By Cassidy Tawse-Garcia

Harvesting fields at Reunity Farm. Photo by Esha Chiocchio.

On a crisp, bright day in November, we convene at Chispas Farm, located off Saavedra Road, once part of the historic Atrisco Land Grant, a system of colonial land capture that established Albuquerque’s South Valley as an agricultural production area starting in 1692. Intersected by serpentine acequias, Chispas Farm is an inlet of agricultural land in an area quickly shifting under the pressures of gentrification. Under the tarp roof of the outdoor pack station, Carlos McCord of FarmShark Farm organizes us into jobs. I take the lettuce heads from Chavez Farms. Maya packs the apple butter (a new value-added product from Chispas Farm), and Liana and Zoey organize the carrot and beet bunches from Ashokra Farm. Ian Colburn of solarpunk farm adds dehydrated apple rings, a collaborative project of Dair’s Apple Orchard, located a bit farther south.

Together, we fill bags for 120 households, each containing sixteen Albuquerque-grown and -made food products. Half of the bags will go to purchasers through the ABQ Resilience Box project, who will pay $120 for $80 worth of local goodness. This price point allows us to distribute the other shares at no cost through ABQ Mutual Aid, a grassroots organization that provides essential resources to community members  impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This project, the brain-child of Ian and me and run by farmer-members of the Better Together CSA, pays producers full price for produce in a traditionally slow part of the growing season, while getting local produce into more hands through a “redistribution” of resources. With a dozen pairs of hands working quickly and lightly, we distribute $7,550 worth of local food within our community in a single morning.

With the pandemic, the world of food—from growing it to shopping for it to, for many, being able to afford it—changed. The assurance of established distribution pathways for small-scale farmers was no exception. What was, and is, exceptional is how, when faced with a crisis, farmers and community members galvanized to take care of each other. Over and over, we are seeing examples of collective care, by and for communities and the farmers within them.

Left: ABQ Resilience packed bags, photo by Cassidy Tawse-Garcia. Right: Packed shares ready to roll from Better Together CSA, photo courtesy of Better Together CSA.

Collaborative farming structures are not new in New Mexico. The very acequia systems that bring water to the fields along the Middle Rio Grande were founded on collective management structures. About ten years ago, the South Valley farm cooperative Agri-Cultura Network began La Cosecha, the first cooperative CSA program in the state (and one that also offers subsidized shares to qualified residents).

Drawing from their own land-based history, Pueblo Resurgents began as a community-based “co-operation” to  cultivate Indigenous-based food systems on Isleta Pueblo in 2014. Through their Cultivat(ed) apprenticeship, members of Isleta Pueblo gain skills needed to grow food and deepen kinship with their ancestral lands, by reconnecting with food sovereignty and food security on their own terms. “The work is the establishment of healing, and we are using food as the foundation to really connect individuals with themselves, the land, and also with each other,” says Janice Lucero, a founding member of Pueblo Resurgents, owner of Cotton Blossom Gardens on the Pueblo of Isleta, and self-described “keeper of the land.”

In response to the pandemic, Pueblo Resurgents began biweekly “radical redistribution” of locally grown produce to Isleta community members. “While COVID highlighted a lot of insecurities around systemic dependency . . . it heightened that these are preexisting conditions that have been here for hundreds of years,” says Daryl Lucero, cofounder, coordinator, and cultivator with Pueblo Resurgents. Daryl notes that the dominant methods of providing basic needs in our country are “at odds and in contrast with our own inherent sovereignty to be Indigenous peoples on the land.” Pueblo Resurgents focuses on keeping as much of the food they grow as possible within the Isleta community.

In 2022, Pueblo Resurgents’ work will continue by getting more local food than ever to community folks who are historically left out of the market. Through micro-grant funding, Pueblo-grown produce will go to every youth in the Isleta Head Start Program. That means 137 kids will go home with fresh produce May through October. Additionally, through a partnership with the Albuquerque chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, “one-to-one” CSA shares will be offered to the broader community during the 2022 growing season. Each share purchased will support a share for an Isleta Household.

As I write, the farmer-run Better Together CSA is gearing up for its third season. With eight participating farms and ten farmers, the collective began as a direct response to the pandemic in March 2020. As the world shut down, so did the main outlets for small-scale farmers to sell their produce—farmers markets like the Downtown Growers’ Market and Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. Ian recollects a “vivid memory of pulling [his] hair out” at the beginning of the pandemic, and thinking, “What are we going to do?!”

Left: Kateri Jojola of Pueblo Resurgents. Right: Janice Lucero of Pueblo Resurgents. Photos courtesy of Pueblo Resurgents.

So he, along with Better Together CSA cofounders Zoey Fink of FarmShark and Casey Holland of Chispas Farm, began texting to figure out “how much produce everyone already had in the ground” and what could be done to avert total crisis. “It became clear that a collective approach was the best way forward,” says Zoey as she rocks her baby, Otis, from the living room of the home she shares with her husband, Carlos, in the Polvadera neighborhood of the South Valley. “We had to get the price point we needed, while still being inclusive of as many members of the community as possible.”

The Better Together CSA is a “collaborative,” community-
supported agriculture project that runs from April to November, with shares ranging from twenty-two to thirty-five dollars a week, based on income. Better Together accepts Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), making shares as low as eleven dollars a week for those with SNAP benefits. “The idea from the beginning was mutual aid,” notes Casey, farm manager at Chispas. “We wanted to do what we could to support ourselves and each other in such an uncertain time.” From this energy, the Better Together CSA has flourished, and the annual ABQ Resilience Box project was able to bring in even more farmers and products at season’s end. New this year, there will be one spring sign-up for the entire CSA season, and as COVID allows, the farmers look forward to more engagement with their community, including some returning to market.

Outside of CSAs, honor-system farm stands like the one run by Simple Revolution? Farm! in Albuquerque’s South Valley, and Reunity Farm’s pay-what-you-can stand on historic Agua Fria, offer additional opportunities for customers to engage with local food at a price that works for them. Many farmers also share produce with community mutual aid projects like the ABQ Free Fridge and contribute seeds to Food is Free ABQ, which has distributed thousands of packets of seeds and two hundred garden boxes free-of-charge to the community since early 2020.

It all comes back to the “foundation of existing relationships,” Ian explains. “It was awesome to realize we had such good relationships with other farmers. . . . We can really support farmers through supporting each other.” For Daryl, as “there is not a word for farmer in our language,” the best descriptor is “cultivator,” a term that goes beyond food to encompass “kinship, land-based knowledge, and ecology.” For these producers, the essential component of community kinship is that when those who grow the food can make a good living while caring for the land and providing for others, we as a community reach our greatest potential.,,

Cassidy Tawse-Garcia
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Cassidy Tawse-Garcia is a storyteller, cook, and food justice advocate living in Albuquerque. Hailing from Colorado, she grew up on a small family farm, growing vegetables and flowers for market and community supported agriculture. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, she started Masa Madrina (an ode to her great-aunt, a native of Arroyo Hondo), a prepared-food business focusing on sourdough and farm-sourced seasonal offerings, as a means to survive. Today, her work has evolved to focus on mutual aid and elevating marginalized voices in food justice and farming. She is currently pursuing her PhD in human geography at the University of New Mexico, where she studies community reciprocity and care movements.