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The Art & Commitment of Land Restoration

 Written By: Olivia Romo
 
On September 19th, 2015 in Taos, New Mexico the New Mexico Acequia Association hosted a workshop that recognized the work of two dedicated women farmers. Patricia Quintana and Gael Minton opened up their homes to share and demonstrate the struggles and triumphs of restoring ancestral land. Both are blessed to be living on the acequia whose irrigation has been instrumental and historical to the evolution of both parcels. For Patricia Quintana, an heir to "Rancho La Fina" in Cañon, she has seen the ecology of the land shift drastically in the short time of thirty years. Originally, a five acre alfalfa field has quickly turned to dirt and sprawled with prairie dog holes. Patricia who has a cultural connection to the land and degree in animal and range sciences has been able to return to Taos to work her grandmother's land, an honor and huge undertaking for one woman.
 
At her workshop, Patricia guided participants through her fields and flocks of sheep and goats to paint a picture of the past and the enormous amount of work that she has done as a woman. Firmly, Patricia testified, "Restoration takes time. Plowing, irrigating, and planting for the first time is like breathing life into the land again. The land is giving birth, your hands in the earth helping her, is a profound connection with The grandmother. That connection and commitment is needed when restoring ancestral land. Not only is it hard work, but irrigation from the acequia, plowing, and using the shovel is an art". In addition to this, Patricia has struggled finding qualified labor, those who have experience in irrigating from the acequia, building barns, and have strategies to eliminate the prairie dog burrows destroying her land. Over time, Patricia has invested time managing the land, in tractors, and hiring skilled labor. At the end of the workshop some advised Patricia to consider installing piping that will make irrigation much more manageable. Yet, it is important to realize that alone, the work is immeasurable[s1] , but has been taken on by many Taoseñas who have inherited land and are spending their lives trying to maintain and live off the land as their ancestors have done before. Nothing can replace the amount of money, time, sweat, and tears that need to be shed in order to actively farm the land, many do not understand the true sacrifice and dedication.
The walk back from the farm was beautiful, participants munching on fresh apples and plums from neighboring trees with a better understanding of the community, spirituality, support, and sharing that must happen again in order for the Taos valley to restore land that has fallen fallow. Times were once like this, and over lunch, participants engaged in stories of the past, of food preservation, harvest time, and how difficult it is in modern times to restore lands that were once agricultural.

 After a hardy bowl of stew, beans, and blue corn bread participants journeyed around the corner to Talpa, at the "Squash Blossom Farm" where Gael and Ty Minton have retired and dedicated twelve years to restore the land into a functional Community Supported Agricultural model. Gael and Ty began the restoration process in 2001 and their first steps were irrigating the entire 2 acres they had in conjunction to establishing a 20' x 30' garden with help of a big load of finished compost.

While participants weaved in and out of the rows of vegetables and flowers many questioned why there was little to no insect intrusion that Gael happily answered and advised, "It's all about the dirt! We built a permanent 4-bin compost structure that has helped us recharge the soil. Healthy dirt prevents pests and is high in nutrients and oxygen giving your plants a healthy foundation to grow and produce". Squash Blossom Farm has a very diverse and dynamic balance not only including crops but livestock, irrigation system, and wildlife. Gael had Rio Grande turkeys for about five years and recently has been a honey bee keeper for eight, increasing the productivity and pollination on the farm in a holistic way. In addition to this, Ty has the crops on a drip irrigation system as a way to conserve and water the plants more accurately.

Overall, participants were very excited and inspired how the Minton's utilized two acres to the fullest of their capacity helping restore the ecology of the land and nurture their neighbors and community by producing food within a model that emphasizes sharing, traditions, and sustainability.
 

A CSA is a venture where farmers and community members share a commitment to creating a viable local organic farm. A community member may purchase an annual share in a farm in return for receiving freshly picked, organically grown vegetables. A share at Squash Blossom Farm is designed for a household of 2 adults & 2 children or 2 couples may share-a -share. The season begins in early June and ends in early October. In addition to this, Squash Blossom Farm has been certified: "Naturally Grown" since 2012 and is a champion example of how acequia agriculture is a premier model for healthy community sharing and connection to sacred land traditions.

 At the workshop a general reaction to first seeing the garden was, "All I see here is a lot of work" because indeed it was, only recently in 2014 Gael finally finished expanding the garden beds and paths in addition to a small green house. The Squash Blossom Farm right now has 22 fruit trees and a raspberry patch, a variety of herbs, and livestock that help restore harmony to the land and community. Everything we once did in our community was a sustainable system: House, gardens, pastures, flowers, the animals all who have a basic role in the system, but one that is importantly about family, community, and helping one another. Our society is very segregated and people now have a hard time working together and making these connections between farmers. Many farmers feel elated, exhausted, discouraged but because of the profound connection they have to the land and their neighbors these farmers have endured and overcame many challenges in order to live off the land.
 

This commitment was best described by Patricia at the end of the workshop, "One evening when plowing the land, the grandmother heaved with pleasure and the smell of moist and healthy earth just brought tears to my eyes. I was working in the dusk, as most farmers do, squeezing every moment of light in the day to work the land, until I saw the moon rise over the mountains giving me light and energy to complete plowing the field. These two fierce females guided me, a woman, and gave me the strength on the tractor to finish the last parcel of my land."
 
NMAA is grateful for a grant from the USDA that helped to sponsor this event.