Santa Cruz Farm
Merging Traditional Production with Modern Technology
Combining traditional agricultural production methods with modern technology and marketing techniques isn’t easy. Just ask Don Bustos, of the Santa Cruz Farm in New Mexico. Santa Cruz Farm grows 76 different varieties of crops the entire 12 months of the year and bases their entire farm profitability on direct farm marketing, including local farmers’ markets, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and wholesale accounts.
“We farm according to the moon cycles and the sun’s energy and with a little help from modern technology, we can extend the growing season in order to bring an ever-widening variety of fresh, locally grown food to the community all year long,” Bustos said. “Our traditional practices combined with our modern hoop houses and greenhouses allow us to grow certain foods twelve months a year. In this way, we maintain our traditional lifestyle, as we continue to play a valuable role in our community.”
Santa Cruz Farm is a family-owned and operated certified organic farm, located in the Espanola Valley in northern New Mexico. The farm encompasses three and a half acres of land and 10,000 square feet of greenhouse and cold frames.
It has been part of the Bustos family since the late 1600s. The farm began growing organic crops 10 years ago and established a summer and winter CSA program nine years ago. The farm produces traditional and regional crops grown in New Mexico, but also specialty crops not typically found in the Southwest.
The farm’s rich history begins with its name. The Santa Cruz Farm was named after the church and the Santa Cruz del la Canada land grant. The land grants in New Mexico were given by the king of Spain in the 1500s and 1600s to encourage people to travel to the new world and establish claims for Spain. Families were given a large piece of land, some to individuals and typically to communities. The Santa Cruz land grant consisted of 44 thousand acres and was established as a communal grant for 15 families. The original grant was lost, but lobbyists in New Mexico are working to establish original land grants as a division of state government, much like a department, to purchase land part of the original land grant and foster economic development within the area.
Water for the farm is also part of its history and supplied by a traditional system known as acequias. Acequias are 400-year-old systems and based on the premise that everyone is equal and should receive a fair share of water to grow crops, water livestock and to drink. Acequias are governed by a commission, which establishes release times, water rights, disputes and cleaning times. Santa Cruz Farm uses a drip system to help conserve this water when irrigating crops.
Production on the farm begins in cold frame structures to create a protected climate zone with layers of cloth and plastic, much like an igloo effect. Plastic mulches keep the soil warm and prevent the root zone from freezing. This allows the farm to produce spinach, swiss chard, lettuce mix, arugula and kale during the winter months.
In the spring, production begins 30 days earlier than normal. Plastic mulches again heat the soil and cold winter crops are moved outdoors. The cold frames are then free to start warm weather crops such as basil, tomatoes and cucumbers. This allows Santa Cruz Farm to get to farmers’ markets early with locally produced crops.
By April, all major crops are outside and field crops such as chile, squash, cucumbers and beans are seeded. Harvest then begins on asparagus and strawberries. The farm recently expanded to raspberries and blackberries, as well.
Summer brings the harvest of squash, cucumbers and green chile. By early fall, the majority of production is moved back inside the greenhouses and cold frames and the cycle begins again.
Produce is marketing at farmers’ markets, a steady CSA subscription and wholesale accounts. The majority of the farm income is supplies through the farmers’ markets. Wholesale accounts have generally be the least profitable, but Bustos hopes that trend is reversing.
“A business consultant was hired to help area farmers approach their farm as a small business,” Bustos said. “I was fortunate enough to participate in the classes. Out of the program, I developed the three-prong marketing plan much like a milk stool; if one leg is a little weak, you can still balance on the other two.”
Santa Cruz Farm travels to three farmer’s markets on four days, making 70 percent of their income in direct sales to consumers. Green chile is the best summer crop and are now grown on approximately one full acre of the farm.
“Another very popular item is our strawberries, which are the only strawberries currently being grown in the region,” Bustos said. “Due to their rare status, these delicious organic berries are snapped up fast and bring a high price at the farmers’ markets.”
The CSA began after a church group visit to the farm in winter. The group was impressed with the cold frame production and the green produce ready for sale, originally grown for wholesale accounts.
“The only problem (with the wholesale accounts) was that I was at the mercy of the market value set by large, sometimes international corporations and receiving prices that were only making a small return on my capital investment,” Bustos said. “Establishing a CSA allowed me to charge full farmers’ market price and have capital early in the spring for the farm, without a loan from the bank.”
Summer membership in the CSA is around 35 members and costs $425 for fresh vegetables weekly. Summer shares include asparagus, beets, bell peppers, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chile, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, herbs, okra, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, raspberries, salad greens, spinach, strawberries and tomatoes.
Participating in the CSA supports local food systems in the local economy and supports environmentally friendly and sustainable organic production, according to Bustos.
Winter membership is capped at 35 members and includes many fresh green products.
Wholesale accounts mean competition on a bigger scale for market share in stores and restaurants. Government has been encouraging schools to buy direct from small farmers. Santa Cruz Farm was selected to supply Santa Fe school district with salad greens through this Farm to School program.
“The greatest result is that young children are now eating healthy, locally grown food produced by their neighbors on farms in their region,” Bustos said. “Thus, we are helping save the environment, addressing social issues, land and water issues and supporting the local economy.”
Modern technology is still benefiting this traditional farm. Santa Cruz Farm is researching solar heating processes, allowing the farm to grow more heat sensitive crops longer into the winter and earlier in the spring. In this process, water is heated and moved underneath the beds to heat the soil and trap warmer air.
“Thanks to modern advances and the increasing support for locally grown food, Santa Cruz Farm is able to function dependably while helping fill the needs of more and more members of the community through methods best suited to each one,” Bustos said. “In this way, we maintain our traditional lifestyle while evolving to suit the needs of our environment and of our community.”
By Christa Hartsook, communications specialist, AgMRC