Youth + the Future of Sustainable Agriculture in New Mexico

By attending the September 2009 National Slow Money Gathering in New Mexico, one of my central goals was to represent young farmers of New Mexico.

As a young male who had spent 2007 and 2008 apprenticing & volunteering with "youth-full" community farms and food justice groups in Albuquerque — and simultaneously doing substantial outreach to young people by organizing youth-focused workshops & presentations on sustainable agriculture at a number of Organic Farming & Environmental conferences throughout NM — I wanted to ensure that a youth perspective was heard at this gathering. Toward this goal, I distributed 100 copies of the list of "Leaders, Resources and Allies for Young Farmers of New Mexico" that I compiled in 2008.

Because the bulk of my experience as a farmer is in New Mexico, and Slow Money Alliance founder Woody Tasch lives here too, I want to contribute my advice about what the local sustainable food movement in New Mexico most needs.

And that is: FUNDING FOR YOUTH DEVELOPMENT, EDUCATION, OUTREACH, EMPLOYMENT, AND LAND ACQUISITION (and/or cross-generational preservation & transmission of existing agricultural landbases & cultural traditions) TO TRAIN, EMPOWER AND DEPLOY THE NEXT GENERATION OF SUSTAINABLE FARMERS! This is an urgent need!! New Mexico has a number of small-scale, drastically under-funded projects that are doing bits and pieces of this work, but we have nothing to match the crisis & speed with which New Mexico's older farmers and historic farmlands are disappearing. Young activists like myself who have tried to do this work and inspire other youth to get involved tend to receive zero institutional support, and there is a trend of frustrated young farmers leaving New Mexico to other climates and communities where our prospects are better. As Don Bustos said in his talk at the Slow Money Gathering, "It takes 15 years of hard patient work in New Mexico for a new farmer to succeed." But if young farmers can generally succeed much faster, easier and with more support in other places, who except the extreme hard core will choose to tough it out in New Mexico? The age of the average farmer today in New Mexico is close to 60. In 15 years, many of today's farmers will no longer be active; and unless we do more to engage the next generation to follow in their footsteps and help give them a head start with the capital & knowledge they need to succeed, the retiring generation of farmers will not be replaced. Could an influx of Slow Money be the key to enabling this transition? Or will we let Monsanto swoop in with genetically engineered chiles and corn?

If we are serious about facilitating the transition to the next generation of NM sustainable agriculture, we could start by considering the implementation of these SPECIFIC PROPOSALS —-> 1) Most importantly, create a cross-cultural statewide "New Mexico Young and Beginning Farmers Association" as a way to bring together the various small-scale local youth-focused food sustainability projects and augment our collective efforts as a conscious & disciplined movement. This will ultimately attract, connect and inspire a new cadre of young farmers, help them network with elders and mentors to acquire land resources and access professional development opportunities, and send them into schools all over New Mexico as messengers to continue the cycle. 2) Create a Rio Grande Youth Corps training & employment program to put young people to work along the acequias and in the fields of the Middle Rio Grande. In addition to cultivating the next generation of farmers, this will build a youth-centered bank of institutional knowledge about the status and needs of the agricultural landscape in New Mexico's populated central corridor, most of which is owned by middle-aged and older residents. 3) Develop a standard minimum curriculum teaching sustainable agriculture at every grade level in all NM schools, in the process honoring and disseminating NM's unique agricultural seeds, traditions & history. 4) Develop college-level sustainable agriculture educational programs in northern and central New Mexico, to complement the Ag Department at NMSU in the southern NM city of Las Cruces, which is predominantly focused on industrial-scale agribusiness (but has also recently launched a Small Farms Insititute). 5) Take advantage of NM's law that provides significant funds for schools to purchase local foods, by encouraging and offering incentives for growers to transition from animal feed or cover to edible crops, and encouraging new and young growers in strategic areas — like Albuqerque's North and South Valley — to supply this close, ready-made market. After all, the more our children and youth see and eat fresh local foods — and taste the difference between it and industrial produce shipped in from afar — the more they'll be inspired to grow and buy it themselves! 6) Develop an active educational network of New Mexico sustainable farms and food entrepreneurs who offer apprenticeships and training opportunities, similar to California's Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) or the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) in New York and Massachusetts.

This wiki page is an attempt to initiate a dialogue about where NM sustainable agriculture is going and how philanthropic investment of funds could help us get there … and, in the process, an attempt to re-frame the input of YOUTH, from the margins of this discussion to the center.

This is also the continuation of a process that I started several years ago.

I left New Mexico from January until September 2009, because I was homeless and unemployed, and I had become frustrated by the lack of substantial community support for the youth development work regarding sustainable agriculture that I was trying to lead.

In 2007 and 2008, I took the initiative to interact with youth, educators, food activists, farmers, and landowners across New Mexico about the idea of forming a statewide, youth-led but inter-generational "Young Farmers Association," as a way to collectively maximize, coordinate and expand the exciting energy that is bubbling up from numerous small local youth-focused sustainable agriculture projects across New Mexico.

