We’ve Got Your Back(yard)

Courtesy of Paynes Nursery

(Story by Kelly Koepke)

Every year, homeowners pour hundreds (even thousands) of dollars, hours and energy into their gardens, yards and landscapes. According to the National Garden Survey, we spent $47.8 billion on lawn and garden retail sales last year, with a record average household spend of $503.

So when a shrub or tree fails, or that perennial labeled “full sun” from the big-box retailer shrivels and dies, we’re devastated. We shake our hands and curse Mother Nature. But we’re probably blaming the wrong cause. What if we’d gone to a local nursery instead? Had talked with someone who raised that seedling from a speck, knew exactly where and how to plant it and how much to water? We’d have succeeded for sure.

Jill Brown, landscape architect and owner of Brown, green & more is a huge advocate of local plant centers and the people who teach about, tend and sell growing things. She’s spent almost 20 years helping homeowners achieve their dream landscapes. Obviously, she says, shopping local means a win-win with money going back into the local economy, but she says, “The only way to assure that you get a plant suited for your yard is to go to a local nursery. There are so many factors to consider when purchasing plants, so sticking to local nurseries will help enormously in your landscape’s future success.”

Each one of these local nurseries and garden centers has smart people to counsel you. So stop cursing Mother Nature and start saving your yard and garden.

Albuquerque

Agra Greenhouses of Albuquerque

2015 Gun Club Road SW

505.877.5440

agragreenhouses.com

Three generations of Doherty’s work Agra Greenhouses, which specializes in flowering annuals, herbs and an explosion of vegetables—three-quarters of a million tomato and chile starts each year–from their South Valley retail outlet. Patriarch Chuck Doherty gives three reasons to shop local. “Price-wise the big-box stores might be friendlier, but not by much. Local nurseries have more variety and you can also meet face to face with the people who grew the plants,” he says. “They have expertise, rather than being someone who just waters them. But the strongest reason is that you’re keeping your dollar local. That’s the bottom line.”

Alameda Greenhouse

9515 4th St. NW

505.898.3562

alamedagreenhouse.com

This North Valley staple is dedicated to growing and maintaining all manner of outdoor plants– veggies, fruit trees, flowers, and plenty of shrubs and perennials. Their nine greenhouses grow hundreds of pepper and tomato varieties and plant thousands of perennials every year.

Jericho Nursery

101 Alameda Blvd. NW

505.899.7555

6921 Pan American Freeway NE

505.508.5059

jerichonursery.com

Gardening expert Rick Hobson and wife Jennifer, a landscape designer, have two locations to help with your lawn, tree care and other gardening needs–from veggies to houseplants to succulents. Store manager Amanda Clem wants local gardeners to succeed. “We have a lot of people come in for xeriscaping plants and shade trees. We frequently recommend different types of sterile elms whose low water use, fast growth, drought and disease resistance makes them the perfect shade tree for our area.”

Osuna Nursery

501 Osuna Road NE

505.345.6644

osunanursery.com

Founded in 1980 by Korean immigrant Chang An and run today by his wife Myong, Osuna Nursery not only sells everything you might need to garden, they also hold frequent classes on everything from water conservation to landscape design to container and herb gardens. Their website also offers guides to horticulture topics like beneficial insects, pruning and caring for trees.

Parker’s Farm and Greenhouse

505.281.1760

251 Church St. East Edgewood

parkersfarmandgreenhouse.com

For four generations, Parker’s Farm and Greenhouse has grown and sold garden plants only (no pots, soils or fertilizers). They specialize in plants for the high-altitude garden.

Perennial Delights

408.504.0622

3871 Corrales Road

Perennial Delights offers locally grown annuals and perennials at the Corrales Growers’ Market and Los Ranchos Growers’ Market, or by appointment. They are also pollinator experts with plants supporting our birds, bees and butterflies.

Plants of the Southwest

6680 4th St. NW in Albuquerque

505.344.8830

3095 Agua Fria St. in Santa Fe

505.438.8888

plantsofthesouthwest.com

With stores in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, as well as online, Plants of the Southwest is the go-to for professional landscapers and homeowners who want water-wise and native vegetation.

Plant World Nursery & Landscape Supplies

250 El Pueblo Road NE

505.898.9627

plantworldinc.com

The largest wholesale nursery in New Mexico, Plant World sells to the trade and the public. They can also source large and hard-to-find specimens and carry a huge selection of hardscape materials and supplies.

Rehm’s Nursery & Garden Center

5801 Lomas Blvd NE

505.266.5978

rehmsnurserynm.com

Known as the “Purple Greenhouse,” Rehm’s has been growing trees, shrubs and more for 80-plus years. Owner Tammy Hayman says she’s blessed with knowledgeable staff and provides a wide selection of heirloom, unique or hard-to-find vegetables. “We’re doing more organic, and sell a lot of beneficial insects like ladybugs and green lacewings,” she says. “When you go to a big box, nobody is ever there to help, or they don’t know what they are talking about. We do.”

Rio Valley Greenhouses

2000 Harzman Road SW

505.350.6414

This small greenhouse in the South Valley provides locally grown annuals, perennials, vegetable starts, New Mexico chiles, herbs and more. Shop from their greenhouse and at the Railyards and Downtown Growers’ Markets.

