Grow the Growers is a program in Albuquerque that provides farm training and business development education for emerging farmers, even amid the current historic drought. This program seeks to strengthen the food sector in the South Valley, which has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Historically, the South Valley has experienced a lot of environmental injustice, so it’s really important to keep the land that’s been in agriculture here in agriculture for the well-being of the ecosystem and community,” Alicia Robinson-Walsh, a manager for La Cosecha Community Supported Agriculture, said.
Grow the Growers, along with La Cosecha, are programs managed overall by the Agri-Cultura Network (ACN), which aims to build the local farming community in a healthy and regenerative way.
Robinson-Walsh said developing a resilient local food chain will help serve vulnerable communities in the South Valley in times of global challenges, like during the COVID-19 pandemic, when food access is threatened.
“It’s important to keep the land that has been in agriculture for the well-being of the ecosystem, to keep pollinators around and to feed our neighbors,” Robinson-Walsh said.
Grow the Growers prioritizes protecting existing agricultural land, which Robinson-Walsh said can be done by utilizing lands’ farming opportunities; this also ultimately preserves the area against industrial development.
“We’re trying to create a sustainable farming economy that’s based on traditional, regenerative methods that have been used for generations by the Indigenous farmers … in the South Valley,” Robinson-Walsh said. “We’re trying to create a stable, year-round market for farmers to be able to sell and rebuild the local food chain.”
Grow the Growers lead trainer Shannon Concho said negative implications of the current climate-induced drought are a serious obstacle for local working farmers. According to Capital and Main, severe drought conditions have New Mexico farmers reconsidering whether the profession is as viable as it once was. However, Concho said that Grow the Growers is a great opportunity to teach a new generation about farming.
Grow the Growers’ incubators — individuals who have finished their internship phase in the program — sell under the ACN booth at Albuquerque’s Downtown Growers’ Market every Saturday, which will go until November. They aim to mitigate food insecurity in the South Valley by growing fresh produce and distributing it to residents who are already in the area, according to Robinson-Walsh. This also allows emerging farmers the opportunity to create customer networks for their businesses.
“It helps them have a market when they’re establishing their farms,” Robinson-Walsh said.
Concho said the Growers' Market provides reliable opportunities and resources to sell fruits and vegetables. In previous years, Robinson-Walsh said emerging farmers in the incubator program sold individually at the Market, but selling under the ACN booth this year has procured greater success for farmers.
Concho hopes that he, as well as the Grow the Growers program, can provide more educational support for the incubators to be financially secure in growing produce in the near future.
“Healthy food is fundamental to every part of life, and having access to that is key,” Robinson-Walsh said.
Rebecca Hobart is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo