An Interview with Sean Ludden, Farm Manager

Photo by Stacey M. Adams

An edible Local Hero is an exceptional individual or organization working to create innovative, vibrant, and resilient local food systems in New Mexico. Last fall, edible readers nominated and voted for their favorite food artisans, growers, and advocates in nearly two dozen categories—including six new awards. Each issue of edible will contain interviews with several of the winners, spotlighting the important and exciting work they do. It is imperative to the local food movement that we come together as a community to support each other, our local economy, and our environment. Please join us in thanking these local heroes for being at the forefront of that effort.

Sean Ludden at Rio Grande Community Farm on a winter’s day.

As Las Huertas Farmer Training Program Director and Farm Manager at Rio Grande Community Farm (RGCF), Sean Ludden oversees seed-saving and habitat restoration projects, and advocacy of organic and regenerative farming practices. With seven years of experience managing certified organic farms, Ludden provides holistic management to fulfill the mission of RGCF with creative and innovative techniques.

Ludden also cultivates the biodiverse Nepantla Farms, where regionally adapted edible and medicinal crops are cultivated for wholesale markets. He has experimented with techniques, cultivars, and timing in the pursuit of a climate-resilient, arid-lands adapted production system.

What’s RGCF’s backstory, how did it get to where it is today?

Rio Grande Community Farm, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, has been operating on leased City of Albuquerque Open Space for twenty years and is New Mexico’s oldest and largest community garden. The farm makes use of land saved from speculative development to provide education, community garden access, wildlife habitat, and scenic beauty for the Middle Rio Grande Valley. In 2016, to expand the farm’s educational offerings, we developed the Las Huertas Farmer Training Program, which provides technical training in organic and regenerative agriculture for the next generation of aspiring farmers in the Albuquerque area.

What food issues are most important to RGCF? How is the farm making a difference?

With the majority of farmers in the US reaching retirement age, and land valuation exceeding the ability of most younger farmers to take on, it became increasingly obvious to the board and staff at RGCF that some method of farm training and increasing access to land were fulcrum points which RGCF could use to provide a better future and to secure access to food on into the future.

During 2017, through creative use of extra community garden land and with excellent assistance from our community garden coordinator, Ian Colburn, we have made space for Lutheran Family Services, Tres Hermanas refugee farm, and the woman-run Firewheel Collective on the site.

Who are your farmers? Who are your customers?

RGCF is an organization created through diverse levels of engagement. From community garden members and aspiring farmers-in-training to visitors who appreciate wildlife in the middle of the city and students interested in service projects, many benefit from RGCF in Albuquerque’s urban corridor. Working to provide the best urban farming experience possible, we are especially excited to partner and collaborate with other organizations and groups looking for access to land to fulfill their missions and growth and to increase social and ecological capital in the local region.

What are your students and visitors usually most excited to experience at the farm?

They are most excited to see the fields and experience the different methods used on the farm—most importantly, how agriculture can integrate with the ecology and natural environment of the Rio Grande Valley. Many wish to take these methods back home, to see how their farms can become highly biodiverse and productive.

What is most rewarding about working for RGCF?

My reward is experimenting with cutting-edge techniques and sharing this information with others to provide resilient and adaptable options for the new generation of aspiring farmers in our area. I believe that sharing our collective experiences with farming in the Southwest will ultimately provide a robust and durable food system. RGCF helps in this mission and gives me joy in my work.

What are RGCF’s goals for the future?

RGCF will continue to provide services in the community garden, workshops, and tours. We welcome input from the community at large about what opportunities we can pursue and what programs can be impactful in the Albuquerque area and on Los Poblanos fields.

There is enormous potential for future production on Los Poblanos Open Space fields and at RGCF’s adjacent fields and community garden. We encourage groups and individuals to contribute their talent and ideas to make this one-hundred-acre area more productive and biologically rich. No other area in the country has this type of resource within city limits. Let’s make it a future hub of activity for our foodshed!

Fill in the Blank:

My favorite events at RGCF are the tours we hold for different interest groups, children, and students, because it is through these interactions that we can really interpret the work we do, the connections between techniques and health of the land, and the overall joy people experience when meeting up with people “in the field,” so to speak.

Volunteers at RGCF always tell me how peaceful the area is and how rejuvenated they feel after a visit to the community garden or into the fields to enjoy wildlife and untrammeled views of the Sandia Mountains throughout the seasons.

My favorite thing about farming in Albuquerque is the diversity of products that can be grown here. From salad greens in the winter to root crops in the spring, and summer peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes, this is a wonderful climate for growing vegetables, fruits, and other savory delights.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?

While RGCF is in many ways a solid and long-term participant of local farming culture in the valley, it always benefits from your help. Join RGCF to volunteer in the office, field, or by serving on our board. Donate to keep our mission strong and help us serve the community in a positive way. Grow with us in the community garden and through creative and informational workshops. Celebrate with us through fundraising events and seasonal tours as we continue to offer opportunities for Burqueños to experience the fields in the city. We can’t exist without your support!

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Edible celebrates New Mexico's food culture, season by season. We believe that knowing where our food comes from is a powerful thing. With our high-quality, aesthetically pleasing and informative publication, we inspire readers to support and celebrate the growers, producers, chefs, beverage and food artisans, and other food professionals in our community.