2nd Annual Aqui y Alla Conference Offers Opportunities to Local Ranchers and Farmers 

This year’s Rio Arriba Food Policy Council’s Annual Aqui y Alla Conference yielded over 100 participants as members from the public took a farm tour on February 22 through Black Mesa Winery, the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Extension Sustainable Agriculture Science Center in Alcalde, the Khalsa Green Houses and the Santa Cruz Farms. On February 23, participants also attended an all-day conference at Northern New Mexico College (NNMC), which consisted of presentations, informational booths and breakout sessions all geared towards assisting farmers and ranchers with technical support, funding and financing opportunities, farming and ranching practices, and networking.  Guest speakers included keynote speaker Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the New Mexico Acequia Association; Dan Hobbs of the Rocky Mountain Union Corporation and Economic Development Center; Dr. Shegrui of NMSU and Dr. John Fowler, also of NMSU; Don Bustos, Program Director of the American Friends Service Committee; Del Jimenez, Agricultural Specialist with NMSU, among others.

“Agriculture is a major contributor to Rio Arriba’s economy and we are committed to assisting our producers maintain viable operations, said Rio Arriba County (RAC) Commissioner Alfredo Montoya.  “Eating local translates into eating healthy and can go a long ways towards combatting many of the diseases that plague our communities such as diabetes and obesity.  The health and wellbeing of our residents is our number one priority.”

Attendees at Saturday’s event had an opportunity to listen to Paula Garcia. Garcia’s speech reinforced the importance of maintaining our local knowledge about growing and preserving food.  “The people of Northern New Mexico are a resilient people and have prevailed and continued their customs, culture and traditions in spite of great challenges,” said Garcia.

During an interactive presentation by Naomi Engleman and Eric Vazquez, both of the Regional Development Corporation (RDC), members of the audience shared concerns and difficulties they face. Among those were processing and marketing opportunities, finding labor, need for cold storage facilities and water shortages. “Discussions are taking place at Rio Arriba Food Council meetings regarding strategies for creating a food hub, building coops and the idea of developing a cold storage and processing facility,” said Montoya.

According to Sabra Moore of the Española Farmer’s Market, surveys done in the past show that the Market can receive up to 1,000 visitors a day. Considering these numbers, and an increasing trend to promote organic and local eating, conferences like Aqui y Alla are extremely beneficial to producers and consumers alike. “It is our hope that the county will continue to promote events that serve to assist local farmers and ranchers,” said Montoya.

-Erika L. Martinez, February 2013