A harvest cornucopia hangs on in New Mexico
by Laura Paskus
I hate leaving this party. I go from person to person, a hug here, a kiss on the cheek there. I wave goodbye to Farmer Monte and thank him for all the harvests he has shared this year.
October has always been my favorite time of year in New Mexico. Part of it is the weather, of course, clear blue skies, crisp mornings and warm afternoons, the cottonwoods turning yellow. It's also the smell of roasting chiles and the taste of green tomatoes picked and fried before frost.
This year is even better than most. Earlier this summer, my husband and I joined a CSA, which stands for community supported agriculture. Every other Tuesday, we've picked up locally grown foods from Los Poblanos Organics, a 12-acre farm in Albuquerque. Here, Monte Skarsgard grows 75 kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs and also distributes produce from other local organic growers. So this year, Harvest Festival was an intimate experience. It didn't mean walking past food vendors and chatting with growers I didn't really know.
While strip malls and suburban tract housing have reclaimed much of Albuquerque's agricultural land, this Saturday in late October I am standing on farmland where gaggles of kids play together, jumping off stumps and chasing one another around the trees, checking out the irrigation ditches. They are kin to my daughter; I know they're eating the same avocados and apples that she loves. And I know there are other people in this orchard who, like me, have stood in the kitchen, wondering how to cook beets.
My husband and I do not have expendable income to blow on fancy food. As subscribers to Los Poblamos, $104 buys us enough produce to last eight weeks, and if need be we could figure out a work-share arrangement. And I'm no Rachael Ray or Martha Stewart: I don't even enjoy cooking. I'm only marginally proficient in the act, and only if there's a detailed recipe to follow.
To get to Los Poblanos, my daughter and I drive along a narrow road, lined with cottonwoods. Each time we come, I place her on the no-longer-moving antique tractor, though we usually have to wait our turn while the big kids clamber around the tires or sit on the seat and fiddle with the giant steering wheel. We peek in on the chickens — they'd been molting — to see if their feathers are finally coming back. As we walk to the barn, we say hello to the farm workers, smile at the other members counting out their produce.
This week there are no more green tomatoes or pale purple eggplant. As Harvest Festival signaled, summer is over and we're close to the fall and winter crops. Today, we pick up a bunch each of edamame, broccoli, and collard greens; three avocados, a pint of the sweetest cherry tomatoes I've ever popped into my mouth, garlic, a pound and a half of potatoes, one bag of seedless grapes, five green apples, a bunch of carrots and a vacuum-packed bag of roasted and frozen green chiles. These are the fruits and vegetables we'll eat for the next two weeks. We say goodbye to the folks in the barn, and I grab a copy of Farmer Monte's Journal.
As I drive home, I feel grateful to have found this farm and the families that support it. Not only because I enjoy the fruits of its labors, so to speak, but also because the farm has created a local food economy here in the land of giant grocery chains and expensive health food stores. As a result, farmers, almost surrounded now by upscale subdivisions, have been able to preserve agricultural land along the Rio Grande.
While the broccoli and garlic sauté in my kitchen, I read what Farmer Monte had to see about the celebration. It's clear that he's still wearing that ear-to-ear grin he had on Saturday. After a long, hard season, he writes, the festival gave him and his staff the "energy and purpose" to keep doing what they're doing. He continues: "A child who knows the difference between what tomatoes should and shouldn't taste like when they are five, will be a force to be reckoned with when they are 20+ years old ... And after the festival, I have no doubts that we will all be in good hands."
Across the dinner table, I look at my daughter. She's cramming eggs into her mouth, avocado is stuck to her chin. Better eat up, kiddo, I tell her; you've got a lot of work ahead of you.