The Now, the Future, and the Challenges of Small Scale Growing in Albuquerque

“Where tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers therefore are the founders of human civilization.”

Daniel Webster

The future of Albuquerque’s local agriculture can be seen in the present. This is evident by merely witnessing the transition from one generation of farmer to the next.

While visiting Montoya Farm I was greeted by the unyielding Tonie Montoya. Tonie is an Albuquerque local farmer who grows peaches, apples, plums, and cherries on his one acre orchard. He says his farm is best known for its famed peaches, which he sells at various local growers’ markets. His daughter, Christina and future son in law, Jordan, also assist on the farm. Christina hopes to work the farm indefinitely, a passion that was instilled in her from an early age.

Christina says “I just grew up doing it my whole life, I love it, I love hard work, just selling to people and they love our products. Getting to know people, it’s so rewarding.” Christina’s fiancé, Jordan, is new to growing, but is extremely enthusiastic about learning and taking on responsibilities. Jordan says he constantly finds himself asking “why like this, why like that?” as he is learning about various growing practices. Jordan, like Christina, expresses similar sentiments in that the connection to the community is rewarding, and that you meet “the nicest people at the market.”

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Christina and Jordan. Photo Credit: Author

During my short visit on the farm I was exposed to an avalanche of information about growing. Some practices were ordinary, such as utilizing rotational practices and working with Soilutions to improve the soil. Montoya Farm implements a strict regimen of practices to achieve their high density planting, by growing other plants – such as tomatoes and chiles – between their whopping six hundred trees. Tonie says, “We are one of the very few in New Mexico who does this.” This feat is not achieved through some amazing technologic advancement, rather as Tonie expresses, “sixty some years I’ve been a farmer, what changes is new ways of planting, getting better quality of crop, that’s what I look for.” One fundamental practice is how the Montoyas prune their trees in rows of V-shaped trees. This V-shaped pruning allows for the trees to be planted closer to each other. Furthermore, each fruit-bearing branch possesses a number of nodules that would presumably grow numerous peaches; however, these too are trimmed so as not to stress the branch and to make larger nutrient-rich peaches.

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Branch with potential fruit nodes. Photo credit: Author

After a few more tips from Tonie on “the process of pruning, compost, and getting everything ready for irrigation,” we embarked on a discussion about water. I had asked Tonie what he thought would be the greatest challenge for growers in the future and he said that “the biggest challenge is going to be water.” Despite Montoya Farm having a pre-1907 water right, seemingly making his farm’s water secure for the foreseeable future, Tonie expressed caution and concern. This brought Tonie to discuss other challenges, such as the possibility of overregulation “to the point where guys like me can’t make a living.” Tonie noted that “we lost Whole Foods (Market) because of the regulations that came about from the Food Safety Act.”

Tonie also expressed concern over farmers claiming their produce is organic and problems from pollution stating “You go up to Nine Mile Hill and you look down in the valley at eight o’clock in the morning and tell me what you see over Albuquerque. Smog.” With growers’ produce bathing in chemicals from the air, one could easily conclude some legitimacy to the notion of organic being compromised. Tonie simply asked, “If you say you are organic how do you protect your crops from that?”

The attention we give to protecting our communities from harmful impacts is vital to the success of Albuquerque’s local agriculture. Teaching the necessary skills to grow food and making sure future generations can pursue a livelihood in agriculture will enrich our community.

 “Even though the future seems far away, it is actually beginning right now.”

– Mattie Stepanek

-Posted by Nicholas

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