Today was the longest – and, in my book, the most inspirational – day of the field school so far. We left the hotel at 8am and returned after 11pm, exhausted but utterly enthused by everything we had learned. Our first stop of the day was at the Taos Pueblo Red Willow Education Center, where we got a tour of the fields and greenhouses run by the pueblo community members. The farm grows an assortment of heritage and hybrid crops, and utilizes renewable energy in its agricultural systems and infrastructure. Its greenhouses, which are heated by a biomass burner during the cooler months, were full of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, onions, peas, turnips, chard, lettuces and artichokes. Wood for the biomass burner is collected from downed trees on pueblo lands, as a part of a cooperative timber management effort with the US Forest Service. Crops in the greenhouses and fields are irrigated by a drip system that is powered by a small photovoltaic unit onsite. A number of youth were working in the fields during our visit, and we joined them in weeding the beds of onions, garlic and the three sisters (corn, beans and squash). Service learning is an integral part of the farm’s mission; during the summer pueblo youth are encouraged to volunteer in the fields and at the Red Willow farmers’ market to build their growing and marketing skills.
After a brief stop at the Taos Pueblo (where they were gearing up to celebrate the San Antonio Feast Day), we headed south to the Taos County Economic Development Corporation (TCEDC). There we enjoyed a lunch of delicious goodies made by local value-added producers in TCEDC’s commercial kitchen, while listening to a presentation from the dynamic female duo Pati Martinson and Terrie Bad Hand, the co-directors and founders of the non-profit organization. The TCEDC is a socially-driven organization, based on community, unity, equity and opportunity. Among the many programs that they promote are the Taos Food Center and the Mobile Matanza. Since 1997, the Taos Food Center has assisted over 100 local food entrepreneurs in developing their specialty food product businesses. The 5000 square foot licensed commercial kitchen and Food Sector Opportunity Program classes (which cover product development, food safety, regulatory information, business planning and marketing research) are available to interested community members. The Mobile Matanza is New Mexico’s first mobile livestock slaughtering unit. It operates within a 100-mile radius of Taos, serving small farmers and ranchers in Northern New Mexico. The Mobile Matanza harvests beef, lamb, pork, goats, yak and tribal bison. Five to eight animals can be slaughtered each day; the carcasses are then transported in the refrigerated compartment of the Mobile Matanza back to the TCEDC’s cut and wrap facility. All slaughter and processing activities are overseen by a USDA Inspector.
Our last stop of the day was to Sol Feliz Farm, just south of Taos. Miguel Santistevan operates the farm and is the newly elected mayordomo of the Acequia Sur del Rio Don Fernando de Taos, which irrigates his land. He gave us a brief history of the land – which has been in his family for generations – and a tour of his fields, chickens, and ditch system. Miguel focuses on growing traditional foods, including many native varieties of beans, corn and melons from the Southwest and Mexico. Although his land has water rights to the acequia, he does grow some drought-tolerant crops (like garbanzos and lentils) using dryland agriculture techniques. Because it has been a very dry year for much of the state, Miguel is worried that water in his acequia will run dry before the irrigation season ends in October. In addition to farming, Miguel is an active member of Taos’ sustainability community, teaching hands-on workshops and courses for youth and adults. He is also a vocal proponent of seed saving and seed sovereignty.
In the early evening, on the way to a delicious East Indian dinner at the Dragonfly Café in downtown Taos, we stopped at Raw to Go, a small raw foods restaurant owned and operated by our very own Taamer Fasheh. Taamer prepared a number of raw and vegan appetizers for us to sample, including raw dark chocolate truffles, stuffed red peppers, kombucha and coconut water. Although many of his raw ingredients come from thousands of miles away, he is currently working on sourcing more of his products locally. Check out his informational booth at the Taos Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. Keep up the delicious work, Taamer!