both warm and cold season grasses, he’s been able to cut back on supplemental feed. Besides the land being profitable and more resilient to drought, Jim recognizes the benefits of a healthy ecosystem in providing satisfaction and pride in a way of life.

Stewardship with Vision –video by filmmaker Evangeline Koonce, produced by Western Landowners Alliance.

C4 Farms, Chama Valley

Tommy Casados studied range science at New Mexico State University, then worked for many years as a range management specialist and soil conservationist with the NRCS/USDA. On his ranch, he uses planned grazing and many innovative, creative strategies to restore soil and ecosystem health. For example, he’s had great success using his cattle to clear sagebrush from pasture in order to bring back native grasses and increase year-round cover. In winter, when terpine levels in sagebrush are low, he encourages his cows to eat and, in the process, trample the shrubs. After an initial kill of about 90% and some re-sprouting in a wet spring, about 60% of sagebrush remains crushed and dead, while at the same time the herd’s hoof action and manure enriches the soil. Tommy also strategically feeds hay in problem areas with bare ground.

All the Way, Santa Fe Reporter 06/12/2019

Visit C4 Farms website to order online for home delivery or see them at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.

There is always a calling for what you should be doing and how the land fits your health and your family traditions.

Don Bustos

Santa Cruz Farm, Española

Mayordomo Don Bustos is farming on land that has been in his family for 400 years. Located in the high desert, Santa Cruz Farm’s sandy loam soil has only 1-2% organic matter, and the region sees an average rainfall of 8 inches per year. Soil health on the farm is maintained through green manures (e.g. alfalfa) or cover crops (e.g. cows peas, black eyed peas, pinto beans and vetch), crop rotations, and the use of compost tea to enhance the soil biome. They harvest over 70 varieties of vegetables and fruits, including perennials such as berries and asparagus. Santa Cruz Farm has a diversified marketing approach, including selling directly to the local school district as part of the NM Farm To School program. The farm offers a CSA, providing produce on a weekly basis to about thirty families, and they also sell directly to local stores and restaurants. Don has been involved in agricultural policy and advocacy for over 20 years and is passionate about training the younger generation to work the land and keeping the tradition of family farming alive.

James Beard Foundation honors Bustos’ fight for rights, education of farmers, Santa Fe New Mexican 06/13/2015

I’ve heard continuously that ‘it won’t work here,’ but we’ve disproved that with the success of our ranch.

Tom Sidwell

JX Ranch, Tucumcari

In 2004, when Tom Sidwell and his wife Mimi purchased the JX Ranch, the land was depleted and there was much bare ground from years of overgrazing. Using solar-powered electric fencing, Tom divided the ranch into 25 pastures, each with access to water. Mimicking the buffalo that once roamed the American West, he grouped his 200 head of cattle into one herd, moving them on average every five days so that each pasture is resting at least 90 percent of the year. Today, restored soil health resulted in the return of a dormant spring and the land is more productive and resilient to drought. Tom has been able to reduce cost per cattle, increase carrying capacity, and increase conception rates. Using holistic financial planning is integral to achieving long-term stability, controlling income and expenses that the ranch generates.

The JX Ranch, by Courtney White, 01/17/2020

Community coming back together in harmony, in unity, in nutrition.

Joseph Brophy Toledo

Flower Hill Institute, Pueblo of Jemez

Since the beginning of time, Puebloan farmers have worked with soil, seeds and water in hot summer seasons to bring sustenance to their communities. This traditional practice is more than growing food; it also represents an essential piece of cultural preservation. On a 5 acre field laboratory, Flower Hill Institute is demonstrating techniques of water conservation and soil restoration using no-till farming, cover crops, natural and organic fertilizers, and underground irrigation systems. Co-founders Roger Fragua and Joseph Brophy Toledo are working to involve youth in traditional life-ways, offering workshops on soil health in local schools and summer camps in community fields.

Visit the Flower Hill Institute website

Ranney Ranch, Corona

Owner Nancy Ranney and ranch manager Melvin Johnson implemented a planned grazing program in 2002, bringing 19 herds of cattle into one and grazing pastures at most twice a year for short timeframes. Economic benefits include a reduction of feed costs by 60%, even during drought years. Since the cows are all in one herd, fewer bulls are needed, a significant savings. Fuel costs of checking on one herd are lower and in the fall, animals are gathered in one morning, when three or four weeks were previously needed. The most astounding improvement however is in the health of the rangeland. Within three years of changing to planned grazing, soil organic matter increased and blue grama monoculture was replaced with over 45 species of native perennial grasses –without additional seeding. The benefits for cows, wildlife, soil health and for the retention of water on the range are substantial.

