Welcome to the arid West! Follow our series as four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico write about their experiences with water access and explain 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 Martínez, Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses
I’m Nery Martínez, 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.
After one year, I was running the whole operation at the farm, not perfectly, but not too bad either. After working a couple years on the farm, I have decided to keep farming because I think I have learned more then just how to grow vegetables. I learned more about the respect for Mother Earth, animals, and life. When I work I feel connected to the ground, and that really makes me appreciate my own life. Farming changed my life, it keeps me healthy, and keeps me busy. Now, six years later, I’m still the farm manager at Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses. I can say that working on a farm is the best experience of my life, and I’m really lucky that I’m doing it.
The farm produces year-round, using hoop houses during the winter. The water we use at this farm comes from acequias that are fed from a water management system drawing water from the Santa Cruz River. Water is essential to my farm. If I don’t have access to water, I can’t continue doing my work as a farmer. I think that the access I have to water at the farm motivates me to keep farming and trying to grow new varieties of vegetables.
I plant cover crops to make the soil rich in organic matter, but this also helps the soil retain water. When I have water in the acequia, I water my plants with drip tape and some areas by flooding because there is a lot of water. If I had to water from a well, I would only use drip tape, so that I could use only as much water as the plants needed and save the rest.
Just because you’ve never worked with a shovel doesn’t mean you can’t become a farmer. As I’ve said before, “Uno no nace sabiendo y todos se aprende”— we aren’t born with all the knowledge we need, we all learn as we go.