From fresh blackberries to salad greens to famous New Mexico chile peppers, Don Bustos of Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouse in Española grows it all – 72 varieties of produce to be exact. And all of them are certified organic.
The farm itself has been in existence for over 400 years, and Bustos continues to use some of the same rituals and cultural practices of his ancestors who farmed before him while incorporating new methods and technologies that allow the farm to stay viable.
Initially, he farmed using conventional methods, but about 10 years ago, transitioned to an organic operation.
Bustos decided to go organic for personal reasons. “There was one time when I came home after dusting my pumpkin fields and my son was a small baby, rolling on the carpet. He reached at me and I saw the dust from the fertilizer coming off my pants. That was my ‘a-ha’ moment. I felt I couldn’t use those chemicals anymore because I might be harming my family,” he says.
He adds that the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) played a large role in his decision, especially because at that time, they were ahead of the game nationally.
“The organic certification from the Department came before it was even a United States Department of Agriculture organic program,” he says. “The Department had some really innovative people and their marketing efforts gave the program credibility. It gave it that edge and let consumers know that it was a viable program being vetted by the Department of Agriculture.”
The program, officially called the New Mexico Organic Program, began in 1990 with the creation of the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission (NMOCC), which established a state organic certification program. When the National Organic Standards went into effect in 2002 under the National Organic Program, the NMOCC was accredited as a certifier to that program, according to Sarah Hacker of NMDA Marketing and Development. The program was then reorganized by Legislature in January 2011, which eliminated the commission and transferred the program to the NMDA.
“This program certifies operations that have successfully met the requirements of the National Organic Program,” Hacker says. “Once certified, operations have access to various markets which have a higher return to the operation.”
And although Bustos’ operation is mainly produce, all types of producers are and can be certified organic, including livestock operations, dairy operations, pastures and processing plants.
“Everything from organic pecans to chile and eggs to beef can be found in New Mexico,” Hacker says.
The program has grown significantly since its inception and currently has more than 150 producers in the official Organic Integrity Database. In 2016 alone, NMDA received 143 renewal applications and 10 new operation applications for organic certification. Combined, these operations reported agricultural sales with a total of $69.8 million, supporting the state’s local economy.
For Bustos, that’s one of the most important reasons for why he farms.
“We sell everything within a 25-mile radius. We harvest blackberries and they’re at the farmers market first thing in the morning,” he says. “We sell to the Santa Fe school district for the farm to school program and have a small CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] program. We’re not trying to feed the world, we’re trying to have a healthy farm and support our local community. That money never leaves the state and that’s the kind of economic development opportunities that make a difference. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”