Greetings From New Mexico

Greetings from Silver City, New Mexico, the home of Townside Farm: a 2 acre diversified organic veggie farm that has been in operation since 2008. As the farms 2nd official seasonal intern, its my great honor to offer a speck of light on the food growing situation I currently find myself in! This officially begins a series of 7 weekly blog posts covering topics relevant to my experience as an intern and student of the Townside way during my brief stay this month and next.

Doug, the courageous and admirable farmer here has 5 fields set up in row-crop fashion, growing everything from “Minnesota midget” melons, to “triple play” corn, to the tastiest salad green mix in New Mexico! He utilizes a 25′ x 150′ long shade cloth atop one of the fields to save the bulk of his greens from getting fried in the often cloudless skies.

Greens Grow year-round in the Greenhouse!

A  1,000 square foot greenhouse is set up to grow greens through the winter, making use of a solar-hot water heater (with plant-based glycol instead of water) to warm the soil in food growing containers via radiant floor heat. The greenhouse has also proven to be an ideal habitat for the most delicious varieties of tomatoes you’ve never heard of. Other infrastructure including a barn, washing, drying and processing facilities support this growing CSA and market farm.

A mix of perennial crops dapple the fields; fruit trees such as Apples, Plums, Peaches, Pear, Apricot, and Chinese Dates, Blackberry and Raspberry bushes, and 200 feet of asparagus patches will produce long-term perennial food production without the intensity of annual row crops. Townside operates with a philosophy of chemical free and minimum fossil fuel farming; two solar arrays provide electricity for the walk-in cooler and all other electricity needs of the farm and its 3 inhabitants  (Intern, Farmer, and Wife). Mostly open-pollinated and heirloom seeds are used so that seed can be saved and used in following years. The farm tries to close the loop of need from outside resources to minimize annual cost and maximize on-site resources. I think they’re doing a pretty good job!

After the first week I’m beginning to get oriented: Silver City, population: 10,500, is the seat of Grant County, population: 30,000. This is a place of great wilderness, arts, multi-culture, ranching, and history! The millions of acres of Gila Wilderness borders the north and west side of town and serves as a refuge for wildlife, hikers, bikers, and earthy people. The valley, now comprised of Silver City, was once an Apache campsite. Silver mining and the days of the wild west turned it into the unique place it is today. Ranchers, copper miners, hippies, conservative repulicans, retirees and many others all call this small city home. The weekly outdoor art market is just around the corner from the weekly farmers market on Saturdays, where Townside Farm sells its produce. There aren’t many other fresh produce stands at the market, which is indicative of the local food scene. Frisco Farm, the other noteworthy organic veggie farm in the area, is located approximately 60 miles outside of Silver City. Both Townside and Frisco sell produce to CSA members, to market buyers, and to the local Silver City Food Co-op, which tries to buy as much local produce and natural products as is available.

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Grant County is considered a food desert; unlike everywhere else I’ve known (The Garden State of NJ, The Commonwealth of VA, and America’s Bread Basket Iowa) this isn’t an easy place to grow food. This is high desert country, seated at almost 6,000 ft with harsh winds, relentless sun, maybe 18 inches of rainfall per year; topsoil?…hm… not quite; the heavy clay soil here is better for making pottery. Right now in June the ground is so dry a field tilled up now looks more like a moonscape than anything you’d plant a seed in. Yet, we farm!


4 responses to “Greetings From New Mexico

  1. Nice blog. How much soil do they have on top of the radiant floor heating in the greenhouse? Or, is it just pots on the concrete. How are they watering, are they watering? It is a useful skill to know how to farm with only 18 inches of water!
    ~ diana
    ps. I could not see the first two pics. Want to take a look at that?

    • Thanks Diana. I couldnt find any issue with the pictures, they showed up when I came to the post.

      The radiant floor is embedded in about 8 inches of Caliche, which is one of the major New Mexico soils made up of sand, gravel and clay and acts as a concrete. There is a Styrofoam layer of insulation underneath the Caliche to keep the heat from absorbing back into the earth. Some kind of landscaping cloth covers the floor on which the growing bins sit.

      The fields are watered by a mix of above-ground sprinklers and underground drip tape or t-tape. Sprinklers are used primarily for sprouting direct-planted seed, and the drip tape is used primarily after that and during the day time when water on foliage would magnify the sun and burn the plant. He waters the fields in succession and draws from on on-site well, so the water is running somewhere at some point each day. Silver City as a whole is blessed with a deep aquifer that lies underneath most of the area of the city, so despite the lack of rain there is abundant water stored underground from the monsoon season each year.

      I think they use somewhere between 700,000 and 1,000,000 gallons of water per year, which is below the max allowable from wells per acre in Silver City. Doug was telling me that a study done at one of the major universities concluded that drip tape is the most efficient watering method in this climate. Its so sunny and dry the water disappears from the body, soil, plants, whatever in no time! Its amazing how fast water evaporates here since its so dry right now.

      • Interesting. Thanks for painting a complete picture.
        Hope YOU are drinking as much as your body needs!

      • Haha, thanks yes I have no choice but to drink by the gallon. And a quick correction just for the sake of it, they use more like 300-400,000 gallons/year from the well – water rights that they rent from the City

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