Quote: “When people ask me “what is your religion?” I tell them: “chiles, tomatoes, lettuce and spinach, and the sun and the earth.” That’s my true religion. When you’re planting seeds, youre praying.”
The Artist, The Farmer, The Dancer
Every single culture, every single religion, every single model of art; it comes from agriculture. I mean, if there is no food, there is no way for me to do nothing. For example, my people used to do it following the stars. Following the movement of the universe to understand the planting season. So, then they gave it some kind of name. We didn’t have gods or goddesses. That’s more European. For us, it was more like energies. So, when we talk about Tlaloc, which is the sweet liquid that comes from heaven, it’s not really god Tlaloc. Some people call him the god Tlaloc. Or the god of the warrior, which is Huitzilopochtli and Huitzilopochtli, thus, is nothing but your will. The power that you have to do things. So, we’re talking about energies. And that is exactly what happened right here in our culture. And if you understand what I mean you move by it. But then at the same time, it’s great to have a variety of beliefs because when you look at all of them, they all come to the same point. So, back again, agriculture is, for me, my biggest religion.
When people ask me, “What is your religion?” I tell them, “Chiles and tomatoes, lettuce and spinach, and the sun and the earth.” That’s my true religion. When you’re planting seeds, you’re praying. So I do music because I always wanted to be a musician so that feeds my ego. This one feeds my stomach and dancing feeds my spirit. So, they go together.
I was struggling. I was on the road for 22 years, performing. I didn’t want to do it no more. I know more about music. I have a recording studio in my house. I was also doing some kind of documentaries because I like to do that. Having fun with FinalCut. That’s more fun, really. But I was getting paid for it. So, one day I talked to one of my elders. We were working on a project. Also, working with somebody from San Francisco who does the things that you guys do. They were looking for models to follow.
We were doing a documentary of the community. The one [where] I go to the sweat lodges from time to time, which is more the ceremonial part. That day I totally was trying to give myself a chance to see if I could live just by recording in the studio. I didn’t want to be on the road no more. I did that like…really…years up and down. That’s how I arrived here to New Mexico. I used to live in New York. So, traveling the States I ended up living in New Mexico, by playing. But then at one point I didn’t want to be traveling no more. I wanted to keep on playing, but not traveling that much. And I was trying to live from recording. But I wasn’t making enough. So, working with this elder Apache who does sweat lodges and Sun Dance and all of those things, I asked him about a part-time job. And he mentioned about this, you know, and that’s how I got involved with agriculture. So, I was living in the hole: three months rent behind. Still, I could’ve kept traveling and performing, but then I said, “No,no,” because it’s going to go back again. I gave my best. Gladly, my landlord and my landlady; they were so patient.
So when I start to work in agriculture that was great because they paid me man! This is crazy! They paid me to learn. So, I got paid to learn how to do agriculture. They bought those greenhouses for me. They even bought machines. They teached me how to. To tell you the truth, the first year was just like an economical attraction to this because it was helping me. And then whatever I was doing in the studio was, like, for me. So, I came out of the hole about four months later.
But then when I start to make business through agriculture, then I start to feel more attractive. And then suddenly from one thing to another, agriculture had turned to be me my main. I’m still recording, I still play from time to time. But now, touching the soil and being in charge of seeds is what really… That’s how I got involved with agriculture.
Of course. I was born and raised in Mexico City. I grew up in a tough neighborhood. Gladly, I believe that because I followed my heart, I always wanted to be a musician, since I have consciousness. I followed my heart. I ended up living here. My goal was to go to India. I just wanted to come to the States for a year, save all my money, and go to India to learn music, Hindu music. I was into meditation and vegetarianism. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I ended up in New York, and I fell in love with New York. New York ate me the first day when I arrived. So, then I forgot about India. I forgot about Mexico. I forgot about everything ’cause then I started to live really as a musician. I was playing already, making money and traveling. And then I thought, “You know what? India will be there forever. I can go anytime.”
I did go, some years later. But now, more related to agriculture. I went to get a workshop on Agricultural Biodynamics. So, I went to India. I went to Nepal. But everything comes because…this is what I always talk about with people who ask me about it. I’ve been always following my heart. I want to be a musician. And thanks to that now I keep on playing, I have a recording studio and I do farming. So, when you follow your heart, you’re safe. You’re gonna crash from time to time. But still, when you work for somebody else, you crash. So, you better crash following your heart, not following somebody else’s desires. So that’s how I ended up living in this beautiful state.
