By Jonathan Baca, Copy Editor | Photos By Jonathan Baca
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 email@example.com.