I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
The elephant in the garden patch
The goal is lofty and laudable: Preserve farm land in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, help growers reach promising markets and cut greenhouse gases according to Kyoto Protocols.
That offer drew about 30 people to the Mid-Region Council of Governments (COG) Wednesday where COG’s Agriculture Collaborative brainstormed solutions with members of Mayor Martin Chavez’s Climate Action Task Force.
But in all the talk about greenhouses, heirloom vegetables and local garden tours, one question simmered: Would Chavez, widely regarded as the King of Sprawl, really defend small farmers against mega-builders?
When asked, most participants demurred, offering various versions of “no comment.”
But Michael Reed, a South Valley grower and president of the New Mexico Farmers Market, labeled himself a “very benevolent revolutionary” and waded in.
“We have, I hate to call it, `a fundamental duplicity,’ but it comes close,” he said of the meeting’s intent. “You have a city whose fundamental goal is growth. … I put up `zero population growth’ (as a suggested solution) because that’s fundamental, too. We can’t continue to grow.”
Jay Evans, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, defended the administration’s commitment to preserving 366 acres of farmland, citing open-space purchases that have resulted in community farms, dairy feed and crops for wildlife.
“The Open Space Division routinely manages and encourages that lifestyle,” he said. “Mayors have that bully pulpit to show the right thing to do.”
That said, the other elephants in the room, Evans told the group, were questions of where the water will come from and who will pay for it — questions, he did not add, that apply whether land is farmed or developed.
“These goals seem impossible,” he told the group. “I find them exciting — and daunting.”
During the 90-minute meeting, members of the collaborative — a five-year-old group — compiled suggestions to the task force’s Local Food and Agriculture Committee, a far newer group with a looming December deadline. Its final report to Chavez will aim to suggest policy changes the city can make to affect the city’s carbon footprint through agriculture, transportation, buildings and more.
“It’s not a $700 billion bailout or whatever,” said Phil Pohl, a food-defense worker for Sandia National Labs, who oversaw Wednesday’s meeting. “We want things that are practical, implementable and measurable.”
Among the collaborative’s suggestions:
- Offer tours of local gardens, with advice or workshops for do-it-yourselfers.
- Boost the use of indigenous plants and ancient growing techniques.
- Create a right to farm.
- Give farmers tax incentives.
- Improve processing, storage and transportation options for getting food from a field to a dinner plate.
One idea elicited good-natured, albeit fatalistic, laughs from the growers: Make farming profitable.
It’s just not that easy, said Ann Simon with COG. Beyond the vagaries of nature, growers grapple with labor and transportation costs while the value of each of their acres soars.
“It’s going for $100,000 and up an acre in the South Valley right now,” she said.
As for whether Wednesday’s meeting would produce a worthwhile harvest, Reed expressed skepticism.
“You have one committee after another,” he said. “I don’t know how many agricultural policy committees are already in existence. Whenever I hear `policy,’ I know we’re in bureaucratic dead-end land.”