Name: Ralph A. Vigil II
Location: Pecos, New Mexico
Topics: Agriculture, Water Rights, Family, History, Northern New Mexico
My name is Ralph Vigil, Jr. I’m from here, from Pecos. I’ve lived here all my life, 38 years. I was born in Las Cruces but been in here in Pecos, raised up on the east side in Pecos. I went to school here, Pecos High School. After High School I went into military for a short period and after that I got into working in the corrections. And this piece of land, my family’s always really farmed this. My dad has always done it after work. So it’s always been part of us. I never really did it full time until a couple of years ago but we just really wanted to maintain the acequias, the water rights. Well we’d work then we’d come back in the afternoons and work this and then on the weekends, too. Then after that, I started working at Santa Fe County Assessor’s office. Did that for a couple of years, I liked it so I went and got my real estate license. I was a broker for 9 years, and I did that until the recession hit and the market crashed and I had to find something to do so I started you know doing this.
Learning a lot from people like Estevan Arellano, Don Bustos, other farmers around the neighborhood. Arturo Sandoval of Center of Southwest Culture, he has really helped me a lot get my start with this hoop house and high tunnel and a lot. But yeah, basically, you know life is just enjoying here in Pecos. Growing up fishing, hunting, going for leña [firewood] you know just like everybody else in northern New Mexico doing the same thing. And you know, I love it. I wouldn’t trade this place for anything in the world. It can be difficult at times, ‘cause small town you know, the politics and the platica [chatter] and the mitote [gossip] that goes on in small towns but I mean other than that [laughs] it’s a great place to live and raise my daughter. I raised her here. She’s at New Mexico State, her first year, and it’s been a wonderful life here.
The culture, the history. I mean we have one of the, it was one of the largest Pueblos at the time, Pecos Pueblo. It was called Cicuye [pueblo name] and Towa [language name] and you know that’s a big part of the history here. The Old Santa Fe trail, the trading post. I mean there’s just so much that’s happened around here and you know to be part of that and to be carrying on the traditions that you know my great great great great grandfather brought José Donaciano Vigil and he was the first Hispanic territorial governor of New Mexico so he was able to obtain this land grant on this side of Pecos which we’ve mostly lost to forest service but we’re able to keep the irrigated lands down here and some of the land on the side of the hill there where I live. And it’s just been great. I mean a lot of people don’t embrace the culture, a lot of people forget about it, move on, you know, there’s not really much employment here unless you know, Santa Fe, you go to Santa Fe.
A lot of changes have happened here, a lot of changes that I personally don’t like, but I mean I guess the growing pains. I mean like these Dollar Generals. these box stores and stuff put our Town and Country store out of business. We don’t have fresh produce so you know I try to fill that demand where I can but it’s still kind of hard to compete you know with Santa Fe, you know a lot of people since they work there they go do their shopping at Walmart or after work or whatever. But I have my steady customers and clients here and you know just trying to carry on the traditions of keeping our water rights and that’s one thing that my dad always taught me. He said, you know, “even if you’re not going to plant, use your water, use your water Ralph.” So I’ve always learned that, you know. I remember growing up I used to hide from dad when it was time to clean the acequia. I hated it. And who’d know that several years later when I was about, I don’t know, 25 is when I got appointed to the New Mexico Acequia commission by Governor Richardson at the time and I’ve been chairman now for probably about 6 years now. 5 or 6 years now. No, longer. Probably about 8 years. So yeah it’s been interesting. How I hated to clean them, how I hated the sight of it, you’d say acequia and I just hated it. And now, I’m you know, here fighting to defend them and keep our water rights within our little communities. To keep them here. Right now we’re battling across the river. They’re trying to sell off water rights to a ranch down stream and we’re protesting that. just a bunch of challenges that we face to maintain as our town wants to grow and a lot of our youth aren’t staying here anymore and I’m trying to create a model. Create a local economy with, you know, sustainable type of business like farming. I mean we have the water. We have the arable land. We just have to put it together and get it working. I see it succeeding here in the near future. A lot of people are going to organic. I think it’ll pan out for this community, but it’s just going to be one of those thing where you’re just going to have to keep working at it, get your message out and make it work. And especially for the youth, I really want to see the youth. ‘Cause me growing up we had 4H, we had stuff to do over here and now there’s not really anything for the kids do but get in trouble, so you know I’d like to see that, the kids, the way I grew up: involved in agriculture, in our traditions and our cultures and our practices that we have done for centuries and really get back to that because you know there’s gonna come a time where you know people might have to go back to the land and if you don’t have those skills, I mean you’ll be hurting. You’d be depending on someone else.
