Hello, Valencia County! I hope you all are staying cool! It is me again, Heather Abeita, the Valencia County Extension intern for the summer.
Having grown up on a small farm, surrounded by the richness of agriculture in Isleta Pueblo, I felt compelled to write about a bit of our history of agriculture in Valencia County.
Valencia County was initially founded in 1844, when it was still a part of Mexico. In 1852, our area then became New Mexico territory. New Mexico did not officially become a state until 1912.
Agriculture was thriving in the Isleta Pueblo and was documented by Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez in 1776. It was noted that there were orchards of fruit, including vineyards whose grapes were made into wine. The popular crops being produced were wheat, corn, oats and alfalfa. Chile was also grown and shipped to other areas.
In 1890, Agent Poore determined that Isleta Pueblo was farming 2,400-2,600 acres of crop land. Farming was essential in the 1800s, and used simple tools to harvest wheat, including wooden shovels and jawbones from cows and sheep.
Raising livestock started to become popular in the 1800s, but the livestock would eat the cash crops and had to be confined within areas for management.
The village of Los Lunas, which is just down the road from the Pueblo of Isleta, is located within the San Clemente land grant and is one of the oldest land grants in the lower Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico.
Irrigated farms and livestock were the economic foundation in Los Lunas. Many residents were farmers in the 1800s. Sheep were the most popular livestock at the time and many raised small Churro sheep that were popular for their meat. The Churro sheep were also known to withstand the severe and arid region.
Valencia County in the 19th century was named the sheep capital of New Mexico due to two families merging in marriage. In 1837, there were more than 40,000 sheep that were driven down the Chihuahua Trail to northern and central Mexico, which most of them came from Los Lunas, Valencia and Belen.
In 1629, Fray Garcia de Zuniga and Antonio de Arteaga, both introduced grape vines out of Spain and planted them south of Socorro. Although the first grapes were not planted in Valencia County, many churches had vineyards for the wine for sacrament and ceremony.
By the 1800s, New Mexico was producing more than a million gallons of wine annually. Then in 1920, prohibition hit the nation, which devastated New Mexico’s wine industry. As most of the wineries may have disappeared at that point, there would be one last devastating hit that would impact the wine industry and that was the floods of 1943.
The floods impacted the Rio Grande valley and caused damage to the vineyards. New Mexico has since recovered from the wine industry loss and now there are many wineries throughout New Mexico.
Valencia County also has a historic flour mill, the Valencia Flour Mill in Jarales, which continues to operate today. This mill was originally founded when Valencia County was a top producer of wheat in the early 1900s. Many of the products produced from the mill can be found in our local grocery stores, including a delicious sopaipilla mix!
Many families who farm in Valencia County have been farming for generations. From our history of grape vines, extraordinary sheep numbers, to growing forages for livestock production, Valencia County has a rich history in agriculture. Some families still have businesses that are in operation today. I encourage you to support these family-owned businesses.
As I write my last article for the Valencia County Extension Service, I cannot help but think of what my experiences have done for me and my life by being active in 4-H (again) and now an intern.
To register for an upcoming program, call the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service at 505-565-3002. For more information, visit valenciaextension.nmsu.edu.
- Ready, Set, GROW! Free gardening classes are being offered virtually. Registration required, please visit the link for upcoming classes and more information, desertblooms.nmsu.edu/grow.html
- Valencia County Extension Master Gardeners is Active. Sign up to become one of the next certified Master Gardener’s for Valencia! Classes start January 2024. Contact Josh Sherman through the Extension Office at 505-565-3002. Plant clinics will be coming to the Farmer’s Markets soon.
- Fruit tree grafting workshop training with Dr. Shengrui Yao and Valencia Agriculture Agent Josh Sherman from 6-7:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 10, at the Los Lunas Ag Science Center, 1036 Miller Road, Los Lunas. Registration is limited to 20 participants and is required. Cost is $10. Call Candace or Cathy at 505-865-7640.
- Valencia County Fair: Aug. 21-27, at the fairgrounds in Belen. Come out to see our 4-H members’ indoor exhibits and livestock projects. There is also entertainment and adult exhibits for viewing as well. For more information, visit the county fair website at valenciafair.com.
- First fall plant sale by the Valencia Extension Master Gardeners, focusing on native and pollinator plants, trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers for the Valencia County climate on Saturday, Oct. 7, at the Los Lunas Ag Science Center. Contact the VEMGs for more information at [email protected] or call 505-565-3002.
If you are an individual with a disability who requires auxiliary aid or service to participate in a program, please contact the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service Office at 505-565-3002 two weeks in advance of the event.