Farmers’ Perspectives on Climate Change in Albuquerque

It is no longer a question of when climate change will happen; increased temperatures, more severe wildfire seasons, and unpredictable weather patterns are already affecting us in New Mexico. According to 350NM, “New Mexico is the sixth-fastest-warming state in the nation. The average annual temperature has increased about 0.6°F per decade since 1970 or about 2.7°F over 45 years.” It is predicted that “severe and sustained drought [in New Mexico] will increase competition among farmers, energy producers, and cities.” In addition, “the fire season in New Mexico has lengthened substantially over the past 40 years—from five months to seven—and fires of more than 1,000 acres occur twice as often.” Hosting nearly half of the state’s population and located in a high-desert region, Albuquerque is especially susceptible to these changes.

Map of Summer Warming since 1970. Source: 350 New Mexico

Perhaps most concerning is the effect of climate change on local farms. I spoke with* Casey Holland from Chispas Farm, Seth Matlick from Vida Verde Farm, and Bethany Cote from Neidecker Farms here in Albuquerque about how each of them has been affected. They all pointed to unpredictable weather patterns as one of their main concerns. Seth Matlick said that “The winters have been colder and the summers hotter. The last frost date in the spring and the first frost date of the fall have been harder to predict and rely on.” Bethany Cote lost all of her fall pasture plantings for her chicken feed last fall [2020] due to the ground freeze around September 8th. Bethany said that after surviving through a 105-degree summer, the plants just could not survive such a harsh shift.

Increased drought has been especially detrimental to both Neidecker and Chispas Farms. The state told farmers this year to not grow crops unless absolutely necessary. For Neidecker Farms, this means they will likely not grow at all this year. They do not have access to a well or an acequia, so they rely on rainwater. Bethany said that “I want to be able to use the natural rain catchment systems and permaculture ways of doing things and I can’t really do that if it doesn’t rain.” The situation here in Albuquerque is so bad that Bethany and her partner have considered moving somewhere where there is more rainfall.

Low flow in the Rio Grande. Source: 350 New Mexico

For Casey Holland at Chispas Farm, the situation is not as dire, but she is faced with the reality that she will need to tap into groundwater even more this year, and her well is at risk of running dry. She says, “I’ve had several friends whose wells have run dry toward the end of last year that had never run dry before. I have a shallow well too, so it is always in the back of my mind that it could go dry any month now.”

Chispas Farm, April 22, 2020. Image from the Chispas Farm Facebook page

To adjust to a changing climate, these farmers have all had to build resiliency in their farming systems. Both Casey and Bethany are working on selecting livestock breeds that are tolerant to extreme weather, such as hotter summers and colder winters. They are also focused on building up their soil health. Casey makes sure to “have something growing on the surface at all times and that we have living roots in the soil and regionally-appropriate, drought tolerant things.” Seth Matlick is “building resistance by saving more seeds that are better acclimated to our growing environment and investing in season extension infrastructure to help adjust to the ever-changing weather patterns.”

Casey also uses Indigenous Farming techniques to help build resilience on her land. Chispas Farm implements acequia flood irrigation and waffle beds, a Zuni Pueblo technique, with the help of Reyna Banteah. Casey is also focused on shifting people’s education around food. She says, “We need more folks regionalizing their diets again. People need to know how to eat corn, beans, and squash, which can survive on little to no water.”

The Three Sisters crops. Source: The American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture

Food insecurity is another concerning issue here in Albuquerque. Casey noted that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made some people aware of how insecure their own access to food is. She believes that “Until we start getting really serious about analyzing the system as a whole, I’m thinking like nation-wide changes as how the systems are put together, it is inevitable that they are going to fail.” We saw this collapse happen last spring when the pandemic hit, and it is only going to get worse of we continue on the current trajectory of carbon emissions.

Because, according to Project Drawdown, food, agriculture, and land use produce 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to support local farms who focus on sustainable practices. Casey Holland’s perspective is that “The best thing someone can do is to get to know a farmer and build that relationship now” and people should “start changing their own diets and where their food is sourced.” You can also help curb the effects of climate change by voting in local elections, flying less, reducing your consumption of animal protein, and supporting Environmental Justice movements.

If you want to learn more or buy these farmers’ products, you can reach out to them in the following ways:

Chispas Farm

@chispasfarm on Instagram

Chispas Farm on Facebook

Vida Verde Farm

Neidecker Farms

Neidecker Permaculture Farms on Facebook

-Posted by Kineo

*Kineo conducted personal interviews with Casey, Seth, and Bethany on February 25th, 2021, February 28th, 2021, and March 9th, 2021, respectively.

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