Santa Ana Garden Center

960 US-550 in Bernalillo

505.867.1322

santaana.org/garden.htm

Santa Ana Garden Center offers plants grown from locally gathered seed and raised at their nursery on the Santa Ana Pueblo, which ensures the hardiness of their plants for north central New Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley.

Santa Fe

Agua Fria Nursery

1409 Agua Fria St.

505.983.4831

aguafrianurserynm.com

Agua Fria Nursery specializes in native and exotic perennials, shrubs and succulents. Their naturally grown plants, trees and other greenery, and their vegetable selection, are hard to match.

Newman’s Nursery

7501 Cerrillos Road

505.471.8642

newmansnursery.com

Newman’s offers a full selection of nursery plants and trees, including an excellent variety of fruit, flowering and shade trees, shrubs and drought tolerant perennials, as well as vegetables and soils. Owner Malcolm Newman prides himself on having the largest collection of fruit trees and roses in New Mexico. “We have over 1,000 trees like Asian Pears, Rainier cherries, Pink Lady and other older varieties of apples like Macintosh and Spitenzberg,” he says. “And we have over 4,500 rose bushes each year.”

Payne’s Nurseries

Payne’s South

715 St. Michael’s Dr.

505.988.9626

Payne’s North

304 Camino Alire

505.988.8011

Payne’s Organic Soil Yard

6037 Agua Fria St.

505.424.0336

paynes.com

The Payne family has been in the nursery business in Santa Fe since 1952, with two full-service locations and their own organic soil yard that composts the green waste from the City of Santa Fe, offering it back to the public. Owner Lynn Payne knows the climate and soil, what grows here and doesn’t, and offers only landscape and garden plants he knows will survive and thrive. “A big box has a buyer for an entire region,” he says. “The buyer for Santa Fe might be in Phoenix, [Ariz.]. So when the tag for a perennial or shade tree says sun, it’s nowhere near being winter-hardy here. That will never happen in an independent, local nursery.

Taos

Tooley’s Trees

1301 Road (dirt road off Rt. 76) in Truchas

505.689.2400

tooleystrees.com

Tooley’s Trees retail and wholesale nursery on the highroad between Santa Fe and Taos grows trees, shrubs and grafted fruits. They focus on varieties that are drought tolerant and adapted to our high pH soil.

Petree’s Nursery & Greenhouses

25 Petree Lane

575.758.3021

petreenursery.com

Northern New Mexico’s oldest and largest nursery with 10 greenhouses and acres of trees and shrubs, Petree’s caters to both the professional landscaper and the residential newbie getting started with houseplants or a container of tomatoes and chile. Owner Sylvia Petree says, “Service, knowledge and an experienced staff mean that our customers get to talk to people who know what grows here. Local nurseries provide information based on their own their gardening experience as well. We are the grower, so our quality is beyond compare.”

A Smidgeon of Homesteading

Alegria Farmstead

(Story by Cullen Curtiss / Photographs by readers)

The beneficiaries of 1862 Homestead Act must have been a bold bunch. Yes, the government granted them up to 160 acres of Western-ho land, but in exchange for keeping it and the opportunity to buy it, these hardscrabble folks had to tame it and make it produce. As we order boxed cereal to arrive at our door with the click of a mouse, we may struggle to fathom living even a smidgeon of this lifestyle.

For 20-some years at Local Flavor, we’ve featured hardcore 21st-century homesteaders, who’ve devoted their lives to extreme self-sufficiency. We’ve learned a lot, including the fact that those who homestead just a smidgeon are also pretty hearty. In fact, we feel any amount of homesteading is noble in the effort to live independently and believe in one’s own industriousness. In response to our call for stories from those composting, hunting, foraging, gardening, farming, sewing their own clothes, and beekeeping a smidgeon, we received a full crop of responses. Thank you all. We celebrate your self-reliance as you inspire us toward a more do-it-yourself lifestyle.

For consultant and teacher Rachel Hillier of Corrales’ Little Dirt Farms, self-reliance starts with the soil. And it’s about soil on the mend with her latest project at the two-and-a-half-acre

Courtesy of Albuquerque Museum

Heritage Field on the Albuquerque Museum’s Casa San Ysidro property. “Soil restoration is essential to sustainability,” she says. Appropriately, her “Introduction to Homesteading” curriculum begins on April 27 with a class titled Soil Prep and Pest Management and ends in October with Soil Restoration and Cover Crops. The 11-class hands-on program will help participants understand the ecological restoration in process on Heritage Field, the time necessary to grow local organic food, and the ancestral methods of farming and sustainability used by Spanish and Native peoples. Rachel will also introduce the idea of teamwork as a homesteading concept, which might seem anathema to the sovereign. “Determine your area of strength, and collaborate,” she insists.

Courtesy of Sam McCarthy

Another super soil advocate is Santa Fean Sam McCarthy, who shares, “When I was a kid my mother would say she wished to be buried in a compost heap. Now I raise red worms and teach people how to use them to develop fertile soil through composting.” Twenty years ago, red worms invited themselves into Sam’s backyard compost pile. He now sells generations of these red wrigglers under the name Do It With Worms at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, where he also talks with the full spectrum of individuals—enthusiast to grossed-out naysayer—to help them become composters of their household scraps and yard waste with “the least labor and the least water.” He says, “Composting in your backyard takes the burden off the local landfill, and leads to long-term carbon sequestration. Healthy soil leads to healthy gardens, which lead to healthy people.”

