Business Leaders of Valencia County

TOME — Always one to climb to the top of a tree, armed with a notebook and tape measure, it’s no surprise Michael Martin Meléndrez is in the nursery business.

His love of the dirt led him to study horticulture, initially at New Mexico State University, but a reality check from an advisor made him pause.

“He told me the job opportunities in horticulture were few and far between. He said, ‘Michael, if you get a degree in this field you’re gong to end up watering plants at a Kmart,” Meléndrez remembers with a laugh.

After taking a break from school, he returned, this time majoring in physical therapy. As a competitive runner and power lifter, Meléndrez was interested in how nutrition impacted overall health.

After developing a software program that analyzed people’s nutritional needs, Meléndrez  began to wonder if the nutritional information he was using as a baseline for his software was accurate.

“I became doubtful as to the validity of the information concerning nutrition in our food. I began having fresh fruits and vegetables and canned food, analyzed using a food lab in Nebraska, and I discovered that pretty much everything that we tested came out 25 to 30 percent lower in nutrient density than what the USDA data said it should be.”

Meléndrez concluded the lower-nutrient content was due to the declining health of agricultural soils.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Michael Martin Meléndrez, owner and director of Trees That Please and Soil Secrets, has built a thriving nursery business based on science and the desire to create healthy soils.

“Because of the conventional methods we use in agriculture, we essentially destroyed the natural biology of the soil,” he said. “That biology involves a consortium of bacteria, fungi, yeast and other microbes that are involved with helping a plant get nutrition out of the soil so it can build a nutrient dense food.”

He decided to address the problem — the soil — which led to the development of Soil Secrets LLC, based in Los Lunas. He also began building his wholesale tree business, collecting root samples and analyzing the microbes on those roots to find out how to grow native trees that were already adapted to the arid New Mexico climate.

“Our goal has to be to discover the symbiotic relationship between the microbes of the soil and the tree or the shrub or grass,” Meléndrez said.

By studying and reproducing the microbes in soil where native trees and plants grow naturally, he was able to create biofertilizer that he uses to “inoculate” all of his trees with before selling them.

“Every tree sold here at Trees That Please is inoculated and treated. We basically are trying to reestablish the natural process. The whole concept is based on ‘Let’s observe the natural process and copy it.’”

When Meléndrez bought the Tomé property in 1995, which is now the home of his retail nursery, it was barren and dry. He has since transformed it into a shady oasis along the highway, an arboretum full of redwoods and oaks from around the globe. All the trees sold at the nursery are native to New Mexico and grown from seed.

Customers can also purchase vegetable starter plants in the spring, as well as ornamental shrubs, rose bushes, butterfly bushes and flowers. The nursery is also the distribution location for Soil Secrets.

Over the years, Meléndrez has made it a point to reinvest the money he’s made from the nursery back into the business.

“I’ve kept my lifestyle very modest; I don’t need a lot,” he said. “I put the money back into the company to buy more inventory, pay the bills and most importantly, make payroll. If you have to go without paying yourself for months at a time to make payroll, that’s what you need to do.

“You have to reinvest in yourself, as a business. Some people may consider playing the stock market or the commodity market. I play the Trees That Please and Soil Secrets market.”

Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, Trees that Please is located at 3084 N.M. 47 in Tomé. When the seasons shift and the sun begins to set earlier, the nursery does reduce its hours.

Trees That Please can be reached at 505-866-5027.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.