Finding Agricultural Practices
I won’t lie to you, I miss New York from time to time because I really had 13 beautiful years of living in New York. I go there when I have a chance. And now, like I was telling you a few minutes ago, the people who teached me how to farm, now they hired me to be a trainer. Its great. And that’s how we are helping the community in general. Not just the community but when you talk about biosystems, I believe the world. Growing food. Producing good biodynamic systems, taking care of water, taking care of the soil, producing jobs. That’s one of the things we’re doing. So this is how it works.
The land is not my land. The land I’m working on is not my land. But, the people who allow me to use the land is mostly elders who have water rights. So, through farming they can protect their water rights. Through farming, they can claim their agricultural taxes, because you can prove that you are farming. And that helps us because we can grow quality food for the community. We also produce jobs, local jobs. So, that money stays here, more in New Mexico, rather than sending it to Colorado, Texas, California where normally they buy all of the produce that we eat right here. So, we’re trying to be as self-sufficient as we can to make the economy of the state where we live stronger.
One of the things I always mention is: from each dollar that you spend in any of those super markets, New Mexico only keeps 5 cents and the other 95 cents, they go to Colorado; they go to Texas; they go to California. What does that mean? It means that New Mexico only produces 5 percent of the food that New Mexico consumes.
So, the more farmers, the better. That’s gonna help small farming. ‘Cause if you start to talk about big corporations, and this and that. Then, we’re going to go back to same thing. The monopoly. Small farmers are a good point to recover the economy of New Mexico. We produce good quality food. You produce jobs. You help elders to protect their water rights, to claim the agricultural taxes, and you make the economy of the state stronger.
Talking about farming, you need to have a business plan. But everything gets better every year. Now having the experience of how much I sell, it tells how much I have to buy in seeds, how much I have to produce. Ideally would be to get to the point where you can really cover all of your needs. Cover all of your bills and make it to save some money. But you have to consider that in order to make a business work as a business, according to the experts, it takes 5 to 6 years to make it happen.
So, the other thing too is, at the beginning, the first 3 years, we were super supportive of grants, and grants were helping us. They called the Incubator. So 3 years later they left us in the air. So we it really is on us to make it happen. Which is great. So really I’ve been, this is gonna be my 4th year of my own business. So, I’m learning, I’m still learning. But I have a good idea of what I want to get.
Now there are more programs. There are more people interested. The one I’m working with is through the organization that teached me how to farm. It’s called American Friends Services Committee. They have a program right now working with local farmers. There is another program coming soon. Its called Grow the Growers, I believe. That comes through the county, Bernalillo County. And there is so many others. They also call me to see if I can help some of their organizations who have partnerships around with us as farmers. They are not farmers but they want to use part of the plots to have some greens grow on.
Agri-Cultura Network is the entity that we created seven years ago. It used to be an LLC. It was only three owners, the executive directors of the three organizations that started 7 years ago, which was La Plazita, Valle Encantado, and Emerging Communities. But last year it turned to be a co-op. So, they passed the control to us. It belongs to the farmers, it’s made by farmers, so farmers should be the ones… ’cause in reality we are the ones who know what’s going on. It’s good to have an executive director, but the ones who know what’s going on in the fields is us.
So, now with that as an idea, we also decide who’s going to be doing what. Who’s going to be the seller, who’s going to be the general manager, what kind of grants can we apply for. With that, we also were in partnerships with some other entities around. Through Agri-Cultura Network we also have another model, a CSA [community supported agriculture], which is La Cosecha. So you pay a specific quantity of money per week or per month and then you receive a box full whatever the veggies that we have. Ideally, would be to give to the community a variety of vegetables. That’s our goal, but another thing that we have to realistic about is nature. We cannot control nature. Sometimes you have an overload of beauty. Sometimes you have barely enough to cover as much as you can.
Challenges in Agricultural Practices
Grasshoppers three years ago; they ate 55% of the production of New Mexico, not just us. 55%, the grasshoppers. That’s one thing. Then you have climate change. I mean, look at this February and see how it is out there. And then from one time to another it gets super cold. So, thats tricky. That tricks the trees, for example, apple trees, cherry trees; they start to bloom earlier with this heat. And suddenly it gets cold and they die. So, the new thing we’re gonna have to learn how to deal with is the climate change.
I think life has always been like that. There is always climate change, from age to age. So, right now we’re going through this. We’re going to have to adjust. And then suddenly we’re going to get used to it. Then we’re gonna have a better idea. So, less complain, more working. That’s what makes the difference. You just have to put attention to see what is it that was a good seller. Something that grew really good last year. Keep it going, and they keep on adding. I have a good quantity of seeds right here. What’s gonna grow? What’s not gonna grow? I don’t know. The thing is the more you plant, the more opportunities you have production on the table.
