Albuquerque has a remarkably thriving sustainable agriculture community. A perfect introduction for our students was the monthly Agriculture Collaborative meeting that takes place every second Wednesday at the Mid-Region Council of Governments building downtown. The Agriculture Collaborative brings together a diverse group of growers, producers, educators, activists and community members that are committed to promoting sustainable, profitable local food and agriculture in central New Mexico.
This month’s meeting focused on the basics of starting a cooperative business, from the perspective of farmers, producers and distributors. Susann Mikkelson, Director of the Southwest Cooperative Development Center, discussed the various types of cooperative food system models, such as community-owned retail stores, online markets, local food hubs and supply cooperatives. Regardless of the model, all co-ops must abide by the following seven principles:
- voluntary and open membership
- democratic member control
- member economic participation
- autonomy and independence
- education, training and information
- cooperation among cooperatives
- concern for community
In my mind, the last principle is of utmost importance. If we as individuals consciously support businesses that have a genuine concern for our communities, won’t we all become better off? Susann reminded us that world food supply is currently controlled by seven major corporations (scary factoid for the day!), but that co-ops can work to counteract this trend by making local joint enterprises viable and more profitable while keeping income and jobs in the community.
After the meeting wrapped up, we headed west a few miles to the Albuquerque Botanic Garden to see the Heritage Farm and Curandera Garden. Jacqueline Richmond, a volunteer docent for many years, walked us through the Heritage farm – and through the history of agriculture in New Mexico from the Columbian encounter onwards. The Heritage Farm is a recreation of an early 20th century farmstead, and includes an authentic farmhouse and barn (complete with Percheron draft horses, Alpine goats, a Jersey cow, Churro sheep and Dominique chickens), and a kitchen garden, corn fields, apple orchard, vineyard and berry patch. Many hands-on workshops and demonstrations are held year-round at the farm (e.g., canning, quilting, harvesting).
In the Cider Barn Classroom we met up with Laura Alonso de Franklin and Katherine White, two local curanderas. The women gave an impressive and inspiring presentation on curanderismo (Mexican folk healing), including both the medicinal and spiritual aspects of using herbs to heal. We learned how to identify and use local medicinal plants, and were also able to sample a variety of tinctures, elixirs, salves and dried herbs and roots. As a group we were led through a limpia, or spiritual cleansing meditation. Laura left us with an important reminder (and elegantly simplistic revelation, in my view) that all the nourishment one needs – in terms of food, medicine and spirituality – can be found right here in one’s own community.