By: Don Bustos, farmer and owner of organic Santa Cruz Farm in the Española Valley
Sustainable agriculture and environmental justice are two of the many ways traditional people of the land have used to survive for generations on the edge of the Sonoran Desert. This desert holds and provides shelter, water and food to plants, animals and humans. Using the same rituals, traditions and knowledge as our ancestors, incorporated with new technologies, we are able to survive and protect our environment for future generations. At least this is what we do and practice in the Santa Cruz Farm located near Española, New Mexico.
At Santa Cruz Farm we have been nurturing the soil for several hundred years, listening to the spirits of the land and learning to farm in harmony. My ancestors established the farm in the late 1500’s. They cultivated vegetables and raised animals for survival. They also shared and bartered with other community members. The farm was named after the Church in the Santa Cruz de la Cañada Land grant. The land grant was settled by sixteen families that migrated from Central America with ties to Spain. The original land grant was 44,600 acres and was deeded to the community in 1586. We now grow vegetables twelve months per year using nothing but solar energy, vegan methods and the “acequia” system to irrigate.
The new awareness of where our food comes from, who is growing it and what methods are used to grow it has allowed us to share our centuries old practices on how to protect our water and land. Modern research results support the need to preserve ancestral knowledge to protect the environment, and thus the need to understand how important it is to grow our own food in New Mexico.
There are several reasons we need to know how our food is produced. We all understand the need for a local food supply as it relates to the transportation issue and the damage caused by moving food from across the country and sometimes globally, depending on the seasons and places where the food is produced. We also have to account for the chemicals used in large agricultural business where growing food at all cost is the motto. Nitrates derived from over fertilizing with both chemical and animal byproducts are contaminating entire water resources. There are corporations and some countries that believe that genetically modified organisms and hybrid seeds are the best way to supply the world with food. This is complete opposite from traditional people views in which you harvest what is needed and leave the rest for the next generation.
There are several ways people have created a healthy environment around farming. One of the traditional methods has been the use of organic practices. Way before organic was a buzzword, our people were using sustainable practices for generations, raising livestock not only to consume meat but also to use manure for growing vegetables. The herds were used for grazing the plains and forests thereby helping keep down grasses. The forests were used to harvest for firewood as a natural thinning process to help curb the huge forest fires we are experiencing now. The natural path water used to clear sediment and debris was developed to irrigate farm land as it was cleared and leveled for growing crops and fruits trees.
The “acequia” system, enhanced by the Spanish, allow for the slow flow of water to recharge aquifers. It also provided a natural buffer for filtering runoff water during the rainy season, which causes less erosion and flooding. Food safety is a concern for the United States Department of Agriculture, which has experienced more contamination of vegetables and meat in our food supply. In traditional farming every step of growing or raising livestock is tracked and monitored on a daily basis using tried and proven methods. The teachings from our mothers and fathers passed down from generation to generation have a place in modern science because it was holistic and organic before people knew that holistic and organic was the way to co-exist with the environment.