Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Steve Hansen

Quay food shed co-op discusses land, crops

Mentoring, new products also topics of session talks.


Steve Hansen

From left, Tucumcari residents Bea Laredo and Lynn Rodgers, along with Leonard Lauriault, supervisor of the New Mexico State University Agricultural Research Station in Tucumcari, and Gail Houser, director of Tucumcari MainStreet listen to discussion Thursday at a meeting of the Quay County Food Shed Co-op Exploration group.

The need for low-priced locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables in Quay County was a given, but enticing more area growers to devote more land to food crops dominated discussion Thursday at a meeting of the Quay County Food Shed Co-op Exploration group.

The session attracted farmers, agricultural and community leaders interested to explore developing a food co-op for the county.

Susann Mikkelson, a Socorro-based co-op development specialist for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, presided over the session, which was more a brainstorming session for ideas than a formal meeting.

The group discussed establishing a commercial kitchen that growers could use to create "value-added" products from fruits and vegetables, such as jams and jellies.

Mikkelson said a commercial kitchen cooperatively owned by members of a farmers' market in the Socorro area has generated products like pepper-infused olive oil, salsas and barbecue sauces.

Leonard Lauriault, superintendent of the New Mexico State University Agricultural Research Station in Tucumcari, said the kitchen would be like the bull test program at the research station-the property of subscribing ranchers.

The group also discussed introducing new farmers, young farmers and career-changers interested in agriculture, to the demands of farming through a mentorship program. Darrell Baker and Philip Box, two area farmers, said they would look for experienced farmers who could serve as mentors, and aid in a search for farmers who could free up acreage to help new farmers get started.

They mentioned that plans to develop Five Mile Park with help from the National Parks Service could include setting aside land for food crops.

Patrick Vanderpool, executive director of the Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Corporation, said he thought that would be a good idea to introduce at a community meeting for developing the park.

Vanderpool would also be a central contact in efforts to expand the coop idea into surrounding counties in New Mexico, then Texas.

Quay, Guadalupe, DeBaca and Torrance counties are currently involved in regional cooperative ventures in the East Central New Mexico Stronger Economies Together effort sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and New Mexico State University.

Quay and Guadalupe counties are also members of the Northeast Economic Development Organization, another Stronger Economies Together grouping that also includes Union, Mora, Harding, San Miguel, Colfax and Mora counties

Mikkelson outlined the next steps in getting ready to put some ideas into action, including talks with bankers, realtors and city and county officials to locate land that could be used to help new farmers get started; ideas for an event that would bring farmers and landowners together with potential new farmers; and exploring ways to get surrounding counties more involved in the effort.

The exploration group has set goals that include development of more agri-business, like Bob Hockaday's proposed cattle waste-to-energy facility and David White's proposed aquaponics business, which would use energy produced in Hockaday's proposed plant to grow fish and produce without soil.

Other goals include increasing access to locally grown food, and improving the area's health and well-being.


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