You can find Zoe Economou most Thursdays at the Nob Hill Growers’ Market, behind a table full of marvelously unusual things – fava beans or other uncommon types of beans, artichokes, sometimes even fennel pollen! Her first job was packing peaches on her uncle’s farm in Colorado, and she’s always been an avid gardener, but she really started farming when she purchased the neglected property next to her home just off Bridge Boulevard. Now she is active in many South Valley community initiatives, and she is a member of the Board of Supervisors for Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District.
Soil and Water Conservation Districts were originally established in response to the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, when soil erosion caused by drought and poor land management practices resulted in huge dust storms that left behind barren cropland. In order to protect the soil, they had to think about controlling the flow of water – to prevent erosion of valuable topsoil and pollution of waterways, and to retain more water on the land for crops. Successful soil and water conservation requires us to think at the watershed scale, including forests, wetlands, and urban areas, as well as agricultural lands. Nearly every county in the US now has a Conservation District, organized by and for landowners, which works with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to help manage and protect land and water resources on private and public lands.
Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District encompasses most of the urban area including Albuquerque, from Rio Rancho to Cedar Crest. Perhaps best known for their extensive forest thinning and fire safety projects in the East Mountains, they have also been involved in Bosque restoration projects incuding Willow Creek in Rio Rancho, the Atrisco burn site, the National Hispanic Cutural Center, and most recently at the Open Space Visitor Center on Coors. They have also completed exemplary erosion control projects such as at Tijeras Creek, and on westbound I-40 near the Juan Tabo interchange where runoff was washing sediment into traffic lanes. Controlling erosion, preventing major forest fires, and maintaining healthy riparian areas benefit all landowners in the watershed, especially since we get our drinking water from the river all this land drains into.
The District’s priorities include supporting local agriculture and preserving agricultural land. Economou’s special interest is cover cropping, the practice of planting crops such as buckwheat, clover, or legumes to build fertility and hold soil in place rather than leaving fields bare during winter. She points out that many cover crops can thrive on less than 9 inches of water per year (our average rainfall). She also would like to see more farmers growing flax, a great crop that produces food, fiber, and fuel, on less water than it takes to grow alfalfa. In the current drought, which has also been punctuated by dramatic flooding, Economou feels that the Soil and Water Conservation District’s work is extremely important, especially to farmers.
For more information about Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District and its programs, visit www.ciudadswcd.org or chat with Zoe at the Growers’ Market!