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Santa Cruz Farm (New Mexico, USA)

Note: this profile was written in 2010 after visiting Santa Cruz Farm, and some information may no longer be up to date.

Santa Cruz Farm is located in the town of Espanola, New Mexico, about 30 minutes north of Santa Fe. Santa Cruz is run by farmer Don Bustos, with the help of apprentices who are trained to co-manage the farm.

The land has been in Don Bustos’ family for 400 years, and he has been farming the same piece of land since his childhood. Don’s farming practices combine traditional growing methods with appropriate technology.

Located in the high desert at an elevation of 1700m (5600ft) above sea level, Santa Cruz Farm is an example of year-round veganic growing in a region with little water and wide temperature variance. The temperature can fluctuate significantly, changing by upwards of 25°C or 40°F from daytime to nighttime, so the crops must be resilient to constant temperature change. Their sandy loam soil has only 1-2% organic matter, and the region sees an average rainfall of 8 inches per year. The fields are irrigated with water from the Santa Cruz river basin, a communal resource for farmers in the region.

On 3 ½ acres, they harvest over 70 varieties of vegetables and fruits, including strawberries, blackberries, heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, eggplant, cucumbers, and bok choy. The farm specializes in hot peppers—Big Jim chili peppers, local heirloom chili peppers, jalapeños, and yellow hots—which are high in demand in the state of New Mexico.

The farm focuses on season extension, growing crops for twelve months a year. They have three cold frames on the farm, which are used for growing baby greens in the winter months. This is a feat in Espanola, where temperatures can drop well below freezing at night. The baby greens are insulated with row covers, and tubing is run underneath the plants to warm the soil.

Fertility on the farm is maintained through green manures, crop rotations, and plant inputs. Legumes are the primary choice for green manure, including cows peas, black eyed peas, and pinto beans, and they also plant vetch. Due to the low organic matter in the soil, they add large amounts of organic amendments each year. For inputs, they purchase Certified Organic alfalfa from a neighbor. This is not alfalfa meal, but rather larger pieces of alfalfa leaf and stem. It’s incorporated with the soil in February, when the soil is at its wettest after the winter snow and rainfall. They source Certified Organic cottonseed from within New Mexico, and add 1-2 tons per acre to the soil. Batches of compost tea are also used to bring nutrients to the soil.

The farmers start their own seedlings in the cold frames. The seedlings are started in a mixture of 2 parts peat, 1 part vermiculite, 1 part perlite, and 1 part of their own mix. The mix consists of organic matter from decomposed cottonseed and alfalfa, along with vegetable compost to boost the bacterial activity. The seedlings are kept warm with temperature-controlled heat mats. Aside from these heat mats which are powered with electricity, Santa Cruz Farm’s plants are grown entirely with solar energy, even during the winter months. While Santa Cruz previously grew seedlings using animal inputs, Don says that he prefers to use plant inputs: bloodmeal, for example, led to more disease problems such as fungus, whereas the whole system is cleaner when using plant inputs.

Don Bustos previously farmed using conventional techniques, and later switched to organic. He changed to veganic techniques after seeing the film “Our Daily Bread” which shows the realities of industrialized animal agriculture, and after hearing a speech from the former Secretary of Agriculture speaking about the ‘acceptable’ number of deaths in the U.S. food system related to food diseases such as e. coli and mad cow. Don started to question the animal-based amendments that he was adding to his fields. Upon meeting two veganic gardeners at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market, Don decided to try veganic techniques.

Santa Cruz Farm has diversified their marketing approach, and their produce is marketed through various channels. They sell at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market year-round, and sell at other farmers markets during the height of the harvest. They perform ‘market espionage’ to see what other farmers are growing, and strategically try to identify what isn’t being grown, to fill a niche or create a new demand. They purposefully avoid growing the same crops as other farmers and entering into direct competition, instead preferring to offer less common crops, or offering crops like lettuce at uncommon moments in the season. For several years they have provided salad greens directly to the local school district as part of the Farm To School program. This allows the farm to have a steady source of income throughout the winter as they continue to grow salad greens in the cold frames. The farm offers a box scheme through a CSA, providing produce on a weekly basis to about thirty families, and they also sell directly to local stores and restaurants.

Don works outside the farm for a social justice non-profit, helping traditional communities retain ownership of their land and water resources by developing profitable models of sustainable agriculture. Don has been involved in agricultural policy and advocacy for over 20 years, with a special emphasis on ensuring that resources are accessible to disadvantaged communities. At the local level he focuses on protecting natural water sources of New Mexico, and working on issues of food sovereignty with the Good Food Network of New Mexico; in the southwest he is involved in Western SARE and Western SWAG; and at the national level he is on the board of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and he works on behalf of immigrant farmers to ensure that they have a voice as the president of the board of the National Immigrant Farming Initiative.

For over a decade Santa Cruz Farm has given tours and hosted guests and visitors from all over the world. Santa Cruz Farm accepts volunteers and apprentices, and provides an opportunity for new farmers to gain hands-on experience with veganic agriculture. Long-term apprentices progressively take on more responsibilities, and eventually handle the day-to-day operations of managing the farm. For more information, please contact Santa Cruz Farm at 505-614-7067 or santacruzfarm (at) windstream (dot) net

Find out more about what Santa Cruz Farm grows and how they maintain fertility in this short video with Don Bustos:

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