I think our youth can definitely benefit from some sort of education in the agricultural field. Not only does it teach them about farming, but it also teaches them discipline, work ethic, business, hydrology, history, math, I mean there’s everything that’s involved in it. I mean writing, having to write proposals for grants, because I mean it’s very difficult as a small farmer to have that startup capital to make it. I was fortunate that my dad already had the tractors. But I can see somebody starting that doesn’t have any equipment, it’d be pretty costly. But you know, it’s a great town to grow up, playing baseball. We’re always outdoors. We didn’t have technology when I was growing up. I’m not that THAT old, but still I miss that part. Kids now are technology and I’m glad, you know, I missed out on that because I got to enjoy the outdoors, I got to play. And just remember the other day where the parents used to have to chase us to come inside the house. Now you have to chase the kids out of the house and good luck doing that nowadays. But hopefully we can get them back out here once this gets going real good, get our kids back out here. I get Guerrera Conference Center, they send me a bunch of kids in the summer time and it’s really great to have those kids and give them a different perspective of our culture and our agriculture. ‘Cause we get a lot of kids that are in agriculture from Oklahoma, Texas, but they’re Big Ag. I mean they’re planting thousands of acres. And then they get to see what we do here, and you know it gives them a good cultural exchange I’d say. Especially because we weed by hand. “That’s what Roundup is for,” they say. I told one gentlemen one day, I said “Would you give your daughter a shot of that Roundup?” and he said, “No,” and I said “Well why would you put it in our food?” You know, same difference. It’s a great town, it’s a great place to grow up. It’s lost a lot of it throughout the years. I’ve seen throughout the years these kids have nothing to do. I mean sports, that’s about it. I mean the school really focuses on sports a lot. Other than that you know a great place to grow up next to the mountains. Always something to do, never get bored.
Well, my dad was always, you know, growing up with him, the biggest lesson I learned was the water rights, and protecting them and using them. I mean my dad would plant but he wouldn’t plant to seed, it was for home consumption. Or he’d give it away. But he always just planted to keep the water right. And he was really instrumental into drilling that into my head and instilling those values into my everyday thinking. Moving on through life, you know, getting involved in farming and people were starting to see what I was doing and just going to meetings and stuff. We had people like Estevan Arellano who you know passed a couple of years ago. He was real instrumental in teaching a lot of people. He was a scholar himself. Very well educated, a farmer. And he always said that. At the end he’s always going to be a farmer. You know he instilled me the traditions of farmer and how it, the history, he tied everything into the history of who we are. All the way back to the different acequias and systems and practices in Spain. To Afghanistan and all over. So he really gave me that insight, that history and that perspective of who we are as a people and where we come from and our tradition agricultural practices. Where they came from, and knowing those ancient practices and still being able to use them today in our everyday farming. So you know it’s taught me a lot. And then you know moving on and meeting Don Bustos who you know is an exceptional farmer and acequiero as well. He really taught me a lot about more modern practices like raised beds. I mean we used to do nothing but row cropping. Now I’m doing raised beds, different types of high value type crops ‘cause we were used to just planting our traditional crops you know corns, beans, squash, and now we’ve moved into a whole different variety of crops, and drip irrigation and different business models. Turning it into a business.
With that, those three mentors as far as the farming is concerned. They all complement each other in one different way or another of what they taught me to become one well rounded individual but an activist and protecting our water rights, our culture, our traditions, our community, and also to know the history and what it’s all about. Not just farming because we want to make a dollar but to understand that history, to embrace it, to carry it on, so our future generations can understand it as well. ‘Cause once we lose it we forget who we were, then I think we don’t know who we are. I think that’s very important. As far as administrative support, Arturo Sandoval has been very instrumental in helping to extend my season. He’s been really really helpful in getting grants to help us out. Not just me but other communities throughout northern New Mexico and I’ve gone and I’ve helped him consult on other farms through Cañones, Higinia Gallegos and down in Sena, when we were building that high tunnel there. Bringing all these farmers together so that we can help each other out. I mean we can’t compete with Big Ag individually but collaboratively together I think we can supply. It’s just going to take a lot more organization and that’s the hard part. You know, it’d be nice to get a grant for a nonprofit that has an organizer that just organizes us full-time. Keeps us on track. ‘Cause it’s hard. Once you get farming, the beginning of the year, when you’re doing your farm plans, you’re all excited, “Oh, everything’s going to work!” And then once you get in the field it’s like, “Well I don’t have time for all that other stuff I said I was going to do” [laughing]. So it gets difficult doing that.
But Arturo Sandoval has been great. He’s really moving along in helping us in Northern New Mexico, you know. Make a name for ourselves as far as small sustainable agriculture is concerned. And hopefully we can make a dent and start getting more, you know. Department of Ag looking up here in Northern New Mexico and seeing what our small sustainable farms can do because you know a lot of times they focus more on big ag and bigger produces but you know they can’t forget us because we are, you know, some of the oldest practicing farmers as far as traditions concerned, multigenerational families and it’s always been a family affair, and you know turning that into a business has been somewhat challenging for our gente because we don’t know, a lot of us didn’t know business. I was fortunate in having a background because in real-estate I had to run my own business…but you know if you’ve never done it before it can be very consuming. But you know as far as getting articles of incorporations for us and for the cooperative, and taking care of all that legal paperwork, Arturo has been wonderful and couldn’t have done it without him. He’s just been a tremendous support in helping farmers succeed in northern New Mexico. So with all that, I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have such a group of people willing to help me, and wanting me to succeed. ‘Cause you find too many times nowadays where people don’t want you to succeed, they want you to fail. It’s that competitiveness in people, I guess, in human beings, it’s in our nature. But to find those rare people that want to see you succeed and put their time and effort in …thank God for those blessings when you get them.
Through the years, being in the NM Acequia Comission, I’ve had to be at the legislature. In fact, I’m the one who works the legislature for the commission and its efforts as far as advocating for acequias and getting funding. This year I was successful in getting almost $100,000 for capital outlay. When the governor vetoed all capital outlay, she didn’t touch ours. it’s just been a matter of building those relationships with policy makers and I’ve been very fortunate that they listen to me and you know I have several senators and they understand the importance of acequias and water rights in New Mexico. They fight to protect it. When there’s acequia issues they call me up and ask what they should do and basically I give them some advice and something that guides them in the right direction. But yeah, I’ve just gone around with the county commission. I’ve brought them over here, senators, representative over here. I just always try and stress the importance of our water rights and try to tell them as far as urban, you know the cities put a lot of pressure people. [They] don’t think that all the people in Pecos aren’t affected. Yeah we are, because the city and its efforts to grow… they need water. And the only water as far as marketable water is going to come from our acequias. And they’ll start severing them from our lands and we’ll start having problems over here for the guy down the stream who wants to irrigate and there’s no water in the city anymore ‘cause we’ve sold it all. It puts a lot of stress, it puts a lot of pressure on us and we try to bring awareness to different policy makers tha,t you know, what happens in Albuquerque affects us over here. What happens anywhere, Santa Fe, affects us over here.
And we’re not for sale, that’s just one of the biggest things that I’ve stressed. And right now we’re currently fighting wilderness expansion. You know some people want to protect it, and I want to protect it, too. It’s just that we’ve been in such a drought for so long that if you’ve been over there it’s overgrown, there’s a bunch of fuel and it’s a catastrophic forest fire waiting to happen. When that happens the river is going to turn into sludge. It’s going to mess up our infrastructure in the acequias. I mean it’ a domino effect and people don’t realize that. And you know I probably won’t, if we get a catastrophic fire, I won’t be able to irrigate for a season. ‘Cause I won’t be able to put that water in my fields ‘cause of the ash. I mean it just effects everything, and we need to manage and maintain our forests because those are our watersheds, those are what gives us our water. A bunch of people have different opinions on why to do it and why not to do it. But I mean if it was pristine and taken care of and managed properly then fine. But I mean we’re stewards of the land we were put on this planet for a reason and if we’re not maintaining and practicing our stewardship towards this land then Mother Nature is going to do it for us and we’re not going to like the outcome.
