But then, it’s Albuquerque, New Mexico, and it’s summer.
The fields are green, here on the land of the Rio Grande Community Farm (RGCF) nonprofit. Flowers bloom in the four-foot-tall hedgerows that edge each microfarm’s five beds, one hundred feet long and thirty inches wide, with an 18-inch pathway snaking through them. That’s all it takes to build abundance from the earth. No pesticides, nothing synthetic, just good soil.
That’s regenerative agriculture for you, though – it’s always about the soil. Can’t ever forget that. Soil, biodiversity, carbon capture, and community, both human and that of the Earth. And these microfarms offer a great demonstration of just how effective this approach can be.
It’s amazing what can be done in a microfarm only 1/8th of an acre big – microgreens grow here, tomatoes, okra, herbs, cucumbers, flowers, and even squash. Bees buzz, butterflies float across the space, and birds chirp – it can even get loud. Habitat for pollinators and wildlife is actively encouraged here, and it shows. This might be urban farmland, but the RGCF has a solid partnership with Albuquerque Open Space, leasing land to the farmers it helps, offering them irrigation water (they even have a well on their property), education, equipment, training, technical assistance, and soil assessment. There are twenty-six microfarmers at the moment, and their numbers are growing.
And the RGCF is deliberately inclusive, nurturing people as well as the environment through their creation of a space for the neurodivergent to join their ranks, carefully aiding them to become microfarmers with their own responsibilities. And so these folks, too often dismissed and ignored, are building the resilience of both their community and the Earth and honoring their own souls in the doing.
The RGCF also considers wildlife important players in their farms, where more than 25% of the land leased from Albuquerque Open Space is kept for habitat. This commitment to nature drives the nonprofit’s support of a two-acre habitat area, as well as three additional acres that they just took on, which they plan to turn into a permanent wildlife habitat. This project is still in the beginning phases as they seek partners in the work and raise money to support it. There is also a 22-year-old Alvarado Elementary School Pollinator Garden on the RGCF grounds. And in every microform, the four-foot-tall hedgerow bordering garden beds offers a place for birds and pollinators to thrive, improving the biodiversity of the land.
The RGCF also offers aid to underserved communities, supporting the labor of their Food Justice group members, who donate all their harvests to community food banks. The nonprofit also tends 150 fruit trees, whose produce is available to those in need. And then there are the sixty-seven community garden plots that are in active service, too. Finally, the RGCF educational program partners with the Larry P. Abraham Agri-Nature Center and Explora! in a project designed to open doors for the youth of such communities, teaching them about healthy soil and its importance.
Summer farm camps are another RGCF program, in which they partner with the Albuquerque Open Space Division to bring nineteen community centers with daycare programs for six-to-nine-year-olds to the farm. The children learn about hoop houses and intercropping, discover how ordinary food such as cucumbers and tomatoes reach their own plates, and gain a new understanding of pollinators and other wildlife, all of which offer them the opportunity to connect with nature. This program is expected to expand this year.
Lastly, the RGCF acts as a fiscal sponsor to both Better Together CSA, a coalition of eight farms that pull together to build food boxes for its community, and to Friends of the Candelaria Nature Preserve, which is in the process of converting its space into a nature preserve to honor its name.
That’s what the Rio Grande Community Farm is all about, honoring the community it serves through creating opportunities for farmers and supporting their efforts so that everyone can thrive, people and community and planet, all together. Their work might not be possible without the generous backing of their donors, as well as the various grants offered to the RGCF by the Albuquerque Community Foundation, the NUSENDA Credit Union, and others, all of which allow the nonprofit to create programs to empower all their participants. In addition, various membership levels offer engagement opportunities to civic-minded folks who might be interested in supporting the RGCF, providing discounts with local businesses such as Osuna Nursery and Alameda Greenhouse, as well as access to t-shirts, hoodies, hats, totes, bandannas, and other merchandise.
There are four fundraising events across the year, which frequently offer live music, educational workshops, and family activities. The Spring Festival offers all of these, as well as plant sales of heirloom seedlings for the eager gardener, beer and wine tasting, access to many local vendors of various types, and great food trucks. The Lavender Festival is a relatively new summer event, set in the village of Los Ranchos, another of RGCF’s partners.
And then there’s the annual Fall Harvest Dinner, which in 2022 consisted of a five-course meal from The Sprouting Kitchen featuring local produce and meat, plus craft cocktails by Still Spirits. Set under the majestic cottonwood tree in the Los Poblanos Open Space, the fundraiser was followed by a silent auction of items from Los Poblanos Inn, Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon Rides, Betty’s Bath and Day Spa, Sarabande Bed and Breakfast, and many more.
And finally, there’s the Maize Maze, the 8-acre field crafted into a stunning maze design that differs each year, and offers live music and educational workshops, and children’s activities – a great adventure for the whole family! Across the years, the celebration has taken on different flavors – the Moonlit Maze, the Fractal Maze, the Haunted Corn Maze, the Starlight Maze, the ZiAmaizing Maze, and so on. This festival has also welcomed a vegetable contest, a celebration of pollinators, and more. Local vendors peddle their wares, musicians share their art, cooks demonstrate their expertise and even llama wranglers have their place. All in all, it’s a fascinating example of what a true community farm can do, and all the revenue gained goes back into building community assets such as those described above.
The best farmers, though, share their journey and their learning with others, creating a community of like-minded folks dedicated to working the land. One such organization is the nationally-based Young Farmer’s Coalition (YFC), which welcomes members both young and experienced, and describes itself as “farmers and ranchers who steward the struggle to transform agriculture… an intersectional coalition that works for justice and collective liberation of our food and farm systems.”
Concerned as the YFC is with climate change, focused on achieving racial equity and social justice, and explicitly interested in policy change that honors community and planet, it’s easy to understand why the Rio Grande Community Farm is the fiscal sponsor of the appropriately named local chapter Rio Grande Farmer’s Coalition.
So forward ho! Let’s celebrate organizations like the Rio Grande Community Farm and its partners and collaborators – the Alvarado Elementary School, the community centers of Albuquerque, the Agri-Nature Center and Explora!, Albuquerque Open Space Division, Albuquerque Community Foundation, the NUSENDA Credit Union, Friends of the Candelaria Nature Preserve, Better Together CSA, and the Young Farmers Coalition. Their work offers an impressive showcase of the best kind of community wealth, what it looks like, and how to build it. And more than anything else, let’s respect the Earth and the work that so many people are engaged in to honor it!
Jody is a sustainability writer, currently coordinating the Gila River Festival in Silver City. Her first novel, New Trails, Book 1, was published in 2020 (https://trail-talk.com/). She loves cosmology, quantum physics, and the paranormal, and hiking the wilderness with her dogs and her partner of thirty-six years.