Best Farm, Greater New Mexico
An Interview with Victoria Montoya, Owner/Operator
Photos by Stephanie Cameron
Left to right: Victoria Montoya; her daughter, Allison; and her parents, Juanita and Pat Montoya.
Victoria Montoya is a fourth-generation farmer on her family’s land, continuing in the footsteps of her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Montoya Orchard specializes in apple cider and all things fruit, and grows and processes everything on-site, using a commercial kitchen that is completely solar-powered. Everything is grown naturally, meaning no pesticides and also no waste.
You are a fourth-generation orchard operator, with fruit trees dating back to the early days of the business. How did the orchard get started, and how has it grown to what it is today?
Our orchard was started by my great-grandparents and passed down through the generations. My parents took over forty-seven years ago and grew the business into local farmers markets. They started the Española market in the parking lot of a library. They worked hard and continued to expand by building a commercial kitchen on-site so that they were able to make apple cider and get certified by the New Mexico Environment Department. Growing up, I worked the markets and helped pick fruit. As I got older, I realized how much I loved the land and the work we were doing. Since I have taken over, we have been able to expand with online sales, community-supported agriculture, educational programs, and wholesale. Taking what I have learned from previous generations in my family, I have been able to combine traditional ways of farming with modern technologies to improve and expand our business.
Northern New Mexico has a long history of growing fruit, especially apples. As an orchardist so deeply rooted in the Española Valley, what does the long-standing apple-growing tradition in New Mexico mean to you?
It’s as simple as family. I am continuing to fulfill my family’s dream of providing food to our community. Days spent at the orchard are not just work; they’re days spent with my parents. I have spent days in the kitchen with my grandma showing me how to make capulin jelly, or planting trees with my father, or picking sunflowers with my daughter.
What’s the best part of running an orchard?
One of the best parts is showing up to a farmers market with everything we have harvested and seeing our community so excited to eat our fruits and veggies. We have customers who were children going to markets with their parents and now they bring their own children to buy fruit from us.
What’s the hardest part?
Most parts of farming are hard. The worry is always there each season: Will we have enough water? Will we have a late freeze? Will the tractor last another season? We farm in the hundred-degree heat and still work in the winter snow. Farmers don’t get to call in sick—my father jokes, “Farmers don’t retire, they die.” We don’t farm because it’s easy; we do it because we love it.
You grow your fruit without synthetic pesticides. How difficult is it to grow a worm-free apple in New Mexico?
It can be difficult to grow worm-free apples, but we have had years of practice. We use all-natural practices and are sure to use calcium and iron for our trees. Everything sprayed on our trees is organic and we spray every fifteen days. Any apples that are not market worthy go into our cider, jams, and vinegar, so there is no waste.
Your sour cherry jam is a best seller and deservedly so. What’s your favorite way to use the jam in your own kitchen?
My daughter loves to put sour cherry jam over ice cream or waffles. I like to use it in place of cranberry for the holidays, especially on leftover turkey.
Is there a local food issue that is particularly important to you?
I am passionate about our children learning where their food comes from. I work closely with the Cooking with Kids program, going to local schools and talking about farming and helping prepare a meal with the children. So often, children don’t know where the food they eat is coming from, beyond Walmart. It’s also important that all people have access to healthy, locally grown food.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?
As a woman in agriculture, it is important to me to continue to pass down our traditions to the next generation.
We truly appreciate all the support and love we receive from our community. We don’t ever take it for granted—we are able to do what we love because of everyone who buys our products and supports our family business.