I just lobby all the time I’m just constantly on the phone with policy makers, letting them know what’s going on, letting them know we have monthly commission meetings. That really helps us get out there and do that work. It’s just building those relationships and constantly following up with them and letting them know you’re still around and just being a pest. And it’s worked to my advantage and to the citizens of New Mexico that benefit from the acequias and agriculture because it’s crucial and it’s important for us to maintain that and for policy makers to respect that. And for the most part, [the] majority of policy makers do and they recognize that this is an agricultural state and this state embraces it. And they’ll continue to embrace it as long as they see the people are out there, making an effort, that the money’s being spent in good ways. We’ve been very fortunate in that way to protect our acequia water rights, our traditional cultural practices by building relationships with policy makers. You have to. I mean a lot of people think it’s just farm and shovel and get away. No, there’s way more to it. There’s the advocacy work that you have to do. You know, a lot of people don’t want to get involved in politics. Politics is an ugly thing, you know. Politics isn’t fun, but you have to. If you want to make some noise and you want to continue your traditions and you want to make sure these practices are left to us for generations to come continue to exist you have to.
My family history, they came, Juan Montes Vigil came from Sierro, Spain in the 1500s, something like that, to Zacatecas, Mexico. And then from there they came up to Santa Cruz by Española where Don Bustos is from. They settled up there and then eventually in Santa Fe. Donaciano is a solider and all his sons are soldiers and they all went to military academy in Mexico City. And I guess he got tired of politics and decided to retire over here. So he got this land grant. This land right here, as a matter of fact. This acequia that runs up here, is called Acequia de Molino. And right where we came into this first field, on the top, he had a mill there and he built this acequia to power that. That Molino. So it was a community mean that he had for his familia. So all these agricultural lands are his basically, he farmed all this. I don’t know if at one time it was 50,000 acres or something, but the majority of it is Forest Service that we’ve lost. Like many of our land grants in New Mexico, [they] have been lost. Yeah 1680 one of the Vigiles had gone back to Mexico and then he came back up. He brought his family back up with the reconquest of Santa Fe with Don Diego de Vargas. He came back up with that expedition. And then ended up settling here so they’re one of the 13 original families in Santa Fe. So Vigil is one of them. So you know my dad is a direct descendent of all that. It’s great to be part of that history, and that culture and matter of fact I have a picture of the Lieutenant Governor, ‘cause there’s a picture of Donaciano Vigil right outside the Lt. Governor’s office. So I took a picture with the Lt. Gov. in front of it. It’s pretty amazing. It’s just great. The whole history of Donaciano. Kearny was going to stop in here at Apache Canyon, Cañoncito and he was going to send the Americans back out of here. The governor at the time told him to stand down and then they allowed him to march into Santa Fe, into the Plaza. So a lot of people kinda looked at him as a traitor. “Oh, he didn’t stand up,” but those were his orders, to back down. So I think that had a lot to do with him getting out of politics and moving here. The history of the region here, this was huge and this was a very instrumental place for the pueblo revolt. As a matter of fact the church still stands but it’s facing the other way. The original imprint of where they burned the church and the original pueblo revolt is on the other side and it’s still there. It’s pretty cool to see and then the Kiva, you know there in the rectory by the church being that they didn’t allow them to practice their “pagan” religion, you know to show the Spaniards, “We’re going to do what we want,” they built a Kiva right there in the middle of the rectory basically. Tell them, you know, go to heck. Then you got the battle of Glorietta.
There’s just such a rich historical place. And it’s beautiful to be here and just trying to keep it unique. It can’t grow too much, and hopefully it doesn’t, but it’s like over on this other side I know they’re going to start putting houses on those fields. So it’s a shame to see people get greedy and give up their values for money and material things. And it’s something that I wish wouldn’t happen but it’s a reality we all have to deal with.
Like the whole history of this whole region all the way down to Villanueva, Rivera, San Miguel, Las Vegas, on the other side, Santa Fe. This whole little region, this whole area, is just rich rich in history and culture and traditions. And who we are. I mean this acequia, the priority on the water rights is 1702, the acequia over there is 1698, and this one up here is 1710. So we have just pretty old adjudicated water rights and those were adjudicated in 1933 under the Hope Decree. There’s just tons, tons, tons of history I feel we need to protect and it’s sad because a lot of people from this town don’t even know their own history in this town. A lot of people… I start talking to them, start giving them their family history and they’re like, “How do you know all that?” I’m nosey, I guess [laughing]. I like to do research. I’m always researching stuff. You can feel the energy here, it’s just great to be part of this area, this region and carrying on the traditions. In the morning I always try and think what this place looked like. What was going on when the pueblo was there? Did they come over here? What were they doing? Were these field even here? Or this bosque? I don’t know, it just makes you wonder what was here.