Two of many healthy Do It With Worms customers are Melissa Homann, a retired chef, and her husband Joe, who’ve gardened everywhere they’ve

Courtesy of Melissa Homann

ever lived—window boxes in a five-flight walk-up on Manhattan’s East 4th Street, an alfalfa field in Pojoaque, a backyard rental in Brooklyn. When they moved to Albuquerque, the first thing they bought was a composting bin. Due to their particularly stubborn patch of ground, they’ve also introduced fertilizing chicken poop pellets and calcium to the soil to help the roots absorb nutrients; as well, they sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the cement block walls, “because Albuquerque has a serious cockroach problem.” In the fall, they plant a cover crop of rye or red clover. Melissa and Joe have taken advantage of Albuquerque’s gardening, composting and water classes, learning, among other things, to aerate the city’s water before applying it to their plants, to employ vertical piping with holes to guide water into the soil roots, and to mulch with straw bale. Melissa says, “I bucket all the water I use for washing vegetables back into watering the garden. Lots of hauling!” To which she also enthusiastically adds, “Shop for your produce out back! Last year, the leeks were amazing. Carrots and radishes the year before. It’s always a surprise.”

Courtesy of Andrea Balter

Santa Fean Andrea Balter, a retired Los Angeles police officer, shares the same joy, but for her 19 girls. “I am enchanted with my hens,” she says. Andrea has several breeds, including Columbian Wyandotte’s, Production Reds and Araucana. And these beauties yield pink, blue and several shades of brown eggs, which she’ll sell if she cannot eat. She uses the hens’ nitrogen-rich droppings in her compost piles, which in turn help grow her veggies. “It’s a wonderful feeling to have a sense of self-sufficiency, and raise chickens in a way that is healthy and happy,” Andrea says. “Factory farming is so brutal, that if one does some research, one might never buy another egg!”

The theme of excitement continues on a large scale with Farm & Landscape Manager Wes Brittenham of Los Poblanos Historic Inn &

Courtesy of Wes Brittenham

Organic Farm, whose team is in constant conversation on 25 acres of ancestral agricultural land. He says, “Our homegrown food travels less than 300 yards from the field to your fork!” Wes describes blooming fruit trees, month-old chicks awaiting new digs, Slovenian beehives, fields primed for planting edible and decorative flowers, as well as nearly 1,000 new lavender plants, garlic coming up, several hoop houses yielding multiple harvests of greens and radishes, and carrots to come. Meanwhile, a variety of seedling trays promise exuberant starts. As for the essential elements of water and earth, Los Poblanos practices conservation, managing flows from the acequia, and treats its soil with cover crops, manure and compost, which Wes calls “homegrown,” lovingly mixed and layered with offerings from the kitchen, the landscapes and plant materials—using the strength of a tractor. Wes writes, “We are so excited to be a source of local, organic and fresh food to share with our guests, visitors, the community and each other.”

Courtesy of Philip Rothwell

While the “strength of a tractor” is not always necessary, “non-stop hard work, experimentation, education and lots of trial and error” are. Phil and Nazca Warren of Alegria Farmstead bought their half-acre land in Ribera in 2010. “It was completely over-run with weeds and trash, and the house needed renovating. We created earthworks, water catchment systems, fixed drainages and pathways, carved rows in the field and double-dug beds. With water harvesting and permaculture, the land is healing and our harvests are abundant,” they write. Their micro-farm, which includes some fowl, is mainly subsistence, but they sell some harvest at the Tri-County Farmers’ Market and the Eldorado Farmers’ Market. All grown from organic heirloom seeds, their crops include lettuce mix, kale, chard, arugula, walking onions, sunflower sprouts, tomatoes, green beans, herbs, corn, amaranth, carrots and radishes. They also wildcraft seasonal edible plants and medicinal herbs to make remedies. Nazca writes, “It’s humbling to grow in Northern New Mexico,” but she indicates that’s just a part of the overall journey.

For Resa Sawyer of the Middle Aged Spread at Aspenwind Farm on Taos Pueblo the journey has been decades-long, homesteading in various locales and living off-grid, growing food and medicine, saving seed, raising honeybees, dairy goats, chickens and guinea hens, and using her farm products to create goat milk and honey soaps, shampoo, herbal salves and lotion bars. In 2017, she moved to 20 acres on Taos Pueblo, where she built barns, erected fencing, planted fruit trees, shrubs, and perennial herbs and flowers, not only for product ingredients, but to provide nectar and pollen for a burgeoning apiary. Resa also serves on the board of the Pueblo’s Red Willow Farm, a nonprofit community farm and educational center. “Our priorities are not to just make use of water and land, but to reinvigorate the skills of self-reliance,” she writes. “In an age when Romaine lettuce can kill you and there is no security in our current economy, the true benefits of a homesteading life can’t be quantified.”

Also in Taos is Nan Fischer, who founded Taos Seed Exchange, a free community service for home gardeners to share their seed. Through the organization, Nan has become a bit of a

Courtesy of Nan Fischer

guru in the community, teaching people how to grow their own food, put it up, and save seed. She also sells nursery starts. “My garden is mostly things I can store, freeze or can—zucchini, dry beans, beets, carrots, green beans, garlic, soup peas, snow peas,” she says. “I have a greenhouse and use row covers and frost cloth to extend the season. You can’t get the flavor or quality of homegrown food out of season. It’s cheaper, tastier and more nutritious than buying. And it’s exhilarating and rewarding to eat your own broccoli or squash in January! It makes the hard work so worth it!”

Courtesy of Anna Martinez

Same goes for Nathalie Bonnard-Grenet, owner with her husband Chef Xavier Grenet of Restaurant L’Olivier in Santa Fe. In addition to the restaurant, she manages up to seven beehives. “They are magical because of what they produce—honey, propolis, pollen, wax,” she says. Nathalie describes the restaurant’s location on the tree-lined river as a great spot for one hive. Contrary to popular belief, honeymaking bees such as hers are “nice,” so guests on their patio are completely safe. Just last year, Nathalie harvested 170 pounds of honey, using it in restaurant dishes like Honey Ice Cream, Briouat Dessert, Honey-Glazed Pork Chop and Honey-Glazed Roasted Squash. Her hope is to inspire others to try beekeeping and help bees survive. “They are the main pollinators for our trees and flowers,” she says.

While the aforementioned have chosen to create some independence from modern convenience and are generally thrilled by the hard work and grateful for the rewards, they are aware they are standing on the aching backs of those who came before. On display in the form of artifacts, photographs and biographical profiles, through the summer at Los Alamos’ Municipal Building is the Women of the Homesteading Era exhibition. Imagine the Pajarito Plateau between 1887 and 1942 (when the Manhattan Project arrived), where 30 Hispano families and six Anglo families homesteaded and dry farmed. The exhibit highlights the lives of three women, fighting bad weather, insects and other threats. After your perusal, you might pick up a Los Alamos Homestead Tour brochure, which will guide you to sites of homesteads around town, in and amongst gas stations, clothing, hardware and grocery stores, and convenience marts—evidence that we’ve progressed so far that we want to go back, even if just a smidgeon.

Gettin’ Dirty Since 1975

(Story by Melyssa Holik / Photographs by Ramsay de Give)

When Bob Pennington started Agua Fria Nursery more than 40 years ago, he had no horticulture background, no retail experience and no idea what he was getting into. What he did have was a belief in tomorrow and a desire to make the future a little bit better.

Clad in a flannel shirt and overalls, Bob has an easy, relaxed manner as he greets shoppers, teases employees and answers customer questions. He’s a man of contradictions: simultaneously hopeful and jaded, world-weary yet idealistic, at once lighthearted and thoughtful. He’s quick to crack a joke and yet deeply serious in his desire to improve his small corner of the world.

Before he was a nursery owner, Bob worked with troubled adolescents. After graduate school at University of California, Berkeley, Bob and his wife, Jeni, ran a foster home for runaway youths in Philadelphia, PA. Even then, Bob was torn between his innate optimism and the difficult realities around him. His voice is compassionate yet tinged with resignation as he describes the circumstances of the children who were in his care. “These kids were in really messed up situations,” he says. “They had very good reasons to leave home.” And while he says it was rewarding work, Bob found it emotionally draining.

After a few years, he moved back to Denver (where Jeni was from), and worked in what he wryly calls “the juvenile INjustice system.” There again, the harsh realities collided with his inborn idealism. His desire to help was frustrated by the futility and scope of the problem. By 1975, Bob was looking for a new direction. His father, who was already living in Santa Fe, asked him, “How would you like to run a nursery? Plants, not children!” Bob thought it over and decided to give it a go. By November, he and his father had purchased the non-operational Agua Fria Nursery, Bob and Jeni had relocated to Santa Fe, and the entire family was ready to embark on their new adventure.

None of them had any experience running a nursery. “We had to learn everything from the ground up, literally!” Bob jokes. It was a welcome change, though. Bob compares his current profession to his past careers, saying, “Working in the juvenile injustice system, it’s hard to find a lot of pleasure in what you’re doing there.” It’s much different than his current livelihood, he says, as he returns to his good-natured kidding. “I still do a lot of grief counseling, but now it’s for dead plants.”

As the business grew, so did the Pennington family. Bob and Jeni’s three sons were all born in Santa Fe, and sons Shane and Mark have worked at the nursery with their father for pretty much their whole lives. Most recently, Agua Fria Nursery has included the fourth generation of Penningtons with Bob’s grandson, Aeneas, joining the crew.

“It’s a collaborative effort, nobody does one thing, but we all carved out little areas for ourselves,” Bob says. “My specialty is native plants and perennials; Mark orders most of the shrubs and trees; Shane is more interested in evergreens and, to an extent, annuals; Jeni ordered most of the seeds.”

His voice wavers as he reminisces about Jeni, who passed away this past August. He takes a deep breath and as quickly as the sadness came over him, he shakes it off with a quip about the secret to a lasting marriage—“Argue a lot but get over it!” He says their 54-year marriage was partly because, “We were both strong, stubborn people, but also too stubborn to give up.”

The family’s tenacity has paid off as Agua Fria Nursery continues to thrive. From the start they were guided by their principles as they built the business. “My dad was a minister, and I studied for ministry,” Bob says. “So it colors everything we do. We try to make really ethical choices and run a business in a way we can be proud of on an ethical and environmental basis. We live on this earth. I would love to pass on a better earth than the one I grew up in. I’m going to do my best to make sure that happens.” A look of exasperation crosses his face as he sighs and adds, “Well, it’s not happening, but… we try. We are politically sensitive and it shows.”

