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NMSU hosts Western SARE state coordinators' annual meeting, tour

SANTA FE, N.M. - New Mexico State University hosted Cooperative Extension Service agricultural agents from the Western United States region as they learned about sustainable practices being used by New Mexican agricultural producers.

Woman in brown blouse standing in field talking to a man in light blue shirt with people looking on behind her.
Loretta Sandoval of Zulu's Petals Farm in Dixon talks with Cooperative Extension Service agricultural agents from the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education western region about raising traditional varieties of tomatoes. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

Professional development program coordinators for the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education's western region met in Santa Fe in August for their annual business meeting. They represented 13 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, and four US Pacific Island protectorates including Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia and the Northern Mariana Islands.

In addition, the PDP coordinators attended the Western SARE water conference that was held in Santa Fe on Aug. 7.

"Many of the coordinators have heard about our past conferences and they were interested in seeing one of the conferences firsthand," said Stephanie Walker, NMSU Extension vegetable specialist and New Mexico's SARE coordinator. "All of the states represented have serious concerns about maintaining the quality and quantity of water available for their agricultural operations."

Water catchment systems and low-pressure drip-irrigation were the two topics in the conference that many of the coordinators said could help their clients, especially the representatives from islands.

"Even though we have high rainfall in Guam, probably 50 percent of our people have land that has no water" said Bob Barber of the University of Guam. "So we have to figure out how to help them get water catchment systems to harvest the rain runoff, and how to disperse the water to their fields economically."

Barber said the water catchment system and the gravity-driven, low-pressure drip-irrigation system that were discussed at the conference could be a solution.

In addition to the meeting and conference, NMSU scheduled a tour of the university's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde and five agricultural operations, of which, many had received Western SARE grants.

"During the tour the PDPs see some of the new and novel things producers are doing in the ways of sustainable agriculture. Many take these ideas and examples home and share them with their clients," Walker said.

"By taking these tours, we see firsthand problems they are dealing with, and what the research is trying to fix," said Cindy Lair, chair of the Western SARE administrative council. "We also see several SARE projects in these tours so we see our grant money in action, which is benefiting rural communities."

During this year's tour, stops were made at:
? Rancho Las Lagunas in Nambe, a former dairy that now raises alfalfa and grass-fed cattle. Owner Alfredo Roybal talked about the area's acequia system of which he administers.

? Camino de Paz Farm and Montessori School in Cuarteles. Owner Greg Nussbaum led a tour of the farm where middle school students are totally engaged in the farm operation. The hands-on education gives the students an appreciation for what it's like to actually live on a farm. The school's curriculum integrates agri-business projects where the students take the vegetables, eggs and goat's milk obtained from the farm operation to market.

? Santa Cruz Farm in Santa Cruz where owner Don Bustos has made his certified organic farm into a totally vegan farm by not using any animal products such as manure for fertilizer.

? NMSU's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde where the various research being conducted at the farm was discussed. A chile roasting demonstration was also given and the guest tasted the freshly roasted Big Jim chiles.

? Zulu's Petals Farm in Dixon where owner Loretta Sandoval does unique work in trying to protect and increase some of the native heirloom varieties, such as peppers, squash, corn and any other native vegetable crops that have been grown in the area for many hundreds of years.

? Black Mesa Winery in Velarde where the guests learned about the wine industry in New Mexico.