Romero Farms

ROMERO_01_kl_2017Matt is one of the most popular, colorful vendors at the market, offering samples, recipe ideas, growing tips and answers to just about any question a shopper may have. He is what you might call “a farmer’s farmer”—skilled at his craft, devoted to his labor and happy to share what he’s learned with others. Yet Matt didn’t grow up on a farm and he didn’t harbor a lifelong desire to connect to the land through growing things. He worked as a chef, instead, honing a creative sense of flavor and an instinct for what people like to eat.

“I know I’m doing the planet a favor, but that’s not why I’m doing it,” Matt says, taking a break from mowing on a recent spring morning at the farm. “I’ve always loved producing good food for people, whether it was at a restaurant and I bought and cooked it, or here on the farm, where I grow it. I still feel pride over what I do and the knowledge that I share with people. For example, someone will say ‘I don’t like radishes.’ If you don’t like them, and then you try them, then you’re a perfect test case. Every year, I see people try things they don’t like and then they taste it and they change their mind.” (Case in point: when I arrive at the farm for our interview, Matt hands me a warm breakfast burrito, stuffed with his red chile and homemade elk sausage sourced from an animal he and his daughter brought home from a hunting trip. Although I normally don’t eat elk, this was one of the best burritos I’ve ever had.) Continue reading

The Corn Man

Taos Family Foods

Taos Family Foods

Have you ever counted the kernels on a single cob of corn? Each seed is secured within a meandering row running the length of the cob. And sure, you could count each kernel, but knowing the number would not describe one cob of corn any better than simply knowing the taste of it, or feeling its rhythmic surface in your hand.

This is a tale of a few of those kernels of corn. There is no single story of corn in New Mexico. From an agricultural perspective, corn is so integral to the mythology, landscape, agricultural and aesthetic landscape of New Mexico that it could take multiple shelves of the library to tell that story in a truly comprehensive way. Instead, we are going to travel the route of one row of kernels on one cob of corn, to see where those stories lead.

The seeds of this particular story were first planted over three decades ago. Today, just minutes from Taos Plaza, on a surprisingly chilly mid-May morning, native corn seed is being planted in rows. The seed falls from a 37-year-old piece of machinery called a “planter” (affectionately named Romeo) attached to a 38-year-old John Deere named Moses, driven by a young man from Arkansas. Lifelong farmer David Frazier likes to name his machines because he looks forward to a long working relationship with them. His young dog Critter runs alongside, always with David in her sights…except perhaps when she sees a rabbit. Continue reading

The Big Chèvre – Old Windmill Dairy

DSC_2284Can baby goats stampede? I’m still not sure, but I am sure that 70-some two-month-old kids unleashed from their corral and running toward awaiting bottles is an entirely joyful sight. Their long ears flopping, their spindly legs barely finding purchase on quarter-size hoofs. This spring, my fellow baby goat feeders at The Old Windmill Dairy’s farm visit wait innocently as the wave of goats floods us, pooling around our knees, and voraciously searching for their bottles. When they can’t find one or they get shouldered aside, they settle for suckling our fingers or untying our shoelaces. Effervescent laughter ripples through the crowd. A few minutes later, their bellies absurdly bloated on their tiny frames, the babies demur. I pick one up, No. 245, and—after a failed attempt at eating my earring—she tucks her feet into the crook of my arm like a cat, settling in for a nap.

Awash in this overwhelming adorableness, it’s easy to forget: Soon, these kids will grow up and, like their milk-heavy mothers, help make some seriously good farmstead cheese. Since it opened in July 2007 as a Grade-A dairy, The Old Windmill Dairy has earned a handful of awards for its popular chèvres as well as its semi-hard cheeses. Fifteen years into his business journey, Michael Lobaugh lights up recalling when he’s earned compliments from his customers. “The joy of it is seeing the end product,” he says. Continue reading

Kale, Collards and Kimchi – The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market in Winter

_p9a5061The term “farmers market” calls to mind a hot summer day, strolling through aisles of colorful fruits and leafy vegetables. But at the Santa Fe Farmers Market the greens are abundant yearround, and the unique wintertime vendors come together to create a market that’s completely and deliciously diverse.

According to Ceci Ervin, marketing coordinator for the Santa Fe Farmers Market, the winter market takes places every Saturday, from the first Saturday in December through the first of May. Fifty vendors, all from the 15 Northern New Mexico counties, come to the market to sell what they’ve grown, cooked, and created. “You’re going to find things here at the market that grow right here in the northern part of New Mexico, and that is pretty unique,” Ceci says. “You know you are getting authentic, real produce.” The market has strict guidelines for participants, requiring that all fruits, vegetables, and nursery items are always 100-percent grown in the northern counties. And in the baked goods and crafts, at least 70 percent of the materials are local, too.

The diversity of offerings at the market is truly unparalleled. “The winter market gives us so much diversity because you will find things like holiday jewelry, crafts, basketry, and pottery, alongside the greens that the farmers grow year round,” Ceci explains. “It is surprising to people that we can have greens all year. But it is all thanks to the farmers and the hoop houses.” Along with the typical winter fare for vegetables, which often includes potatoes and root vegetables like squashes, you’ll also find heartier greens like kale and collards, and even spinach. Continue reading

For the Love of Lavender

conastogawagonLavender is a shape shifter, transforming from a sweet herbaceous undertone in lemonade and cupcakes, to essential oils in body products that can ease tension and heal skin. This month, two festivals—one in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque and one in Abiquiu—exude purple passion, showing off our love of lavender in any and every form.    