In reference to the controversial Monsanto herbicide, Bob says, “Take Roundup. We have never ever sold Roundup, and we never will. The neonicotinoids which are implicated in bee deaths, we have never sold them.” Bob considers those chemicals unnecessary and dangerous. “We don’t use ’em, we don’t buy ’em, we don’t sell ’em,” he states adamantly. The upshot is, as he puts it, “You don’t have to walk through the door with a gas mask.” His children were able to play safely in this environment, digging in the dirt and running through the plants without the risk of contact with dangerous chemicals. Today, employees’ children do the same. In fact, the employees are more concerned about cars in the parking lot than anything used on the plants.

“We have learned a few things about how to use better soils or better fertilizers, but we’ve also learned some are junk,” Bob says. “Peat moss is environmentally, a total disaster. It’s sold as renewable, but it takes 3,000 years to recover from strip mining!” Instead, he advises, “You can use coconut fiber, which was strictly a waste product.”

In keeping with their convictions, Agua Fria Nursery aims to use as many waste products as they can. This includes using animal waste as fertilizer, and some lesser-known plant waste products such as bark, rice hulls and the remnants from cotton ginning. The pots the nursery uses for their roses are made of paper waste, and other pots are made from rice byproducts—something Bob wishes to see more of industry-wide. He says, “Hopefully we can figure out how to use more waste products and less plastic; plastic is probably the biggest waste in industry.”

In addition to the organic methods and sustainable materials they use in their greenhouses, Agua Fria Nursery encourages people to plant native plants and appropriate exotics. Bob says, “Native plants grow here with the least supplemental inputs. You want things to grow with as little artificial manipulation as possible. For your own sake, you don’t want to be watering and spraying and feeding; it’s better if you can just enjoy it.” Beyond the advantages for an individual, Bob points out the global benefits of native plants. “Native plants and animals evolved together,” he says. He explains that desirable pollinators like butterflies and bees can’t utilize plants from China the way they can take advantage of native plants. Planting native species supports the entire ecosystem. “It’s just part of being stewards of the land we are responsible for, the land we live on,” Bob insists.

The climate in Northern New Mexico is dry, with poor soil, hot sun and high elevation. That combination creates unique challenges for gardeners here. Bob reflects, “Things people think they want to grow may not do well here. We’re here to help. We really do care about the success of your plants, and we do our best to provide you with the best plants we can lay our hands on.” He is determined to help guide customers in selecting plants that they’ll be happy with, and that will work in this climate.

“Great basin plants love it here; they think this is a cool place,” he says. “Are they native? Maybe not, but they’re very similar. Plants from all over the world thrive here because they come from similar environments.” He considers it his responsibility to help educate people on what works, what doesn’t and why. “I have taught Continuing Education for years at Santa Fe Community College, and I’m the state instructor for New Mexico Certified Nursery Professionals.” Agua Fria Nursery employs all certified, educated professionals because Bob believes in having qualified employees who know what they’re doing.

Setting a high bar for their employees hasn’t hurt the nursery one bit, either. “In reading trade journals, finding employees is the number one issue nurseries report, and getting younger customers is number two,” Bob says. “We’ve been really lucky to have a whole cadre of young people working here and a fair amount of young customers. We’re lucky, I think. We fill our roster each spring [and] summer. Maybe it’s the way we treat our employees, I don’t know.” He dismisses those issues, saying, “Water and space are our main problems!”

Continuing, “We have great customers! We have the best customer base in the city. He confides, “Quite frankly, I love all the people that I see. I’m sure for the last eight months, that’s what’s kept my sanity.”

Bob shows gratitude, joy and contentment as he reflects on the life he’s led and his business. “My wife and I, we traveled all over the Southwest looking at wildflowers, and it was all for business. Not everyone gets to do that. I get to play in the sun. I get to play in the dirt. I get to make beauty. I get to help people grow things to eat that are better than anything they can buy in the store.”

Bob says, “The rewards are pretty tremendous. I can’t imagine doing anything else.” With complete sincerity he sums it all up simply, “I love what I’m doing, and I love all of you.”

Agua Fria Nursery is located at 1409 Agua Fria Street in Santa Fe. 505.983.4831, aguafrianurserynm.com.

Pioneering New Mexico’s Farm Food Revolution

Image by Deborah Fleig

Image by Deborah Fleig

(Story by Lynn Cline)

The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market began 50 years ago as a small group of growers selling produce on Saturdays out of the back of their pick-up trucks. Those pioneers could hardly have imagined how their market would blossom. With 150 farmers across Northern New Mexico selling fresh food grown in the high desert to eager shoppers and restaurant chefs year-round, it’s become not only a Santa Fe treasure but one of the country’s biggest, oldest and most successful farmers’ markets.

The Santa Fe restaurant community has played a vital role in the market’s success, as chefs began purchasing lettuce, vegetables, fruits, meat, cheese and other items from area farmers and ranchers long before the farm to table and buy local, buy organic movements took root in New Mexico.

“Local restaurants certainly contribute to the financial viability of the farmers,” says Kierstan Pickens, executive director of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute. “A few restaurants in town—Il Piatto [Italian Farmhouse Kitchen] and 315 [Restaurant & Wine Bar] come to mind—have been purchasing local ingredients since before farm to restaurant was a thing. Early on market days, you’ll see chefs roaming the market, picking up wholesale pre-order from specific farms while also perusing what’s fresh and available that day. Squash blossoms are an especially popular seasonal item. Chefs buy local because they want the freshest, most delicious ingredients for their dishes. It’s why they choose to shop here. The quality cannot be beat. And it helps to keep money in the local economy.”