Success stories: Ranney Ranch, Holistic Management International

Grazing Like It’s 1799: How Ranchers Can Bring Back Grassland Birds, Audubon Magazine, Summer 2019

A Fence and an Owner, video by Peter Byck

 It is not about the additives; it is about how healthy the ecology of the soil is.

Chris Pieper

Mudd N Flood, Arroyo Seco

At their small 2-acre farm, Chris Pieper and Elana Lombard are pioneering regenerative farming techniques to restore the soil’s health and water holding capacity. They raise goats, geese and chickens and grow onions, garlic, carrots, corn, kale and beans. Their potato patch is as innovative as it is successful: for the first three years, the ground is being prepared by adding layers of wood chips and goat manure, watering occasionally. Earthworms and microorganisms increase, eventually turning clay caliche into rich, dark loam. Potatoes are planted into new layers of wood chips and goat manure and easily harvested without disturbance. Yields are good, especially during a dry year.

You say potato, they say potatoes, Taos News 09/14/2018

The source of our demise in land and water can be traced back to industrial farming techniques. 

James Skeet

Covenant Pathways/Spirit Farm, Vanderwagen

James Skeet and his wife Joyce founded the Native-led educational non-profit Covenant Pathways and established Spirit Farm on Navajo Nation as a demonstration farm focused on healing the high desert southwestern soil with the intentional use of microbiology and composting. Their goal is to reclaim traditional farming and spiritual practices and pair them with regenerative methods to achieve resiliency and food sovereignty in the local Navajo and Zuni communities. Covenant Pathways offers farm tours and classes on soil microbiology and compost, teaching growers how to increase the quantity and quality of their produce, as well as use less water. Interested tribal members receive assistance with their gardens and access to fresh eggs, chickens, and vegetables.

The Soil Life Research of Covenant Pathways, Health and Climate Solutions Blog: George Mason University 10/03/2019

Visit the Covenant Pathways website

…upholding an ancient tradition of growing food with small scale tools and regenerative methods.

Joshua Shelburne

Whole Heart Farm

Whole Heart Farm is an urban market garden in the heart of Albuquerque, based primarily on Jean-Martin Fortier’s regenerative and economically efficient model for small scale farms. Biologically intensive cropping practices produce an abundance of food with higher nutritional quality. Owner/manager Joshua Shelburne uses low-till and no-till processes, always striving to make decisions that will increase the organic matter in the soil. Joshua doesn’t use any pesticides or herbicides on his land. His wife Katie runs the successful CSA and the couple is taking online-orders through their email list, to be picked up directly at the farm or at the Downtown Growers market, when in season.

Read this short portrait of Whole Heart Farm, compiled by HMI.

Sign up for the Produce Pick-Up at the Whole Heart Farm website or find them at the Downtown Growers Market.

Pueblo of Santa Ana

For the Pueblo of Santa Ana, home to the Tamayame people, regenerative land management has been the foundation to support the long-term health of wildlife and human communities alike. Through the use of extensive riparian restoration, forest management, wildlife reintroduction, ecological monitoring, and carefully planned livestock grazing, the Pueblo of Santa Ana has been able to steward its high-desert lands, while increasing the economic productivity of tribal ranchers. Meticulous observation is at the heart of Santa Ana’s planned grazing program, using 140 vegetation monitoring points to track and design management to support optimal plant recovery, prevent overgrazing, and protect the soil.

Pueblo of Santa Ana, Profiles in Land Management

Growing in a regenerative way, you need creativity and patience.

Yosef hernandez

Unity Community, Las Cruces

Yosef and Elizabeth Hernandez are stewarding a healthy environment for their 2-year old son, applying the principles of permaculture to transform a sandy patch of chaparral and creosote into a thriving, productive homestead. Using only hand tools, Yosef creates earth works (mini swales) to slow down and catch often destructive winter rains, applies homemade compost and biochar and plants a mix of annuals and perennials to establish a self-sustaining food forest. Korean Natural Farming techniques and compost teas cultivate the diversity and health of soil microbes. Yosef’s farmers market stand is known for colorful varieties and novel foods such as purple celery or asian long beans, and a wide variety of greens. Customers often exclaim:”That’s how produce used to taste!” –a quality reflecting nutritional health directly attributable to the living soil.

2 Responses

  1. Grace Foster

    Your messages direct my sight to see over the New Mexico farming, the past and the wisdom of changing, or called creating new ecosystems. Good job.

    • admin

      Thank you, Grace!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *