Meet Nery: “I never thought I was going to be a farmer”

 

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Welcome to the arid West! For the next six months, four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico will be blogging about their experiences with water access and explaining everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve put together a short glossary at the bottom of this blog post.

 

By Nery Martinez, Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses

I’m Nery Martinez, a Guatemalan guy. When I came to the United States I was 18 years old, now I’m 27. I lived in California three-and-half years. During that time I worked in a restaurant and janitorial service. I never did any agriculture work, not even in my country. Honestly, when I was in Guatemala I didn’t help my grandpa clean his small corn and bean fields. I never thought that I was going to be farmer.

Over five years ago I came to New Mexico to spend time with my aunt and her husband, Don Bustos. Don owns Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses in Española, New Mexico, which is a six-acre vegetable farm that has been Certified Organic for more than 20 years and has been farmed by the same family for over 400 years. Shortly after coming to New Mexico I started working for him. I didn’t have plans to stay in New Mexico. I wanted to find a job to make some money to go back to my country. Then I started working in agriculture, and I changed my plans. The more I worked, the more I felt connected to the land, to my work, and to myself. I felt a passion for agriculture, so I kept doing it.

I remember my first day of work at the farm, not because it was hard work, but because I was walking on the baby lettuce in the greenhouses. Everything looked like weeds to me, and I didn’t have any experience farming. Little by little, like plants growing, I learned how to farm. (more…)

Meet Tyler: “We want to spend our lives devoted to a piece of land”

Hoyt_portrait_croppedWelcome to the arid West! For the next six months, four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico will be blogging about their experiences with water access and explaining everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve put together a short glossary at the bottom of this blog post.

By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm

When we found our farm, my fiancé Kendra and I knew it was the right fit for us. It had plenty of run-down pasture for grazing animals, lots of semi-flat terrain for crops, a barn and corral that were in shambles, a defunct farmhouse that was livable, and—most importantly—lots of water. When we realized how much water was tied to the property and that much of the irrigation infrastructure was already installed (although lacking much needed attention over the years), we got excited. When we found that the water comes from Mt. Hesperus (the Northern Holy Peak for local tribes), we knew that this was the spot to build our future in a dry region. It was perfect.

We had been dreaming about owning a farm for as long as we had known each other. After many years of growing food on and improving other people’s land, we finally decided to buy our own piece of heaven. We wanted long-term returns on our investments into the land, and ownership was the only way to partially guarantee this far-sighted approach.

Land ownership and actively managing and working the land is a direct way to have a positive impact on our local ecosystem by improving soil and water quality, promoting diversity, and healing a damaged landscape. Farming allows us to improve our environment while producing high quality, nutrient-dense food for ourselves and our community, which is a socio-environmental win-win. All of this also comes with a rewarding job, as well as a thoroughly enjoyable lifestyle. (more…)

Meet Harrison: “There was nothing to do but irrigate and start dating.”

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Welcome to the arid West! For the next six months, four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico will be blogging about their experiences with water access and explaining everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve put together a short glossary at the bottom of this blog post.

 

By Harrison Topp, Topp Fruit

Three years ago I made my first fruit sale from my family’s orchard in Colorado. It was my first year managing a fruit crop after years of farming vegetables for a CSA in North Carolina. That first year, friends, family, and community members assembled from across the state to pick and store ton after ton of plums and cherries. The crop was bound for a fermentation start-up business in Boulder, CO called Ozuke.

It was an unbelievable success for me as a first-year orchardist. And to make things even sweeter, our fermented plums went on to win an Alice Waters Good Food Award.

The next year I ambitiously leaned into preparations for the season, having learned more than a few lessons about perennial fruit farming, labor, water, and wholesale marketing. I was busy finalizing my organic certification, honing my irrigation system, planting understory crops, lining up reliable workers, and expanding my markets. But, on April 13th, with the trees in full bloom, I lost my entire crop to a spring freeze. I was constantly reminded of the loss every time I switched the gates of our irrigation pipe or walked from tree to tree looking for pests.

Topp_blossoms_v-croppedThere was nothing left to do but irrigate and start dating. I found myself taking every chance I could to leave our little town of 1,300 people and travel across the mountains to Denver, Fort Collins, or Boulder, a four-hour journey. The urban landscape was a good distraction. And better yet, I could use Tinder and Okay Cupid. I coined the term “farmer-sexual” and was beginning to suspect that I was the only one who fit that orientation.

But boy-howdy, thank you Tinder, because after about six months of swiping right, I met the rancher of my dreams, Stacia Cannon. Now we’re back on the western slope together. This season we’ve managed to entwine ourselves in some new and very unique situations. (more…)

Our 2016 bloggers: Farming in the arid West

Topp_Irrigation pipe_croppedYoung farmers and ranchers in the arid West contend with all of the challenges faced by farmers in other regions—high land prices, access to capital, and often student loan debt—but they also face an additional barrier: water access. In many parts of the country, all farmers have to do to “access” water is turn to the sky, but in the arid West, farmers and ranchers often depend on irrigation water from rivers, ditches and other bodies of water for at least part of the growing season. Accessing water, therefore, means accessing land with water rights, and those water rights are subject to a myriad of different laws and traditions as well as competition from residential communities, other industries, and wildlife.

Does it sound complicated? It is. For the next six months, four young farmers/ranchers in the arid West will be blogging about their experiences with water access and explaining everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve also put together a short glossary at the end of this post.

So without further ado, we’re excited to introduce our 2016 bloggers:

  • Harrison Topp of Topp Fruit in Paonia, Colorado and Fields Livestock in Montrose, Colorado
  • Tyler Hoyt of Green Table Farm in Mancos, Colorado
  • Nery Martinez of Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses in Espanola, New Mexico
  • Casey Holland of Red Tractor Farm in Albuquerque, New Mexico

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13 countries, 145 farmers: A profile of Joneve Murphy

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By Lauren Manning

Many people think you have to plant your feet firmly in one location to sew roots. For some folks, however, the exact opposite is true. Last year, Joneve Murphy embarked on a 10-month journey that snaked 29,000 miles across the globe through 13 countries.

“The idea for this project started a long time ago,” says Murphy, who grew up living abroad and traveling with her family from a young age. “My career in agriculture left me with time to gallivant in the off season, and at first I would just go backpacking for a month or two each year.”

Joneve Murphy (photo credit Molly Peterson)

Joneve Murphy (photo credit Molly Peterson)

Murphy has an impressive resume as an organic farmer, with 10 years of experience under her belt including a prestigious gig as the farmer-in-residence at Virginia’s The Inn at Little Washington

As Murphy became more involved with farming, her off-season sojourns involved fewer ruins and beaches and more farm visits and explorations of local food systems.

Soon, the idea for her yearlong agricultural safari was born. Murphy left her post at the Inn at Little Washington and set sail.

The carefully planned route allowed her to meet over 145 food producers around the world, whom she photographed and blogged about for her recent project, Farmer Seeking Roots.

(more…)

Lessons in land access

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By Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Access Program Director

Forgive me if we’ve met in the past three months and I don’t remember your name—I’ve been on a bit of a whirlwind tour, talking about land access, hosting workshops, and listening to concerns from young farmers and ranchers. At the end of February I made my way from upstate New York to La Crosse, Wisconsin for the annual MOSES conference. In March, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Colorado. And at the end of March I hopped on a plane to Iowa.

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Although I may not remember the name of every individual I met, I remember their stories. There were stories of heartbreak—a third farm move in three years, off-farm jobs that don’t leave time for farming, organic certification negated by spray drift—as well as stories of success: land made available by benevolent neighbors, successful family partnership, invaluable mentorship, and support from dedicated non-profits.

Although acquiring a ranch with adequate water rights in Colorado may seem like an altogether different undertaking than finding a place to farm in the fertile dairyland of Wisconsin or amidst the uniformly plowed fields of Iowa, I was struck by the similar themes emerging in young farmers’ search for land:

1) Access to land is within reach; access to secure land is hard.
Most farmers I heard from seemed to agree – with some hard work and strategic networking (through Craigslist ads, friends of friends, or letters to landowners) finding land on which to farm was usually not too difficult. Sometimes, bartering for produce could be enough to secure a year’s lease. While none of these opportunities went unappreciated, they often did not provide the security needed to establish and grow a business. Farmers commonly struggled with the inability to invest in infrastructure and build soil quality; burnout from moving their business; and frustration from trying to maintain tenuous relationships with landowners. (more…)

I farm like I cook, always learning as I go

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By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm

One of my absolute favorite pastimes is cooking. I recently realized that one of the reasons I like spending time in the kitchen is the continual experimentation and learning, as well as the satisfaction when I finally get a certain dish “just right.” I have become a much better cook than I was in my college days, and I often tell Will that my goal is to be an exceptional cook by the time I’m an older lady. Since it is a task I enjoy, I spend a lot of time thinking about it, looking up tips, trying new recipes, memorizing recipes I love, and learning patterns and methods so that I don’t always need a recipe to prepare a meal.