Image by Doug Merriam

Image by Doug Merriam

Chef Matt Yohalem, owner of Il Piatto, has been an ardent shopper at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market since the early 1990s, after moving here from New York City and opening Bistro 315, followed by Il Piatto. “At 315, Louis Moskow and I would go to the trailers and pick out everything,” Chef Matt says. “We’d get squash blossoms and 14 kinds of eggplant. We had endless energy, and we’d get back to the restaurant and say ‘I got an idea, I got an idea!’ I easily spent $50,000 to $100,000 a year at the market and that was my main source. I was amazed at how much variety they had than what I thought would be out here in the high desert.”

At 315 Restaurant & Wine Bar, Chef/Owner Louis Moskow remains a devotee of local, seasonal farm-grown ingredients. “I feel a certain obligation to support what I believe in,” Louis says. “In addition to keeping my money local and supporting local farming, I particularly enjoy the structure my menu gets by following rules of local seasonality. I only serve what is growing at the time. I like being told what to cook and when, the way nature intended.”

Deborah Madison, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and private cooking teacher in Galisteo, has long been a passionate advocate of farmers’ markets, and has written a book about them, Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from Americas Farmers Markets. “I really appreciate the foods that have sustained New Mexicans for generations, such as the chile and dried corn, whether posole, corn, corn seeds, chicos, masa, corn meal or whatever form it’s in,” Deborah says. “If I were visiting here, that’s what I’d be thrilled to find. In fact, these are the foods I was thrilled to find when I first came here in the l970s, and I brought them back to San Francisco to serve at my restaurant, Greens. But our real treasures are the farmers who have been growing their crops for a long time—and you have to know the market to know who they are. I treasure Stanley Crawford [who sold at the very first market], as well as his garlic and shallots and books. Or the person who is selling seeds, or incense, or more native food and plants.”

Image by Gabriella Marks

Image by Gabriella Marks

At Joe’s Dining, owner Roland Richter estimates he shops the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market 45 out of 52 Saturdays a year. “I love seeing the people who are producing the products, talking to them, asking them about what kind of challenges they have, what they’re going to have next week,” Roland says. “I love having a pulse on the environment, and how certain farmers are growing certain things. Many of the farmers are very good acquaintances now.”

By sourcing the farmers’ market for ingredients, Roland shows his customers how much he cares about what they eat. “It distinguishes us from the big stores, the multinational restaurants who just aren’t doing what we do,” he says. “They are spending so much money on marketing and image and we don’t do that. We spend our money on the ingredients for the food. ”

In turn, Joe’s Dining customers keep coming back for seasonal dishes like Margherita Pizza with fresh summer tomatoes. “They all love the idea that there are really strong standards to the tomatoes that we use,” Roland says. “They have to be soil-grown and sun-ripened. The tomatoes never see a refrigerator. They’re from a local farmer; they didn’t travel thousands of miles. It’s just like growing them in your own backyard and our customers enjoy them while they’re in season, along with apricots, cherries, peaches and corn. Most of the market foods are certified organic and some farmers use better principles than organic, as written down by law.”

Not surprisingly, farmers’ market shoppers develop a strong bond with the ingredients they purchase. “The food is alive!” Deborah Madison says. “It has a way of inspiring me that food from the store just doesn’t—unless it’s a store that happens to carry that food, and most don’t, and let’s face it, it’s not going to be as fresh as it is at the market, even when they do buy from the farmers. I also appreciate knowing and speaking to those who raise the food I eat. Sometimes their stories are hard—as they are this year with the drought, despite the monsoons. It’s important to see that and know that. That’s when we might just see that we’re actually in a precarious position vis à vis our food.”

Image by Kitty Leaken

Image by Kitty Leaken

Easy access to fresh, flavorful, farm-grown ingredients has helped to grow the farm to table and buy local, buy organic revolutions in New Mexico, and both these movements are vividly on display at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market.

“My only real experience with local farm to table and organic practices are witnessed at the farmers’ market where scores of people come to support the movement,” Chef Louis says. “Judging by the attendance, I would have to say it is a great success.”

Visit the market any day of the week, and you’ll see the relationship between farmers and chefs and home cooks. “I’d recommend coming to the market early on a Saturday morning and witnessing the exchange between chef and farmer,” Kierstan Pickens says. “Chefs wandering about with big bags of greens and other produce, picking up orders and dropping off checks. Discussing with farmers what’s going to be available when, do you have any more of this, can I get the last of that. I have seen Matt Yohalem stop by our small and quiet Wednesday market first thing in the afternoon to wipe out the entire supply of cauliflower from one vendor for the last two-three weeks. We’ve witnessed a vendor announcing bulk cherries for sale on Instagram, only to see Chef Rocky Durham respond within five minutes and stop by the market shortly thereafter to buy ALL the cherries she had that day. That’s really how it plays out. So much of the market is about community. The community between chef and farmer, farmer to farmer, farmer to customer and all the intersections in between. I think chefs and restaurants have helped to put a spotlight on local food and why it’s so important and delicious. But I think food-access programs like Double Up Food Bucks (we double SNAP transactions at the market) and our simple Market Fresh Cooking demos go a long way to help influence families as well.”

