HMI’s Open Gate: Red Tractor Farm Day
On September 19th, 38 people came to the small urban Red Tractor Farm to learn about how farmers are improving management practices to increase soil health and creating nutrient dense food.
Red Tractor Farm is owned and managed by the team of Dory Wegryzn, Nerissa Muus, and Casey Holland in the South Valley of Albuquerque. They have been operating their farm for 10 years and use a combination of their home farm and some leased land nearby for a total of almost 2 acres of production. They grow a combination of fresh vegetables, herbs, and flowers which they sell at the Downtown Grower’s Market, a 40-member CSA as well as through the Agri-Cultura Network.
When Dory and Nerissa first purchased the farm, it had been used as a dump site. As a result, they spent a lot of time hauling out trash and adding a lot of soil amendments. Though some initial tilling was required to bring up the buried trash, they are now focusing on growing cover crops between the beds, which has reduced the amount of tillage needed on the land.
As soil fertility has increased, they have seen increased production and resistance to the hot temperatures. They have also improved irrigation infrastructure to maximize the acequia (ditch) water they get and move it through their drip irrigation.
After Dory and Casey shared their farming practices, Dan Bloedel, Resource Conservationist for the NRCS, provided participants with a worksheet on how to monitor soil health. Participants then broke into groups to use a tool like a soil penetrometer to learn about soil compaction and how to test for it. They also dug into the soil to check for earthworms and note the texture of the soil, as well as smell, with the various groups comparing notes on what they found on different parts of the farm.
The next portion of the program was a panel of speakers who talked about how they were involved in creating a local food system in Albuquerque. David Swan of Swan Kitchen talked about how he sourced his food locally; serving over 1,000 school children through local charter schools and community centers. Jedrek Lamb of the Agri-Cultura Network spoke about their efforts to organize small local farms to produce for the Network’s CSA that also provides food to the community. Robert Hoberg of the Downtown Grower’s Market spoke about how the farmer’s market has grown over the years as the demand for local food has grown. Lastly, Steve Warshawer of La Montanita Cooperative Market spoke of how ongoing logistical challenges they face getting local food to their customers.
After a delicious lunch from Swan Kitchen, HMI Program Director Kathy Harris explained the concept of nutrient-dense food and how soil fertility affects food quality. She then provided some refractometers so participants could measure the brix of some of the Red Tractor produce as well as food from local grocery stores.
One of the highlights of the afternoon session was watching the NRCS rainfall simulator. Bare soils were compared to perennially covered soils to show how little runoff happens when soils are covered, as well as how much water infiltration happens in covered soil. NRCS employees Rudy Garcia, Brenda Simpson, Kevin Branum, and Kris Chavez explained more about soil function and how the NRCS offers financial assistance to producers to help them initiate the kind of good soil management practices that were being discussed at this Open Gate Farm Day.
We’d like to thank the Thornburg Foundation and the McCune Charitable Foundation for their support of this event, and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Cooperative Development for sponsoring this event. We’d also like to thank Red Tractor Farm for opening the gate to their farm so we could all learn together, as well as our outreach collaborator; The National Young Farmers Coalition, for their help in making this event a success.
Program Impact & Improved Knowledge
|% of Participants|
|Would recommend event to others||100%|
|Intend to learn more about Holistic Management||100%|
|Intend to change management practices||100%|
|Overall program satisfaction||100%|
|How to determine soil health||100%|
Here’s what participants had to say about the event:
“Lots of wonderful information.”
“Very informative, excellent food, site, mixed format.”
“Very helpful, informative and practical.”
“It was a great event, very informative!”
“Excellent event, learned a lot!!”
Cultivating Community: Land, Food, Health will offer thought-provoking presentations and breakout sessions on various consumer and producer interests. Local food security, land health, strengthening our communities and nourishing our bodies all included! We have something for everyone, so come learn from the experts!
Many of our acclaimed speakers are celebrated throughout the world. Our special keynote speaker, “America’s Most Famous Farmer” himself, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, will be sure to inspire us all.
We’ll also enjoy beautiful landscapes, farm-fresh food and be on the land with the animals. This is no ordinary conference.