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First-time and emerging farmers in Bernalillo County can apply for training and assistance through the Grow the Growers program. The program is a partnership between Bernalillo County Open Space, Bernalillo County Extension Office, Agri-Cultura Network and Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District to provide access to farmland, education, training and small business mentoring to anyone entering the field of agriculture.
“The Cultivating Bernalillo County Grow The Grower program is a beginner farmer training program with the goals of helping individuals establish an agricultural or food-related business, thereby strengthening the local economy; keeping public lands in agricultural production as a means of stewarding natural resources; and participating in the local food system to improve the health of our county,” Open Space Supervisor For Bernalillo County’s Park, Recreation and Open Space Department Mari Simbaña said.
According to the county’s website, the program provides emerging farmers with the necessary tools, knowledge and assistance to establish their farms within the county to grow the local food economy. The program was started because of growing concerns about food inequity and access to fresh local produce in the region.
“In New Mexico and around the nation, the need for and interest in the urban agriculture has grown—even before the food access inequities highlighted during the COVID pandemic. Specifically, people seek local fresh food production in and around the large metro populations, requiring access to fresh produce and desiring the personal, environmental, economic and social health benefits of locally grown produce. Bernalillo County, the most metropolitan county in the states, is one such case,” Simbaña said about the need for local food production in New Mexico.
Grow the Growers program started in 2017 and now includes six to eight participants who first join the program as interns. Interns commit to the program from March through November during the growing season and are provided training in agricultural methods, infield training and business training. After completing the program, interns can apply to be “incubators,” which is the next phase in the program where participants focus on their own agricultural plots but are still given access to the open spaces and the program’s resources. The final step in the program is for the participants to become entrepreneurs and implement the training that they have received to successfully participate in Albuquerque’s local food economy.
The Agri-Cultura Network, a food co-op of 37 farms, five of which are located in the South Valley, operates the on-the-ground training for the participants. The training is focused on the sustainability and efficiency of small local farms in the South Valley. The South Valley has seen a significant increase in urban development that has swallowed large swathes of viable farmland and placed pressure on water allocation. The training that participants receive aims to prepare emerging farmers for the economic and environmental pressures they may face in Bernalillo County.