Well, we better. If we want to come out of the hole, we better. It’s hard, to, because now, see, part of the history is after the second [world] war, before the second [world] war, this land right here where we are, it used to be agricultural land. All of the South Valley. For one or another reason, it’s easier to grow food here than in the heights. In the heights it gets colder. So, this section right here, for us, is blessed. Before the war, too, so many of the elders used to be farmers. But after the second war, when they sent them to the war, so many of them didn’t come back. And the ones who came back, came back with psychological problems, emotional problems, or chopped, in parts. So, they couldn’t take care of business anymore. And their relatives didn’t want to get involved with that anymore. They started to talk about, “I want to get a career. I want to be in an office.” Which is fine, but they forgot about agriculture.
So, the demand right now in farming is great in New Mexico. We’re talking about build your own business, if you want to see it as a business. I told you, from each dollar that you spend in any of those stores, New Mexico only keeps 5 cents. That’s vegetables. There’s another extra on meat and dairy products. But the veggies, New Mexico only produces 5%. So, it’s gonna take a long time until we can get to the point of saying, “We will be sustainable as a state.” To provide the quantity of food that we need to live. I don’t want to use the word, “Survive.” Its ugly. But to live, to have a life. So, organizing communities into farming, it’s a great idea.
Now we have a model to follow. They don’t have to follow our own model, they can create their own. But there is already a pattern to follow. So, we started with 3 farmers; three organizations. Right now, we are 9. During the high season, we are 20. So we get food from here to there. We start with 40 boxes of CSA. I believe the idea was to do 40 the first year. Then, 80 the second year, and then 160. Double it each year to see if we could do it. Well the things were so good that the first year we did 40, the second year we did 150, and the third year we did 300. So, right now, this year we’re planning to do 350.
So, it’s growing. We just have to be really careful with the way we produce. You don’t need to overload it because we don’t have too much of a market. So, ideally, it’s also to educate the community. To consume more local food ’cause they want to eat good and healthy. Which is great, but so many don’t know that we do it right here. So, that’s what’s happening right now. For that we do some workshops. We teach the people how to cook. The benefits of the food that we’re growing. What will be great for your health. People with diabetes, people with any kind of disease. Using food as a medicine. And also for mental and emotional problems ’cause in reality that’s where it comes from.
I mean, we can have problems, as humans. But if you feel healthy, it’s gonna be easier to deal with them. So that’s part of the medication to the world in general. So definitely, community organizations or co-ops, luckily will be great. ‘Cause now its farmers. If we have more co-ops or more farmers, more organizations then we can start to work together and figure out how to make it happen for everyone.
I have a job. I do music as my job, and then I dance to say thanks. And I do 24 hours-a-day, 8 days-a-week part-time job farming. Once the high season comes in, you got to be on top of it. But then there is another concept that I’ve been using. In reality, it’s not how much you produce. That’s also part of the healing. Because something beautiful that I understood, that they showed me. It’s a concept that the people from Bhutan created. You know Bhutan is the happiest country in the whole world and that’s because they created a philosophy called Gross National Happiness. What’s that name of that, GDP, Gross Domestic Product. That’s how much you produce as a human. How much we produce as a community. How much we produce as a state. How much we produce as a country. That’s the GDP. The people from Bhutan flipped the coin and they call it Gross National Happiness.
How happy do you produce what you produce. How much pleasure do you have doing that. So you need to figure out, in reality, your needs. How much do you need as a human being to be happy? And then take it from there and see how many hours do I really want to spend on farming? Because I want to do music, I want to dance, and I also have a family to take care of. There is people which I respect that the only thing they do is farming because, so far, it is the only thing they like to do. And they want to be farmers since ever. In my case, for example, I like to mix it with some other things. Some other things is music, dancing, but mainly my family.
So, I have my business right here. Even if I go to another field to farm, we ended up bringing it over here. These are like the headquarters, because from here we move it to whatever we have to sell. Either the co-op, or restaurants, or farmer’s markets, or whatever. So, having my business at home, allows me to be with my family a lot. Gladly, my wife, she only has two days at work at UNM. She’s a sociologist. But she is more like a freelancer. So, she works from here. So, we spend a lot of time together. And my kid is in the school, because he really needs to go to school while we’re doing things. But ideally would be to have him with us more time. So, that’s what you have to put in the balance. How much do you need of money? How much do you need of your family?
And then another question is…I just was figuring this out the other day. I met this great lady. I go to the chiropractor from time to time because being on the farm; sometimes you need that tune-up. So, I love massages and how they crack my bones. So, the lady who is my chiropractor, she’s great. She is Oriental, I can’t remember from where. And she was telling me all the things that she had been doing in her life. She went here; she went there. And she was working, making good money as a chiropractor. Then I asked her…we got to the point of asking her, “Is that what you want to be, since you were a child? Did you want to work in chiropracting?” And she said, “No.” She wanted to be something different. But the only way for her to make money was chiropracting.
So, imagine doing the same…doing what you like to do in life. That’s my point. And that’s what I’m teaching my son because right now he’s 4 and a half. We’re thinking about what kind of education we want to give him. Do we want him to go to the traditional schools, like the ones we were in. There is a variety of education right here. Taking Montessori schools as an example. There is another one the Mountain Mahogany. Then there are the schools like the ones we grew up with. But because we already have an experience of the other schools, we think about it, “Man, I don’t want him to carry 2,000 books to learn something that he’s not gonna use in his life.”
Let me tell you. When I was traveling, performing, one day I was in Ithaca, New York in Cornell, playing around. And walking after a show, we were just traveling around the beautiful Ithaca at the edges of Cornell. I noticed cops around, and fences around. There is cliff and the students go to jump there. They built a fence, they have cops taking care of it. The education, the way this government has it, it makes you to sell your life to them for a long time. Sometimes you end up being so depressed that the only escape is death and that’s what they do. So, watching that as an example. Watching how I grow up, as an example.
My wife and I; now we have a better idea of what we got for our kids. I don’t know, have you guys heard about where the schools come from? Who invented schools? The Greeks. You know what they created schools for? They used to have students and the person who would teach, let’s call them a teacher, under the tree. That was the more traditional way to teach. When one of the kids, or some of the kids, weren’t putting attention, they would send them to the schools. So, the schools were created to punish. So, the schools are created to punish, that’s where it comes from. So, now the system…of course people who have been good positions and make good money will tell you, “No, schools are great.” Of course. Pros and cons, always, everything.
But literally, the Greeks created schools to punish the students who didn’t want to put attention, who were out of control. So, it was easier to learn in a more traditional way, it was better. By watching the kids. What is it that you are good for? So, let’s focus on that. What is it that you wanted to do in your life? Lets focus on that. Versus what did your father want you to do for life? That’s totally different. What does the government want you to be? The government wants you to work for the NASA, or they want you to sell your life to them for $150,000 or $200,000.
I heard a friend of mine saying that she owes like $250,000. I was like, “Dude, man! How much do you have to work in your life to pay off that much money?” That’s scary. And I don’t want my son to go through that. So, if you teach him how to farm, he will always have food and something to sell. And besides that he can do whatever he wants to do in his life. That’s my point of view. What does he want to do? I don’t know. He may want to be someone for the NASA, who knows. But that will be up to him. My part, I’m just putting in his heart and his brain what I think is gonna be more helpful.
The most important thing is we love him. We tell him all the time. Sometimes he gets tired of me telling him, “I love you, I love you.” He’s like, “Ya!” Come on. I hug him over and over. “And it’s your fault for being so cute, who told you to be like that?” But that’s good, you know. So, we’re trying to give to our kids what we didn’t have. I didn’t have a father and my mother used to work to provide food for five kids. It was all men, we were 5 brothers and I was the youngest one. So, we had a kind of rough, tough childhood. And that’s what we don’t want for our kids.
And now with everything that you see what’s going on around with the new elections and this and that. We have to be extra careful with what we plant in their hearts. But you have to be honest at the same time because he’s asking questions, “Who’s that person?” So, you have to tell them. You don’t want to lie. “Why are people yelling this?” So we explain it in a nice way. We don’t tell him, like, show him the finger or something. You just, nice and mellow, you tell them what’s good and what’s a lie and what is not.
And all of that comes related to agriculture. Let’s talk about planting and food. Agriculture is the mother of all religions. Agriculture is the mother all social-political movements. Agriculture is the mother all the arts. Agriculture doesn’t wait for us understand the movement of the universe. So, when you understand that I don’t think that you even need a religion. Once you start to put seeds in the soil you’re praying. When you harvest, you’re praying. So, I love that. I wasn’t Hare Krishna, I wasn’t Buddhist Zen. I grew up with Catholic people. Then, I went to agnostics and then at the end you end up the same. It’s all the same thing, just different name.
Photo Credits: Jim Holbrook