Heading over to the Rio Grande Farm Park on the last Saturday in May for a work day, I got a song stuck in my head. My brother and I had the record, a collection of Who songs entitled Odds and Sods. These were studio recordings that had not made other albums. This 'vinyl' had quite a diversity of unrelated songs but one song was called 'Now I'm a Farmer.'
The song goes through the pleasures and perils of being a farmer growing food commercially (versus a backyard garden) and how the politics and economics can affect the way a farmer feels about going through the process, after all the hard work and the toll it takes on tools, the horse, (symbolically his tractor), and the mental and physical toil of it all...
Growing crops and being a farmer in the high deserts of the San Luis Valley is a challenge. The valley floor is at seven thousand five hundred feet, receives minimal rain for many of the crops grown, and relies on snowpack to provide the water source to keep things growing in what is a short growing season. But, it can be done! Farmers and ranchers have had hundreds of years of working with the environmental parameters here and pass that experiential knowledge to one another and the next generations.
Much of the human food (potatoes and grains) and feed (alfalfa and clover for cattle) gets shipped out of the valley to support the economic needs of large commercial farming. But what about those of us who want to eat food from the valley? Enter a new/old idea. How about a community garden for farmers and gardeners to grow their own food but have some of it primarily to sell at farmers markets and to other customers right here? This is the concept of the Rio Grande Farm Park. When the waters of the Rio Grande were not contained, it used to flood each spring and bring natural soils and minerals and spread it evenly and generously over the floodplain. Healthy wetlands relied on this annual event and this created a diversity of plants and animals that flourished for thousands of years.
Enter humans. This fertile land became an elementary school. The soils underneath lay dormant, the river was contained, and such as it was for many years. Sometimes, things do come back around. The Rio Grande Farm Park is now a concept farm with family plots of ground, Incubator Farms (commercial farming on a small scale for farmers who want to learn farming, but also want to sell what they grow). This year the program has been expanded with more acreage available for the farmers and gardeners. There is also a deer proof community area for fruit trees and berries. Five types of edible pumpkins have been planted. The park also has its own beehive. A playground for kids, a school remnant, is on the farm such that children can play on swings and other toys while their parents play in the dirt.
Multipurpose Farm - In July, the Farm Park will sponsor their own Wednesday afternoon farmers market. The last Saturday (mornings) of each summer month will have a farm work day for anyone who wants to stop by and dig in the dirt, learn, pull weeds, exchange information and enjoy food and refreshments. The farm will also be a research center. Two varieties of organic alfalfa will be grown with preliminary research done by a university agronomist in hopes of having these grow in this climate. No guarantees. There will be a test plot of white Sonoran wheat (from old Mexico) to see how well it might do here in the valley. A test plot of yellow sweet clover will also be tested to see if this kind of clover can have success at this altitude and be a nitrogen fixing plant to add nutrients to the soil. The farm will also be organic, raising the crops without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. This makes the task 'a thinking farmers challenge' as to how to control pests. For every pest, there is usually a predator (biocontrol) for them. For instance, aphids love certain plants and can be quite damaging. Enter one of the queens of the farm - ladybugs! Ladybugs will go after aphids like a bulldog on a postman! Plant diversity is also critical for keeping pests and weeds at bay while crops grow during the season. Many other permaculture techniques will be employed to make the farm as productive as possible. Jesse, the farm manager, discussed polyculture farming. Create a food forest with companion planting (plants that like to live together), have 'trap crops' to attract pests that will keep them away from other plants, and try other research ideas to make the farm a healthy plant ecosystem. The irrigation water comes from one of the irrigation ditches (from the Rio Grande) but long term, they hope to have a way to filter the water through a series of wetlands before going onto the soils to have it be even cleaner.
The culmination of the growing season will be a 'Harvest Soirée' on September 9th to celebrate the bounty of the Farm Park. The regular Saturday Alamosa Farmers Market will be held at the park that day featuring many local farmers who grow their own goodies on their land scattered throughout the valley. Foodies will delight in eating from booths utilizing all the garden veggies, local meats and cheeses, locally 'grown' beer, and other goods available for sale. Check back for updates on the Farm Park going from dirt with hidden seeds, to becoming a lush and flourishing well-tended Garden of Eatin'.
Now I'm a farmer and I'm digging digging, digging, digging, digging. It's alarming how charming it is to be a-farming
How calming and balming the effect of the air
When you grow what I grow
Potatoes, tomatoes... gourds. The Who from the album Odds and Sods Rio Grande Farm Park - Just north of US Highway 160 on Highway 17.