Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District, New Mexico

In partnership with others, the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) hosted two conservation easement workshops, four sustainable agriculture workshops, piloted an accredited high school agricultural program, and developed a conservation easement guidebook for landowners. Partners included private landowners, municipalities, local nonprofits and Bernalillo County Open Space (BCOS).

The conservation workshops were held in August and October. To promote the second workshop, mailers were sent to all agricultural tax-exempt property owners in the valley; turnout was higher as a result, with 30 participants. The mailers were funded and provided through partnerships between the Mid-Region Council of Governments, BCOS and Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust (RGALT).

NMSU IPM Specialist speaks with workshop participants from Grow the Growers, Rio Grande High School and local producers about pollinators and mixed production polycultures as benefiting and enhancing biological pest control methods

The sustainable agriculture workshops were attended by an average of 30 participants representing diverse relationships to the agricultural community. The methods discussed assisted in providing hands-on and applicable techniques for soil and water conservation in fields within the Middle Rio Grande Valley. Out of the four workshops held, the No-Till workshop was the most attended. The fourth workshop, Soil Building on Degraded Lands, was the most hands-on for participants while the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) workshop had the highest involvement from high school interns.

A primary focus of this project was the integration and support of Bernalillo County’s Grow the Growers (GTG) farmer training program, particularly by providing professional developmental support for trainees. Technical training exposed trainees and youth interns to calibrated topics with specific “shovel-ready” techniques demonstrated. Trainees were involved in all workshops and additionally assisted with in-field and class-based mentorship to Rio Grande High School interns.

The internship program implemented by Querencia Institute provided educational opportunities to eight students, culminating in 30 hours of classroom education and 30 hours of field internship. Four schools from Albuquerque Public Schools had participating students complete the internship. Student involvement, attendance and participation was generally excellent, with successful individual and small group projects, involvement on completed assignments and note taking by interns throughout the program. Student interns were informed about the GTG program and often learned alongside GTG participants. The program included joint training sessions and shared classroom instruction.

The Conservation Easement guidebook was produced by the RGALT. It is useful in educating the public on the technical, legal and financial aspects of the conservation easement process, as well as the various practical, ecological and economic reasons in securing agricultural properties in conservation easements. Partners, such as BCOS and NRCS, were specifically mentioned and were represented at the workshops.

Sustainability

The last workshop held at Sanchez Farm Open Space pulled together local expertise to demonstrate simple, cost-effective ways degraded land in arid regions can be restored and soil health improved with
the use of sheet mulching, on-contour swales and weir structures from willows used on site; soil testing and materials utilized were also discussed

The district has been actively engaged with partners to provide continuity. BCOS agreed to support these individual projects into the future with funding provided through a 2014 Open Space Mill Levy, which can be used toward conservation and utility of working lands for agricultural use in urban and semi-rural landscapes. The district and BCOS are working toward a Joint Funding Agreement that would allow for partnership and guidance on future programming and workshops in the area of agricultural conservation. In 2019, through collaborative efforts, BCOS will investigate the feasibility of developing a cost-assistance program to help establish conservation easements on private lands within the county.

The district has been instrumental in prolonging the impact generated through partnership with Querencia Institute and Rio Grande High School. Efforts are underway to secure $14,000 from BCOS to provide for the continuity of the high school internship program for 2019, which will allow more comprehensive involvement with the GTG trainers and trainees, ideally serving as a mentorship model for youth interested in localized and sustainable agricultural production.

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