Lavender in the Village, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

Lavender in the Village returns after a two-year hiatus for a refreshed festival that promises to capture the community spirit that has made it a favorite for 10 years. Longtime Lavender in the Village board member Katie Snapp grew up visiting her grandparents’ farm outside Kansas City. For her, the fete has a sense of nostalgia. “This festival gives you that bucolic reminiscence,” she says.  

grey-lavenderPenny Rembe, whose family owns Los Poblanos Inn and Organic Farm, itself a major player in the world of lavender, founded the festival more than a decade ago. For nine years, a small board and community volunteers put on the two-day festival that drew 6,000 to 8,000 people to the pastoral island within metropolitan Albuquerque. For this year’s event, the board bypassed that logistical feat, hiring event creator Dean Strober of Blue River Productions. Dean’s also put on notable food fests such as Southwest Chocolate & Coffee Fest and Southwest Bacon Fest. “People love this event,” he says. “It has such an incredible following and such a long and wonderful history of bringing people together.”

Dean has several changes in store. This year’s festival will unfold on one day, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lavender in the Village will also take place in one location—versus several, as in previous years. Happenings will take place at the Agri-Nature Center, a working farm across the street from Los Poblanos Inn & Organic Farm that backs up to Los Poblanos Open Space. The rural oasis will host open-air yoga classes in the field—another new addition this year. Live music, from bluegrass to a Beatles tribute band, will mingle with the sounds of conversation shared over lavender sangria and craft beer. More than 100 vendors (previous years have had around 40) will tout lavender used in every way, from artists to paint it to purveyors like Old Windmill Dairy. “There’s something very healing and beautiful about it. It’s very much New Mexico at its core,” Strober says. Although the event is family friendly, if parents want to enjoy it for a couple hours by themselves, they can drop off their brood at the Kids Camp, with hands-on activities by Los Ranchos Farm Camp. No matter which aspect of the festival participants enjoy, lavender and sustainable agriculture will be at the fore. On-site parking is limited, so be sure to follow the directional signage to off-site lots and shuttles.

Lavender at Los PoblanosPrior to Lavender in the Village, on July 8 and 9, Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm will host a four-course, field-to-fork dinner.

Tickets: Ages 13 and up $8, Agri-Nature Center, 4920 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, lavenderinthevillage.com.

Lavender in the Valley, Abiquiu

Purple Adobe Lavender Farm may have founded this festival, but the celebration’s purple flags fly across the Abiquiu valley, July 9 and 10 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The Abiquiu Inn will serve a special lavender themed menu––and lavender lemonade and lavender chocolate chip cookies are on deck at Bode’s general store. Artists will capture the purple flowers in their paintings live at Rising Moon Gallery and Art Center.

Of course, the Purple Adobe Lavender Farm is the event’s epicenter, and the happenings here are as bountiful as the crop. Visitors can join field tours, enjoy the shade under the ramada to make crafts such as Victorian wands, and listen to the flute and guitar of Ronald Roybal and Ryan Dominguez. Santa Fe-based photographer Woody Galloway is the festival’s featured artist this year; he’ll be on hand to sign commemorative posters. A favorite of farm visitors throughout the year, the teahouse will serve gluten-free goodies, such as lavender scones and house-made gelato. Attendees can also cut their own lavender from a thousand plants in a U-Pick field, new for this year. Continue reading

Kyzer Farm

Kyzer Farms; (from left) Alice Kyzer; Robert and Paulina Kyzer in the Kyzer wheat field

Kyzer Farms; (from left) Alice Kyzer; Robert and Paulina Kyzer in the Kyzer wheat field

In all of my 10-plus years as a writer for Local Flavor, I’ve never been asked before if “I’d smelled the place” as I arrived for the interview. But I suppose pig farmers are particularly sensitive about that sort of thing, and Robert Kyzer of Kyzer Farm—in the agrarian-driven South Valley of Albuquerque—is no exception. Indeed, I hadn’t (and let it be known for the record I have a particularly keen sense of smell)—quite the opposite; Kyzer Farm is organized, clean and full of happy Berkshire, Red Duroc, Old English Spotted and York hogs. Robert’s father bought the farm in the 1970s to be in the horse business, raised six acres of alfalfa and ran it as a horse property until Robert took over in 1996. In those days, he says, everybody was growing alfalfa, and in order to make the farm more competitive and create a niche market, Robert bought 15 heritage sows and began the hog farm that he and his wife, Pauline, still run today.  

It was clear from the beginning they wanted the hogs to be raised in a more natural, sustainable manner—this practice, however, required research and ingenuity. Most piglets are weaned and put in a small pen once they reach 25 pounds in order to begin a grain diet, which quickly fattens them before processing and distribution. In farming, Robert says, “Time is money––so for most industrial farming, the faster you can grow the animal, the better.” Because these pigs are weaned early, they need to be given a battery of antibiotic shots to combat diseases and strengthen their immune systems (which is normally the job of their mother’s milk). But Robert and Pauline believed healthier, cleaner pigs would produce a more tasteful, nutrient-dense product, so they wanted to raise hogs that were free of antibiotics, early weaning and the stress of confinement. But they had to figure out how to get those first 15 to a place where they were strong enough not to need the antibiotics. Continue reading