The Future of Sustainable Agriculture in Albuquerque

New Mexico’s local food production system is being cultivated through sustainability efforts in newly rewritten and revised planning documents. These multi-jurisdictional plans contain visions, goals, and policies surrounding sustainability of local health and agriculture systems, but will these efforts be enough to support future population growth, if executed to their fullest potential?

To begin, the Middle Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) encompasses the middle Rio Grande region including Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia, and Torrance counties, and focuses planning efforts for the future on a long-term regional scale. The Regional visioning process within the MRCOG Focus 2050 plan emphasizes preservation of agricultural, cultural, and historical areas, and emphasizes a regional focus based on inevitable future growth within the region. A federally mandated regional plan is necessary for all urban areas, and emphasizes key issues for the region based on a preferred land-use model:

These three different areas lead into a focus on issues of community health, agricultural preservation, and expansion of community open space. Focus 2050 regional plan outlines its decision power on who pays for open-space preservation and expansion, and provides a general framework to devise common goals for the future. Within the Focus 2050 plan, some smaller focus groups include the MRCOG Agriculture Collaborative, which outlines specific goals and operational strategies for regional conservation and preservation efforts.

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The triple bottom line of sustainability. Credit:

Currently the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are also in the process of rewriting and revising the county comprehensive plan, known as the ABC to Z Comprehensive Plan, which contains sections pertaining to land-use, parks and open-space, and resilience and sustainability. The document is currently online and is available for public review before the final draft will be voted on at the end of 2016. In the “Resilience and Sustainability” chapter, the plan references the generations principle as well as the triple bottom line of sustainability, with the biggest underlying future issue being water sustainability. A demand for resilient infrastructure would produce lower life cycle costs, and higher efficiency in public systems. A vision within the plan emphasizes agriculture as green space, and creation of signature parks within the county. The Bernalillo County Commission references the 2015 Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Master Plan for specific procedures regarding funding, acquisition of land, and future development of Open-Space and Parks/Recreation facilities.

P.R.O.S Master Plan was formulated based on surveys of community members and district officials, which produced a common vision of agriculture preservation, local food access, education venues, community based agriculture, and designated P.R.O.S facilities as a county health resource.

Here we have yet another version of the sustainability triple bottom line, but as a means to promote public health through fresh food and healthcare access. “Recreating recreation” is the resounding mission throughout the Parks, Recreation and Open Space plan, and funding for agriculture, health, and education venues is of highest priority. Stakeholders and partners such as NMFMA and NMSU Cooperative Extension Service are identified as partners to assist with educational programs at their facilities. At the same time, Open Space is one of the ultimate authorities on regulating local land-use, as they protect unique areas that are not zoned for urban development. In many cases, open space forms a greenbelt or growth boundary for an urban area, and has the power to influence preservation of natural areas, and promote infill development. An example of a high priority development in the plan is acquiring funding for agriculture improvements to the UNM North Golf Course, to build a water re-use pipeline to facilitate a campus farming operation.

Food policy councils are increasing in popularity throughout the U.S., and are focused on “the long process of striving in improvements in food for all, not the few.” The New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council originated through grassroots efforts to influence political policies regarding the local food economy, and has been successful in acquiring funding for farm-to-school, food education, farm to restaurants, farmers’ market expansion, and food assistance programs. Santa Fe has also formed a food policy council with similar efforts and successes, and serves as an example that a food policy council can exist on both a state and local level.  Albuquerque and Bernalillo County currently operate under the New Mexico Farm to Table policies, as well as in partnership with the NMSU Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service as stated in current planning documents.

Are the current planning efforts enough to sustain a strong local food system for the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County? Will the current and recent plan revisions eventually act as a de facto food policy council for Albuquerque, or do these planning documents simply draw the political framework necessary for a stronger local food economy? As a general observation, municipalities with successful food policy councils such as Santa Fe, and many others in the U.S., have year round farming and farmers’ markets as a potential measure of their success.

-Posted by Daniel

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