On a quiet breezy property on the Rio Grande sewn with rows of chile, tomatoes and sunflowers, two women have made it their mission to keep a centuries-old New Mexican tradition alive. Farmer’s Daughters is the jointly run venture started by cousins Ashley and Chantelle Wagner, that functions as part local farm, part promoter and cheerleader for other local farming interests.
What began as an idea to market their fathers’ produce to Albuquerque restaurants has evolved into what the cousins describe as a “farm-to-table company” that connects local farms, including their own, with restaurants, breweries and food trucks. Chantelle Wagner’s dad is Jim of Big Jim’s Farms, and Ashley Wagner’s dad works at Wagner’s farms, and their childhoods were steeped in Corrales farming culture. Chantelle Wagner has fond memories of growing up on New Mexico farmland. “I’ve helped on the farm since I was a kid,” she said. “My dad used to take me every day. I was in diapers, and he’d pack my bottles. I’d cry if I had to stay home.” After venturing out of state to pursue Masters’ degrees and corporate jobs, the two eventually found their way back home and decided to put their heads together toward more local pursuits – enriching the land and the community they grew up with.
In keeping with four generations of working the land, the Wagners have adapted their practice to fit the needs of the day. In addition to growing and selling chile, squash, melons, tomatoes, to name just a few, the cousins hold farm dinners, host volunteer and education events, engage in local activism, and recently launched a “farm to bath” line that’s sold in La Montañita coops. As Ashley Wagner says, “We’re trying to continue on what our great-grandfather started, continue our heritage, our farming roots, and evolve it into the next century, and figure out how to make money – it’s really hard to farm and make money.”
Despite the challenges of trying to compete with large-scale food distributors like Sysco and Shamrock for a share of the restaurant produce market, the Wagners maintain their conviction that sustainably grown, pesticide-free produce is just better. The restaurants they source to, including Zinc, the Standard Diner, Farina Alto Pizzeria and Wine Bar, the Grove Cafe & Market, and Vinaigrette, seem to agree. They also sell produce at the Railyards and Downtown Grower’s Markets, where their new bath line has been gaining traction. The line includes goodies like “Queen Bee Body Butter” and soap made with goats’ milk, vanilla, and honey from Chantelle Wagner’s beekeeping operation.
The cousins have also been campaigning to save 30 acres of land that has been in their family for 40 years from sale to developers. “We really want farmers to have access to grow food,” Chantelle Wagner said. They’ve used their group, “Friends of Farmland Preservation,” and their network within Corrales to organize rallies, speak to local politicians, and spread the word about the benefits of preserving the historic farmland.