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At La Semilla Community Farm (La Semilla Food Center is its parent organization) in Anthony, New Mexico, it’s not just about growing food.
The mission of the 14-acre education and demonstration farm is also about helping people know what they’re eating, why it grows in the desert and how it impacts local culture and history.
La Semilla works in southern New Mexico and the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region “to build a healthy, self-reliant, fair and sustainable food system,” according to its website.
La Semilla is also about “challenging dominant narratives about our communities and about our desert environment,” said La Semilla Food Justice Storyteller Michelle Carreon.
For example, Carreon said, “food desert” is a problematic term because “it reinforces the misconception that the desert is a barren place.”
Farm Manager Josh Jasso said La Semilla has these edible crops currently growing at the farm: watermelon, cantaloupe, sunflowers, summer and winter squash, blue corn, beans, Armenian cucumbers, okra, eggplant, tomato, chile, asparagus, nopales (cactus) and rosemary. It also has mesquite trees as well as trees producing pomegranates, apples, pears, quince and apricots.
Through its Farm Fresh program (www.lasemillafarmfresh.com), La Semilla also works with local farmers to help sell their produce, delivering boxes filled with local products in Anthony, Las Cruces and El Paso, Carreon said.
It’s also about the “very intentional spaces we’re creating for our community to share their stories,” Carreon said.
That includes story-gathering sessions led by La Semilla Organizational Storyteller Rubi Orozco Santos, a website, a blog, videos, news releases and even public art – as influenced by the storytelling sessions.
In partnership with Bowie High School and Native American artist Al Woody of El Paso, La Semilla unveiled a mural called “Life Origins,” inspired by local “foodways stories” and the story-gathering sessions, in the Bowie High auditorium in May.
There are also murals on both sides of a shipping container at the community farm. One side shows hands making tortillas with blue corn in the background. The other side features native plants and pollinators. A new mural will be unveiled this fall, she said.
The nonprofit La Semilla is also committed to social justice, Carreon said. It works with other organizations in the region to support the creation and growth of small farms, to help farmers of color and historically excluded communities and to focus on issues like farm labor, land ownership, climate change, recycling, defining sustainability and water.
La Semilla was founded in 2010 to focus on community gardens, youth programs and transforming the food system, according to the farm’s website. In the past decade plus, it has taught “thousands of elementary and middle school students how to grow and cook fresh food.”
Carreon, who grew up in El Paso, has a doctorate in the interdisciplinary field of American Studies, with a concentration in sociology.
“Storytelling has always been an important part of my lived experience,” she said.
Carreon is especially “pulled toward local history,” she said. Before coming to La Semilla in February of this year, one of her prior positions was at the Border Heritage Center at the El Paso Public Library’s downtown branch.
“Something that struck me about this position (at La Semilla) was learning about our community members’ own lived experiences and stories and how they connected to the broader history of our region,” she said.
“We work with and support local farmers and beginning farmers (e.g., the fellowship), but we also work to amplify and learn from the local wisdom and histories of our community and create spaces for community members to share about their own connections to foodways in our region,” Carreon said.
“Our stories really matter,” she said. “If I wasn’t in my position (at La Semilla), I would want to be out on a farm. I want to be a farmer.”
La Semilla Food Center has announced the start of its inaugural Farmer Fellowship: “Training Agroecological Farmers for a Hotter, Drier Future in the Chihuahuan Desert: Increasing Representation and Opportunity.”
The fellowship, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, is led by La Semilla’s Community Farm Program.
“The fellowship offers a unique opportunity for beginner farmers and those looking to start their own farming journey in the Paso del Norte region,” a news release said.
Throughout the program’s six-month paid apprenticeship, fellows are immersed in a hands-on learning experience and instruction designed around the 10 agroecology principles defined by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
Ten farmers were selected for the 2021 fellowship. Some have been placed at La Semilla and others at partner farmer mentors in the region: De Colores Farm (Anthony, New Mexico); Utopia Valley (Las Cruces); and Fossil Face Farms, Myers Mushrooms and One Grub Community/Planty for the People, all in El Paso.
During the application process, priority was given to beginning or small-acreage farmers who are low-income, of limited resources and “BIPOC (Black or indigenous People of Color), ESL (English as a second language) and/or female or non-binary.” Farmers did not need to be landowners to apply for a fellowship, La Semilla said.
The fellowship is designed to create “community among the fellows and fostering and strengthening a broader, supportive community of desert farmers,” La Semilla said.
For more information, contact Michelle Carreon at firstname.lastname@example.org.