It’s with a keen eye toward the future that Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen Chef Scott Eastburn ardently uses fresh, local, farm-grown ingredients. “I feel that when I purchase from vendors at the Farmers’ Market, I am spending money in a conscious way,” Chef Scott says. “Not only do I support my friends, the farmers, but I am able to participate in a localized movement that cultivates more than just soil, but art, education and community. Farm to table is about bringing the best food to the table that I can. But it is also about espousing a set of values for a better tomorrow. My children will be raised at the farmers’ market along with the children of the farmers. Together, they may create a future that is bright, fulfilling and full from the value of things created and shared.”

Roots Farm Cafe

 Image by Joy Godfrey


Image by Joy Godfrey

(Story by Amy Morton; photos by Joy Godfrey)

“there’s a pervasive ethos of sustainable country living, from the lending library to the locally produced eggs, honey, art and gifts you can purchase, all while listening to friendly regulars shoot the breeze.”

Life has a way of bringing you back to your starting point. A native of Tijeras, a historic village just outside of Albuquerque in the East Mountains, Daniel Puccini was headed for a career in academia. While pursuing a PhD in linguistics in Amsterdam, he met fellow American grad student and current partner Kendall Rattner. “We finished our studies,” Daniel says, “and decided that wasn’t what we really wanted to do with the rest of our lives.”

The couple returned to the States and interned at North Carolina’s Turtle Island Preserve, a primitive living education center. It was here that Kendall, who had worked in cafes and coffee shops, reached a solid comfort level in the kitchen as the camp’s cook, while Daniel focused on “old-school farming” on a large scale, a skill he eventually decided to apply to roughly two acres of his family’s 40-acre farm in Tijeras. Without a well on the property, that meant dryland farming using only rainfall, snow melt and water harvesting––including large cisterns––as well as tilling the land with Sam, the draft horse.

 Image byJoy Godfrey


Image byJoy Godfrey

If this sounds challenging, you wouldn’t know it from talking to this earnest couple, who remain stalwart despite the recent drought. “Fortunately, in the summer and fall I was able to capture lots of rainfall into the cisterns,” Daniel says.  “And since it wasn’t so cold, I didn’t have to drain them. So I do have a few thousand gallons stored for watering starts.” To conserve that water, he’s adjusting this year’s garden design, which entails planning for fewer crops and heavier mulching. “The less rain we get, the more creative we have to be,” he says.

In fact, the biggest issue for the couple hasn’t been the growing, but rather the selling and distribution of their crops. Farmers’ markets “didn’t really pay off,” Kendall says. So they decided to open Roots Farm Café in a log cabin-style farmhouse just 10 miles north of the farm on State Highway 337, the gateway to the Manzano Mountains and its many recreational opportunities. That helped them become discovered not just by spread-out East Mountain locals, but also by city dwellers who come out to the mountains to hike, bike, sled and explore.

 Image byJoy Godfrey


Image byJoy Godfrey

Two years later, Roots Farm Cafe has taken over the entire building and attracted an enthusiastic following and large weekend crowds, despite zero advertising. There’s been enough word of mouth, in fact, that the café earned a “Best Restaurant 30 Minutes Away” award last fall, which is impressive given that the cafe hasn’t received much Albuquerque media coverage and didn’t campaign for votes on social media. “We didn’t even know we were in the running!” Kendall says.

Part of the acclaim can be attributed to Roots Farm Cafe’s appealingly rustic ambiance, with its cozy stone fireplace, warm wood-paneled great room and inviting porch for outdoor eating. Plus, there’s a pervasive ethos of sustainable country living, from the lending library to the locally produced eggs, honey, art and gifts you can purchase, all while listening to friendly regulars shoot the breeze.

But none of this could happen, of course, without good food. The cafe serves a satisfying, simple menu of breakfast dishes, paninis, wraps and salads made from the farm’s produce, as well as that of Schwebach Farms, East Mountain Organic Farms and other area growers. “Almost anything that we can find locally, we use,” Kendall says. Fresh roasted coffee beans are delivered weekly from Albuquerque’s Trifecta Coffee Company, while the loose-leaf teas are from New Mexico Tea Company.

 Image byJoy Godfrey


Image byJoy Godfrey

While the served-all-day breakfast burrito is the top seller, and the housemade chocolate chip cookies are to die for, it’s the Daily Specials board that is becoming increasingly popular. “Regulars are learning to trust our specials, even if they might not be too familiar with what it is,” Kendall says. “They’re trusting that we’ll make something really delicious, and it’s almost always based on stuff from our farm or other local farms.” Daniel’s daily soups are hits, as demonstrated by the fact that there is just one cup of the very tasty and hearty carrot ginger soup left by 2:30 p.m. on this particular day. “My greatest strength in the kitchen is making something out of whatever I have,” he says.

Daniel’s other passion is holding educational programs at the farm to teach both kids and adults about “the roots of their own existence,” which he sees as a conduit for knowledge and interaction. “Living in a sustainable way connects us to our basic needs, like water and food, and also with each other,” he says. As for that human socialization, it’s fully on display on weekends, when the cafe becomes a veritable meet-and-greet––something the couple finds both heartening and rewarding.

“It’s so nice to see people come in that we’ve gotten to know, and then they see people they’ve gotten to know!” Kendall says. “They all sit together, and it’s such a good time. Every day, people tell us how happy they are that we’re here. We were hoping for that, but it’s definitely exceeded our expectations.”

