As our community is once again in receipt of much prayed-for summer rains, some of us are forced to grapple with getting too much of a good thing, as is especially the case with many of our Belen readers who experienced severe flooding.
It is times like these where communities come together and assist each other as we are able. I’ve heard encouraging stories of this happening recently, and seen with my own eyes strangers showing up to help Belen businesses dig out and get back up and running.
Besides this time of year heralding the summer rains, on July 1 the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District’s financial assistance program restarted with the new fiscal year. Please visit our website, ValenciaSWCD.org/Assistance Programs, and think about applying.
We offer several programs designed to provide local property owners financial and technical support for conservation projects on their land. Our Standard Conservation Project is a competitive funding program that provides anywhere from 25 percent to 75 percent of reimbursement for projects that need moderately detailed planning, done in collaboration with the land owner.
Our Stand-Alone Practice program is a simple first-come, first-serve program for individuals interested in making only one improvement, picking from eight pre-approved actions: high-efficiency toilets, rain barrels/water harvesting tanks, Johnson-Su composting bioreactor kits, hoop houses and up to $100 for native plantings. We also provide up to two free soil tests annually per individual and we offer free mulch at Whitfield (as supplies last).
All told, over the last five years, the VSWCD has awarded more than $190,000 to support landowner conservation projects spread out in benefit to more than 255 acres of land within Valencia County. So please pay us a visit us at ValenciaSWCD.org or at our Whitfield offices for more information.
To highlight the power of these assistance programs, let me introduce the readers to our community member Ronnie “Ron” Moya. Upon retiring a few years ago from a career in engineering, Ronnie decided to go full-time into the family business of farming, provided he could prove his theory: Organic farming can be done in this valley and be done profitably and sustainably, with dramatic reductions in use of water, fertilizers and pesticides.
Ronnie went to work on his small farm in the Adelino area, thinking he had everything he needed to get his new farm going. He realized his water system was inefficient and that he didn’t know what the soils were underneath his land.
Ronnie called up VSWCD and we worked with him to build a site conservation plan offering technical guidance in a few places, while providing partial payment for his shallow solar-powered well and a drip-irrigation system. When Ronnie had us test his soil, we all realized his farm had highly-variable soils with low 1 percent organic levels, factors that could combine to limit his farm’s production. So what to do?
Ronnie is a meticulous fellow, and had done his research into this farming endeavor, but he knew surprises were coming and so he worked off of the plan he built with us. In the first year, he had an efficient water system in place, making only minimal soil amendments to the heavier soils.
Working hard, but having more fun than he thought he might, he was pleased with his on average 8 ounce bell peppers, which he was able to bring to market successfully (selling to local wholesalers and a few farmer’s markets).
Come year two, Ronnie applied a natural pot-ash amendment and was surprised to see his bell peppers grow to typically weigh around 12 ounces. This last year, Ronnie’s field produced an astonishing one-pound 16 ounce big bell pepper on average.
Ronnie says his customers were over the moon. His best guess for the growth and size of not just the peppers but also tomatoes and melons, was that he started using a “plant tea” he made using the Johnson-Su compost solution (from an affordable kit we offer at Whitfield). Plus, his year three soil test results showed an amazing increase to 7 percent organic content, providing him further proof that his farm was headed in the right direction.
While Ronnie’s farming experiment continues, he is excited to share his success story in the telling with his neighbors, so please visit ValenciaSWCD.org to read more about his farming adventure.
On an unrelated note, please know we are looking for an education assistant to join our team and our thriving education program. If you are, or know, that special person who has the skills and background to make real differences in the lives of our kids, please send an application (on our website) with resume, letter of interest and at least one professional reference letter to: VSWCD (Attention Allison Martin), 2424 N.M. 47, Belen, N.M., 87002.
(Andrew Hautzinger is the district director of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.)
Andrew Hautzinger, guest columnist
Andrew Hautzinger has been the district director for the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District since 2020. Prior to that, he was a volunteer VSWCD board member for 12 years and spent many years volunteering at the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.
Hautzinger has a bachelor of science in watershed sciences from Colorado State University. He worked for more than 27 years as a federal hydrologist working for agencies within the Department of Interior including the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. National Park Service, and for the final 20 years of his career, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ National Wildlife Refuge System.