Edmund Gomez worked for years on the Dulce, Colo., ranch his great-grandfather homesteaded in 1887. When his family sold the ranch in 1991, Gomez became the local extension agent. He left that two years ago when a position opened up that was closer to his heart - keeping northern New Mexico's small farmers on their land in the face of a flood of wealthy immigrants. Gomez directs the Rural Agriculture Improvement Project, a joint effort of New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service and the Kellogg Foundation.
work with the poorest of the poor. Nine of the 11 counties I work
for are the poorest in the state, and New Mexico is 48th in the
nation. We work exclusively with limited resource people,
subsistence farmers. They might be working as a janitor at the high
school and have a subsistence farm.
"You've got people here
making twelve, thirteen, fourteen thousand dollars a year. And
someone offers them $25,000 for their acre of land. What are you
going to do? Then again, how long is that going to last, and what
are you going to give your kids?
"You know what really screwed
us up here? World War II and Los Alamos. Los Alamos hired a lot of
local people, got them off the farm ... I used to ask my grandpa,
"What happened to all these abandoned houses?" Now there's military
cutbacks. Los Alamos has lost about 500 jobs. (Scientists) can go
back into private industry. But what about all the support
"What we're after is
having (small landowners) plan for the future. So that people start
thinking, "I've really got to manage my operation if I'm going to
survive. Will my grandson be able to do this the way I'm doing it?"
"We're teaching people to be
better managers. People are interested in growing organic grains to
supply the chicken farm in Taos. A single mother was making tamales
and selling them in Taos and Costilla. We found her and said, "If
you want to expand this and do it right, we'll help you." We've had
a very successful project from women in Mora County to raise cold
crops and flowers. We're supplying seed, transplants and technical
sustainable agriculture is organic farming - no! We're encouraging
artificial insemination. You may ask, what's sustainable about
that? You're bringing in genetics as quickly and economically as
possible. Say I'm a small livestock producer and I've got 20 to 30
head and I want better genetics and I can't afford a bull - bulls
depreciate, they die on you. Artificial insemination is
cost-effective. Next spring I'm having our third
artificial-insemination school. In the fall, we had our second
pregnancy-testing school. The classes always fill up. We're
planning a range school for small ranchers. They have 5, 15, at the
most 50 head.
system service is a life support system. If something happened to
the extension service, what is going to happen to the people?"