There is a lot of pride in the Land of Enchantment, and much of it is on display at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces.
This 47-acre interactive museum brings to life the 3,000-year history of farming and ranching in the state with activities. Visitors can see a blacksmith in action, learn how sheep are sheared, visit a pistachio orchard and come face- to-face with New Mexico cattle breeds. They can also learn about quilting, try their hand at grinding corn and view the work of some of the state’s finest artisans.
“There is often a disconnect between what the public knows about the products they consume and where they come from,” says Mark Santiago, the museum’s director. “Our museum helps to bridge that gap by educating visitors about the significant contributions that farmers and ranchers have made to the history and culture of our state, our country, and to feeding and clothing our people. It’s easy to take the great scientific advancements in agriculture for granted, so we work to educate visitors about how far we’ve come and the commitment of the people of New Mexico to get us there.”
Santiago explains that the museum does that through exhibits, demonstrations and hands-on experiences in both the 24,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space as well as 20 acres of outdoor space, which includes registered herds of beef cattle.
More than 80,000 people visit the museum each year and another 20,000 learn about the state’s farm and ranch heritage through the museum’s many outreach activities.
How the Museum Preserves the Past
While the museum first opened its doors 20 years ago, the idea for preserving the history of farming and ranching in New Mexico began decades earlier. Dr. William P. Stephens, the secretary of agriculture for the state of New Mexico from 1972 to 1988, was concerned that much of the history was being lost as 20th-century settlers passed away and valuable artifacts and collections left the state. He envisioned a program that would recognize pioneering farm and ranch families and shared that idea with former New Mexico State University President Dr. Gerald Thomas.
Stephens and Thomas began circulating the idea of a museum with agricultural leaders in the state, which led to the establishment of the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Institute Foundation in 1989. The foundation began raising funds for the museum and lobbying legislators. In 1991, the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum Act was passed and the Office of Cultural Affairs took administrative responsibility for the establishment of the museum. The land was purchased in 1995, construction began in 1996, and the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum officially opened in 1998.
For the hundreds of school groups and families who tour the museum every year, the visit is fun and educational. But the museum has another focus as well – preserving oral histories and managing important collections.
“One of our central functions is to be a resource for historical research,” Santiago says. “We take great pride in carefully cataloging and maintaining domestic artifacts and preserving the history of the traditions, techniques, the legacy animals, and even the words of those farmers and ranchers who settled New Mexico. They were committed to good stewardship of the land. We’re committed to being good stewards of their legacy.”