Seed of Hope

Overwhelming global evidence indicates that solid agricultural growth accompanies, if not precedes, the general economic growth of a nation. According to the USDA, 2007 Census of Agriculture, there has been a significant raise in the number of Hispanic farms and ranches in the U.S. The increase is not in the number of farm workers, but rather farm operators, who own or lease the farmland.

This distinct group of Hispanic farmers and ranchers has acquired ownership of farms in various ways. Many in New Mexico are still working the land granted to their ancestors by the Spanish crown in the 1700s, while a large number of Hispanic farm workers and managers nationwide–including in our state–are buying the farms where they have worked in.

These small farmers and ranchers play a key role in producing fresh, high-quality foods as well as providing a wealth of benefits to their communities. In addition to providing jobs to local people, they sustain other small businesses by purchasing goods and services within the community. They also serve as stewards of the land, living on or near their farms and preserving the surrounding environment. Yet, regardless of all the good that they can bring to their communities, according to investigations on behalf of the USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, small-scale Hispanic farmers and ranchers in the U.S. have unmet special needs for information about government programs, agricultural production, marketing and finances that would help sustain them. The report also indicated that there is a disconnect between the information that is available to them from a variety of service providers and the information that they actually receive.

These are precisely the needs the Small Farm and Ranch Outreach is fulfilling in Southern New Mexico. Funded by a grant from USDA Office of National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and an important program of NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, the SFRO was established to cultivate the capacity of

socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to ensure opportunities for successful acquisitions, ownership, operation, and retention of farms and ranches. The program also aims to ensure access and equitable participation within the full range of USDA, state and local government, education, and not-for-profit and for-profit programs.

Eduardo Medina, the Outreach Coordinator, has overseen the outreach efforts of the program since its inception in 2010. In the first year, he explains that the main goal was to introduce the program to the underserved farmers and ranchers. This was accomplished by networking and reaching out to the target market. “I literally drove around looking for people working in their farms to talk to,” chuckles Eduardo as he explains that one of the biggest challenges is the distance needed to be traveled just to start the process of befriending them. He explains that the program is working diligently to connect farmers and ranchers with knowledge and guidance and to assist them on applying that information. However, Medina notes that it takes several trips just to start gaining trust before any work can be achieved.

“My job is to get to know the actual small farmers and ranchers and establish a rapport with them. I need to get to know their individual situation and their struggles and so that I can help them find solutions,” explains Medina. To accomplish this, he has spent countless hours building relationships with leaders in the agricultural industry and community leaders who, in turn, introduced him to other Hispanic farmers in the region. Networking has enabled him to learn about many of their needs and interests. Medina found that one primary need is cold storage for produce in order to package and sell at local markets. Other needs include micro loans to purchase materials, equipment and for start-up costs at the beginning of the year.

The Small Farm and Ranch Outreach also helps farmers and ranchers by linking them to workshops and conferences such as Hispanic farmers meetings, how-to workshops, organic seminars and marketing workshops among others. Although the project has seen an increase in the size of the audience, Medina notes that getting people to attend organized workshops can be difficult especially because many are not held locally and distances may be too great for individual participation. By assisting one or two individuals from different communities with transportation, he hopes to gain valuable mentors for the next generation of farmers. These workshops and conferences fall in line with the programs efforts to helping the underserved farmer and ranchers find niche markets, crop diversification, enterprise development and other strategies to develop a profitable rural economy.

Aside from recruiting participants for workshops and conferences and holding meetings with agricultural professors and community leaders, Mr. Medina and the staff at the Small Farm and Ranch Outreach continue to create stronger ties with USDA local offices, NMSU’s agricultural specialist, and financial institutions to build and establish close and personal relationships. It is these precise relationships that allow for better communication between all the interested parties and aid in carrying out activities based on the underserved farmer’s and rancher’s needs, interests and resources required.

If you are a Hispanic farmer or rancher and would benefit from the services provided by the Small Farm and Ranch Outreach please contact Eduardo Medina at 575-646-3215 for more information.

Summer 2012
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