An Interview with Seth Matlick, Owner/Farmer

Local Hero: Best Farm, Albuquerque

Photos by Stephanie Cameron

Seth Matlick, Bennett Clark, and Alicia Robinson-Welsh in the hoop house at Vida Verde Farm.

Vida Verde Farm is a vegetable farm located in the Duranes and North Valley areas of Albuquerque. For eleven years, Vida Verde has focused on providing produce to their community through La Montañita Co-op, local chefs, CSAs, and the Downtown Growers Market. The farm operates year-round with the help of unheated hoop houses, planting more than three hundred varieties of organic and heritage veggies, flowers, and herbs throughout the year.

How did you get to where you are now? What’s the Vida Verde backstory?

I moved to Albuquerque from NYC in 2008. At that time I was a zoo keeper at the Bronx Zoo, which I loved, but I wanted to travel somewhere new and experience life outside of the city where I grew up. A friend recommended farm internships as a means to travel while learning new skills. I had applied to several internships around the country, from a berry farm in California to a rabbit ranch in Tennessee. Luckily for me, the farm I applied to in Albuquerque responded first, and a week later I was on a bus to New Mexico.

I have always been an enthusiastic eater and a passionate cook, so growing food for the first time was amazing—it allowed me to discover another part of our food system. At the end of my internship, the farm I was working for was relocating and one of their fields became available. The owners offered to let us use the land and Vida Verde was born.

Harvesting Little Gem lettuce.

Over the past eleven seasons, we have accumulated more land by renting neighboring properties, and we are excited this year to expand onto a larger parcel in the Duranes neighborhood, where we will begin planning for the next decade of Vida Verde—including planting an orchard, incorporating grazing animals into our crop rotation for improved, long-term soil health, and building permanent infrastructure to help us continue growing for our community.

Vida Verde has just started its twelfth season, what has been the secret to your success?

As a self-employed farmer, two things have gotten me this far more than anything else. The first is having a thick skin and (trying) not to take failures personally. Farming more often than not means being at the mercy of lots of external factors. Every season we try our best to plan ahead and create strategies to deal with inevitable and unforeseen problems, such as wind or hail, a population explosion of rabbits or squash bugs, and dozens of other challenges that we can’t anticipate or prevent. The second is really loving farming, even the parts that are unrewarding, exhausting, and a pain in the ass. Without a passion for growing food, I don’t think I could have made it this far.

What question do you get asked the most?

“Do you have any more hot sauce?” At the end of each summer, we use a portion of the hot peppers we grow to make a limited batch of hot sauces. The recipes change every season depending on the types of peppers we grow, as does the chef we collaborate with to create those recipes. This past year Chef David Gaspar de Alba of Oni made four amazing sauces with us, and it was definitely my favorite batch yet (I’m excited for Oni’s brick-and-mortar to open this spring). We also work with a different artist to make the labels, such as the amazing cartoonist Luke McGarry and Hanna Hedstrom aka The Velocicraftor.

What are your biggest challenges farming in Albuquerque?

The main challenge we currently face, along with many of the farms in our state and across the country, is a shortage of capable and dependable labor. It’s often a tough job and some seasons it has been difficult to find people who want to spend their days working hard. The farm can’t run without a dedicated team, and I feel very lucky to have had many great farmers work with me over the years.

Describe a perfect day of eating in Albuquerque.

One that starts early and ends late. One where I am cooked for and have a chance to cook for others. If it’s during the farmers market season when I get up super early, I’d have coffee and a snack before market begins (nothing is better than the seasonal offerings from Burque Bakehouse), share a second breakfast with my crew at the market booth, then go out for lunch with my wife after work (maybe Pollito con Papas or Coda Bakery), and, hopefully, end up grilling at our house and having people over—making use of what’s coming out of our farm and other goodies from our farmers market.

What do you love the most when it comes to your work?

I’m still in awe of the magic I experience every time I pull a root vegetable out of the ground. I remember the first time I harvested a carrot over a decade ago, and to this day I feel giddy seeing the colorful root emerge from the earth.

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

Growing food for my community over the last decade has been my greatest joy and I’m very grateful to the edible community and our customers for nominating and voting for us. I’d also like to thank my entire team, both past and present, who have worked so hard to grow this farm into what it is today.

Follow Vida Verde Farm on Instagram @VidaVerdeFarmABQ

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