Student Spotlights

South Valley farm makes it all about community

By Jonathan Baca, Copy Editor | Photos By Jonathan Baca

farm 1 farm 2

In Albuquerque’s South Valley, there is a farm that seems to be removed from time, where people are growing food and rais­ing animals the same way our ancestors did hundreds of years ago.

Anthropology major Elli Klein said this place is known as Erda Gardens, and members of the CNM community are hard at work here trying to pre­serve agricultural tradi­tions, protect the envi­ronment, and above all to produce high quality food in the most sustain­able way possible.

“We’d really like to see the South Valley, and all of Albuquerque, get restored back to its agricultural heritage,” Klein said, who lives on one of Erda’s prop­erties and is one of four main farmers.

Erda Gardens is spread out over about six acres on several sites around the South Valley that have been leased from the county, and the members of this collec­tive work the land by hand, using almost no gas or elec­tric powered tools and no pesticides or chemical fertil­izers, Klein said.

Full-time SAGE instructor, Jessica Mills, who has been on Erda’s board of directors for four years said the farm is Albuquerque’s oldest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) opera­tion, a model where mem­bers pay or work for a share of the farm’s crop, and share equally in the bounty and the risk.

“It takes the burden off the farmer as being the only person who suf­fers loss in the case of a poor growing season. It spreads that risk out among many. You are committed to a farm, instead of just being a passive consumer, want­ing to just have the farmer serve you as a customer,” Mills said.

Members pay $600 for a full share, and this guarantees them a box of produce every week for six months. When there is a bountiful crop, mem­bers can receive more food than they need, and when the harvest suffers due to weather or other factors, they all share the risk, and the farmer does not go out of business, Klein said.

The CSA model, like the farm’s growing prac­tices, is aimed at sustain­ability and shared pros­perity and responsibility, values that have completely disappeared from the large scale, corporate monocul­ture model that has taken over the world of farming, Mills said.

“It assumes a complete paradigm shift in thinking. People who are involved with a CSA are no longer a customer who doesn’t have a voice. They are a member of a farming project; they are part of a community who are doing something together and collectively. So it is truly community building, and that in and of itself is priceless,” Mills said.

At Erda Gardens one can see a large variety of crops grown there, from leafy greens and vegetables to herbs and spices.

A larger orchard on the property provides peaches, apricots, and several other fruits, along with several kinds of berries and grapes.

Klein also helps to raise free range chickens, geese, and several bee­hives, along with a small but growing family of goats that produce milk.

Each week, the produce box that mem­bers receive is different; containing whatever crop is in season and is being harvested.

This type of system highlights the values of the farm, where members are partners with the farmers, and the farmers are partners with the land, Klein said.

“In the corporate structure of our food system, we have very little choice and very little power as far as what we get to eat. And so here we get to preserve native varieties, heirloom seeds, and try to produce crops that are well suited for our climate here. If you eat local food and plants from your environment, you’ll be more resilient in that envi­ronment,” Klein said.

Another important value at Erda is environmen­tally sustainable farming, and Klein said they are com­mitted to using zero pesti­cides and harmful chemicals, virtually no gas-powered tractors, and watering tech­niques that aim to preserve the limited resources of our state and climate.

Klein said that Erda is strongly opposed to genetically modified crops (GMOs), and that the farmers work hard to use heirloom seeds that have been passed down for generations, further preserving the area’s agricultural heritage as well as ensuring their members’ health.

Erda is also Albuquerque’s only biody­namic farm, a type of farm­ing developed in the 1920s that uses the movements of celestial bodies as a guide to planting and harvesting, in an effort to achieve greater harmony with natural cycles, Klein said.

“Biodynamic farmers use astronomical planting calendars, homeopathic preparations as well as special composts to opti­mize soil and plant health. This approach recognizes the spiritual effect of agriculture in our envi­ronment and utilizes the interconnections among soil, plant and animal life,” according to their website at erdagardens.org.

Although Erda’s model is based on being a small operation, Klein said there are several ways that the farm could grow without compromising their qual­ity and values.

Their major short term goal, Klein said, is to buy as much of the land they work on as possible, which is no small feat.

Klein said they would also like to eventually start a small elementary school, where kids would learn the skills and values of small-scale farming.

Mills said that small, community-based, envi­ronmentally friendly farming is the future, for the long-term sur­vival of the planet, as well as the health of individuals and communities.

She said that people can begin making small steps toward this future, by joining a CSA, shop­ping at co-ops and farm­er’s markets, and plant­ing backyard gardens. She said she feels that the extra effort is abso­lutely worth it, to ensure a happy and healthy future for everyone.

“It’s good for your health, it’s good for the environment’s health, and it’s great for building community. And the food tastes better, absolutely hands down,” Mills said.

To learn more about Erda, go to erdagardens.org, or to find out about volunteer opportuni­ties, students can email Elli Klein at openpalm­sesame@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s