Lots of people were excited about or interested in this idea, and I generated a list of a few hundred contacts. But as time went on, I began to feel that there were no other leaders in the New Mexico sustainable agriculture community — not even those who I was closest to — who shared my sense of urgency about actually doing this. The non-profit world repeatedly rejected me for paid positions that could have helped me initiate this project. Meanwhile, I spent much of my time volunteering to help establish La Placita Gardens in the South Valley, a community farm with a core "youth empowerment" mission. But without support, resources, assistance, a single serious partner in this work, or even a bare minimum of material security, I did not feel empowered to proceed. So I lost patience, gave up, and left. At least in California, I could be homeless and warm during the winter. Besides, I had a press pass to attend the Ecological Farming Conference there, where Woody Tasch was a keynote speaker. With no clear reason to return to NM, I stayed on the West Coast all spring & summer.

I finally came back (full circle) to New Mexico to participate in Woody's national Slow Money Alliance gathering, in part because I hoped that maybe this gathering itself signified an opportunity to begin manifesting my ambition of cooperative statewide youth and inter-generational leadership in New Mexico for our sustainable food future — for real.

With the national Slow Money Alliance being established — with local Slow Money chapters getting started — with the prospect that actual money will soon begin flowing to address the most urgent needs of local grassroots sustainable movements, here in New Mexico and across the USA, I thought: "Would it now be possible to generate the consensus that here, in New Mexico, one of our most urgent needs is to begin seriously & collaboratively attracting, inspiring, mentoring, empowering, connecting and funding the NEXT GENERATION of sustainable food growers?"

That's my question to you all: the youth, elders, and leaders of the New Mexico sustainable food movement. I don't know the answer yet — but I am in New Mexico now, and I am willing to try one more time to see if anyone else is with me. If the answer is yes, let's not wait for the funds to appear … but instead demonstrate that we're serious and deserve them by beginning to build the framework!

And if the answer is yes, let me say this: I think our culture needs a transformational shift. Youth and elders must re-learn how to listen to each other, respect each other, accept each other's truths and knowledge without judgement or blame, stand together when times are hard, and resolve inevitable conflicts in healing & restorative ways that re-build our lost trust & unity.

As a 29 year old male (although everyone says I look 22) with 10 years of work as a volunteer, organizer and leader with grassroots social, environmental and food justice and sovereignty movements across the USA, I have a somewhat unique perspective — still young in age and heart, but on the cusp of the ominous 30s, with enough experience to perhaps be considered by some a movement "elder," yet with the maturity to know and respect that I have many elders with far more experience than me, and the ability to relate naturally to younger people as one of their own tribe.

As I near 30, I realize with sadness that our society tends to treat young people like cute trophies: We host sideline events for youth at professional or organizational conferences, applaud when they're not too shy to speak, once in a while give them an award, talk a lot about how they're so very needed to assist our progress toward a positive social future and about the huge problems they face (often created by us) … but we generally fail to do much of anything concrete that would give them real leadership ability to define & create a healthy sustainable future on their own terms. Instead of learning to build positive collective solidarity together, youth are generally left competing against each other for the few bones — education, jobs, land — thrown down by the adults who own everything … who then wonder why many youth seek out alternative forms of solidarity in the "destructive" lifestyle of gangs, drugs, etc. Rarely do the "responsible" adults acknowledge that our society itself is environmentally, culturally, and spiritually destructive!

Hopefully, a cross-generational and cross-cultural but youth-focused association for the future of sustainable agriculture in New Mexico could provide an authentic transformational alternative. It would not only give direction and hope to many youth who want to renew their connection with the land, but also serve as a positive model and example to the broader society.

I am wiling to help be a catalyst for this, but this vision is not about me.

It is about Mañana — for everyone who loves and lives in this Land.

And so … After the National Slow Money Gathering, I feel a moderate-to-high sense of confidence in the Slow Money Alliance's leadership and in the general interest by many of its members in embracing Food Justice and Youth Empowerment issues … and I am happy with new contacts that I made at the Gathering … but after being away from New Mexico all year, I remain very selfishly unsure about what place & role there is — if any — for me personally in the Food Justice / Sustainable Food movement within this New Mexican "Land of Enchantment" that I love or … where else?!?

As of this writing, I remain landless & unemployed … still a radical young visionary without any concrete support to put the vision into practice … still hoping that eventually, maybe, someday (soon) the elders and funders of this movement will wake up and realize, especially HERE in ever dreamy New Mexico, "Land of Mañana,” that if we don't start to put our emergent but persistently under-appreciated "YOUTH FOOD MOVEMENT" at the center of our efforts and fund it appropriately, then ultimately it may all really just a big waste of time and money … and the future. Still wondering if I have the patience to fight for my vision of an inter-generational, youth-led revolution for food justice and sustainability in beautifully sun-drenched mountainous historic multi-cultural transcendental New Mexico, but tired of twisting alone in the wind…

In struggle & hope,
Ethan Genauer


What do YOU think? Does New Mexico need serious investment and coordination to attract, inspire, educate, empower, connect and grow the NEXT GENERATION of sustainable farmers and food entrepreneurs?

If your answer is yes, what should we do to begin making this happen?

Please contribute your knowledge and thoughts by adding to this wiki page, below!

You can also communicate with me directly by sending an e-mail to ethanagri4(at)



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