While washing the dishes the other night (and thinking fondly back to supper), it dawned on me that I love cooking for some of the same reasons I love farming. They both start out with trial and error and challenges that I can work through myself, at my own pace. I can gather information from experts, but then I get to try things on my own. I’ve become a better farmer over the past two years, and I know that I will do even better on the farm over time, just as I have become much better in the kitchen over the last ten years. Both activities also reward me with good food at the end! (more…)

Q&A with Mary Stuart Masterson and Jeremy Davidson

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On April 10, a group of farmers will take the stage at BAM in Brooklyn. Or rather, well-known actors will portray real farmers from the Hudson Valley, a circumstance even more improbable in the life of most farmers, who don’t usually experience fame beyond their own farmers market tables.

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The production, called GOOD DIRT, was created by Mary Stuart Masterson (At Close Range,Fried Green Tomatoes) and Jeremy Davidson (Tickling Leo, The Americans). They’re also the founders of Storyhorse Documentary Theater, which they started so they would have a platform to tell the stories of their neighbors in the Hudson Valley and elevate ideas and voices that are often marginalized.

For GOOD DIRT they interviewed farmers from Soul Fire Farm, Green Goats Farm, Northwind Farm, Tello’s Green Farm, Denison Family Farm and Hudson Valley Seed Library. The April 10 premiere is a benefit for the National Young Farmers Coalition, and all tickets include admission to an afterparty at BAM where guests can meet some of the farmers and their actor counterparts.

Edible Brooklyn chatted with Mary Stuart and Jeremy about their theater project, community storytelling and why farmers deserve more fans. Read the interview here.

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Looking back at our whirlwind first season

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By Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

As we head into our second year as a farm, I am amazed at what we accomplished in just one short year. I remember back to our first few weeks on the farm, when our main field was just a cow pasture; we had yet to put up a deer fence, hoophouse, or wash station; and were thick in the process of starting up a business.

When we got started in January 2015, I was often overwhelmed by the amount of work we needed to put in to turn our leased property into a production farm. The list of tasks seemed endless, and I was dubious of our ability to get it all done, especially on top of working our off-farm jobs. But with the help of our friends and family, we created a productive 1.5-acre plot that successfully provided for a 15-member CSA, two farmers’ markets, and multiple wholesale accounts.

Looking forward through 2016, I am thrilled to not be putting up a deer fence and buying all of our tools— instead I can put more energy toward planning, advertising, and fostering business relationships and new possibilities. We can also focus on our relationship with our team of horses; our goal is to not have to rent our landlord’s tractor for any field work this year. (more…)

My first year farming: the highs, the lows, and the future

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By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm

Preparing for this final Bootstrap Blogger post, I went back through my earlier posts and was immediately reminded of just how far we’ve come in a matter of months. The first few posts were all about digging fence postholes and scrounging for cash, and now we’re on to funny piglet stories and taking orders for grass-fed beef. When you’re down in the “day to day trenches,” it’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming list of farm chores and forget to celebrate the mini-successes along the way.

I encountered a few “oh god” moments over the past year:

  • A barn-building back injury turned into lots and lots of doctors visits and physical therapy.
  • Juggling off-farm professional opportunities (income producing) with farm responsibilities (not yet income producing).
  • Budget cuts meant the loss of a contract employment opportunity that had been covering my farm expenses (forcing us to dig deeper in our already empty pockets).
  • It turns out piglets are Houdini-like escape artists.

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And I made some wonderful memories:

  • Sharing our farming story with half-a-dozen community groups and agriculture publications.
  • Feeling the pride of owning a self-funded (and debt FREE!) farm for a full year.
  • Joining Kansas Farm Bureau’s Ag Advocacy SPEAK team.
  • Sleeping in the barn when the piglets arrived (I’m pretty pumped about my piggies!).

(more…)