Roots Farm Cafe is located at 11784 N.M. 337 in Tijeras, 505.900.4188, rootsfarmcafe.com.

Old Town Farm

Image by Joy Godfrey

Image by Joy Godfrey

(Story by Amy Morton; Photos by Joy Godfrey)

“A beloved weekend destination for cyclists hungry for nourishment as well as community.”

Wedged between Albuquerque’s Old Town, the Rio Grande and Interstate 40, there is a place that most first-time visitors find hard to believe exists: a lush 12-acre farm right along the I-40 paved bike path that’s still zoned as part of Bernalillo County, despite being completely engulfed by the city of Albuquerque.

Purchased in 1977 by the indefatigable power couple Linda Thorne and Lanny Tonning, Old Town Farm has evolved from a working equestrian farm with roughly 30 horses to something of a multi-faceted marvel: a produce and flower farm with over 100 crops and a Community Supported Agriculture program, an idyllic event venue complete with a timeless red barn and cottonwood-shaded gardens, and the beloved weekend destination for cyclists hungry for nourishment as well as community.

For Linda and Lanny, each of these once-lofty ideas was conceived to ensure Old Town Farm’s ability to hold out over the years, despite relentless urban development. “In terms of sustainability, the events, the Bike-In Coffee, the CSA and all these other pieces are what allow us to keep this as a farm, rather than build 20 houses here,” Linda says. “There’s not much of this left.”

Image by Joy Godfrey

Image by Joy Godfrey

Now in its sixth season, Bike In Coffee—which began as a food truck serving coffee, refreshments and a small menu of food items designed to utilize the farm’s own produce—has reached fever pitch. As the first-ever eatery specifically catering to cyclists, its lore has reached all corners of the U.S. as well as Paris, thanks to recent coverage on French public TV. Linda hilariously tells the story of how a neighbor in their very same historic valley, irrigated for centuries by the Madre de Duranes ditch, was stunned to learn about Bike In Coffee…from a Parisian friend no less.

For the 2018 season (every Saturday and Sunday from March to October), visitors will be served even faster, thanks to an attractive new building that features a spacious commercial kitchen and a large covered porch made in part with repurposed wood boards from the farm’s old horse stalls. The vibe, however, remains decidedly laidback. Orders are still taken at a window counter, hot drinks still come in mismatched mugs, and James Franco, the dog, remains the reigning celebrity attraction and ball chaser.

Image by Joy Godfrey

Image by Joy Godfrey

With 200-plus cyclists riding in on a good-weather weekend—a group Lanny describes as “a very positive, self-selecting cross-section of people interested in the outdoors and health and wellness”—the couple knew it was time for change after seeing the lines at the food truck get longer and longer. “Six people were literally jammed into that food truck like a box of monkeys,” Linda says with a laugh. “It was just arms flying past everyone’s faces.” With the yearlong construction on Bike In Coffee’s new home finally finished, the converted RV is now slated to become a gourmet popsicle truck.

That’s right, hot and sweaty pedalers, come fall, Linda and Lanny hope to roll out icy cold “bike-sicles” featuring fruits, herbs and veggies grown at the farm. Potential flavors include a frozen version of their popular cucumber mint cooler drink, as well as combinations like spicy ginger watermelon, lavender plum, carrot tangerine and red chile raspberry, a nod to Old Town Farm’s popular jam that sells out the day it’s released. All will be sweetened with homegrown stevia leaves.

As for the weekly menu that’s based on what’s being harvested, the streamlined formula remains the same: an assortment of soups, salads, mini-quiches and cakes, plus a rendition of the famous “skookie,” the scone-cookie hybrid born out of a happy baking accident. It’s dense, moist and chewy in all the right ways, and many bikers with a sweet tooth come just for this item, or for Chef Carlos Miera’s signature carrot cake. On the savory front, you can’t beat the $10 combo that includes a soup, salad, three “quiche babies” and a thick slice of bread made from Kaktus Brewing Company’s spent grain. On opening weekend, the rich, creamy tomato soup and Thai salad made with vegan fish sauce were standouts.

Image by Joy Godfrey

Image by Joy Godfrey

“The food is good because we keep it super simple,” Linda says. “We don’t have this big, elaborate menu. People appreciate it for what it is. It’s not a restaurant, and it’s not like anything else. It’s in its own category.” Yet, despite the mandate for simplicity in the kitchen, Linda and Lanny can’t stop coming up with new plans for Old Town Farm, which is why “We’ve been busy for 40 years,” Lanny jokes. The couple will be continuing the Bike In Concert series in 2018, plus they’re exploring new products like fermented black garlic and herbal oil essences (think peppermint and lavender). That’s in addition to planting grape vines for the first time, finishing the landscaping around the new building and creating a “games corral” with horseshoes, a pétanque court and possibly a volleyball area, too. And of course, don’t forget getting the food truck outfitted with freezers and popsicle machines.

“As my dad would say, ‘Ideas are a dime a dozen,’” Linda says. “I think I’m still trying to prove that they’re worth more than a dime. Because I have to do them all! But if it weren’t for these amazing people working for us and taking a proprietary interest in this place, we couldn’t do it.”

Old Town Farm is located at 949 Montoya St. in Albuquerque, 505.764.9116, oldtownfarm.com; you can find Bike In Coffee on Facebook.