To the youth, embrace your history, embrace who you are, who your ancianos [ancestors] were. Embrace this region, this valley. Don’t be embarrassed where you come from. We all come from an agrarian background, it’s just some of us are more removed than others. Embrace it, I mean it’s a beautiful history, it’s a beautiful past. It’s just something to be proud of and a lot of our kids are embarrassed of it. Especially speaking Spanish, they don’t want to speak Spanish because they are embarrassed, and I know. I was growing up and it kind of bit me in the butt now because I’m over here, I’m better at it, I can have a conversation, but I still struggle a little bit. And I had to learn when I was older, when I was in my 20s. But I was embarrassed, I just tell them don’t be ashamed. Find something to do in your community to help preserve it. Learn something about your community, number one, learn something about who you were, how your people came to be in that area, and then go from there. And dive into and be part of it and learn to be part of that history. Be part of making history in the area, leaving your imprint like your ancianos and leaving a mark for your grandchildren to be able to inherit something so beautiful and so rich in tradition, culture, history. I mean we’re such beautiful people with such diverse backgrounds that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. And we need more kids teaching, farming, we need more attorneys that are willing to come out and help the small communities help defend the water rights. And always give back to your community, ‘cause our community’s given us so much, indirectly, we don’t even think about it, but I mean, I’m not just saying the people, but the land the area, where you exist, your home. Take care of it, help beautify it, and don’t destroy it. I see too many kids these days who don’t care. They go and tear up the sides of the mountains, make messes, throwing trash, littering, just making a mess. And it’s like why would you do that to such a beautiful place in your backyard? So always respect where you are in life and where you’re from and always remember that. If you don’t take of this place this place won’t take care of you. And that has to be something that stays in their mind. And always go back, even if they leave, always go back and do something. Even if it’s not big, just something to make a little impression that’ll last forever. That way people can see that you’re setting an example for future generations so we don’t forget who we are.
Thank you (Humans of New Mexico). You’re doing good work. It’s good to get the stories out there the history and the traditions, the culture. You know I wish I was more interested in this about 15 years ago because there’s a lot of people that have passed who could’ve told me stories. You know my aunt, the aunt that left us this piece of property, my grandpa’s sister, she passed away at 102 last year. 102 years old! So imagine what she could tell me. It would’ve been beautiful to have been able to talk to her and the other elders like my grandma ‘cause my grandma really did live off the land. She would go help can and they pretty much sustained themselves off the land. So it would’ve been [great to] learn more about her but I wasn’t really into this when she passed away so I kind of missed out on that opportunity. As long as I’m breathing and kicking on this planet I want to continue to fight for the protection of our culture, our water rights, our traditions, who we are as a people, and not let that ever disappear because sometimes we forget who we are. A lot of our kids have forgotten who we are and I think we’ve gotten too material as a society and I think we need to cut back on that, take a step back and look and see who we really are as humans and how we need to make our contribution to this planet to this earth, to everything in order for it to continue to give us a place to live for millions more years to come and not destroy it so quickly. So we need more people farming, more people using the land, using the water, taking care of it, being stewards, and going back to what we were put on this planet to do and that was to take care of the land.
I’m blessed to be in this work, you know I’m not going to get rich doing it, monetarily. But I am rich ‘cause it’s something I built, it’ something my family helps out with, it’s something we can all do together. And it brings us close together as a family ‘cause when they come down to help me it brings that back. And you know a lot of people don’t spend with family anymore. Even though we’re working, it’s still spending time with family. It’s a great thing to do. Tell people even if it’s a little garden in the back of your house, a 10X10, grow something. It’s a conversation piece to have with your familia at the end of the day. And there’s nothing better than spending time with family. ‘Cause the more time you lose with your family that’s time you can never get back. We love doing it. We do it down here together all the time, you know my dad always helps out. My mom loves going to the market ‘cause she likes to talk to people, so she likes going to the farmer’s market. It’s a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.