what's a "Point Two Five Farm?"

What is it? A quarter acre of eco-conscious, sustainable, New Mexican, suburban farm. Really. It's not a garden. It's a FARM.

OK so what makes it eco-conscious and sustainable? Well, it's eco-conscious because I'm trying to utilize as many ecologically conscious alternatives and strategies as possible, from planning stages to cooking and preserving. I'm trying to study the land (BTW, my husband Chuck just informed me last night that our property is really less than a quarter acre. It's more like Point Two Three Farm. Isn't that funny? So much for my study skills.). This project is about planning, farming vs. gardening, harvesting & preserving, learning & living off of our land.

Living - We bought this house on our .23 acre :-) two years ago. We live in a suburb in the City of Rio Rancho just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our suburb borders the fabulous village of Corrales (we couldn't afford Corrales, so we moved to the next best thing). Our block faces East, toward the Sandia Mountains and is about two city blocks from the Rio Grande River. We're considered a High Desert Ecozone according to Albuqueruqe's Master Gardeners. According to Chuck's GPS we're at 5,500ft. Temperatures range from in the 100s to well below freezing. Our soil is a mixed bag, but the worst that we have to contend with is clay and a hard-pan crust below the surface of the topsoil that we call caliche. We get very little rainfall here; in the valley 8-9 inches. The wind and the sun can be brutal. I tell you folks, whether gardening or FARMING here in New Mexico, neither is for the faint of heart.

I had a garden at the old house (up on the mesa) and that's where I began trying different techniqes like waffle gardening and trying to grow heirloom seeds that were hybridized here in New Mexico or at least in the southwest. Back then, I wasn't paying attention to the lay of the land really. I just picked a spot based on asthetics and tried using seedstock that was bred for our harsh (for fragile seedlings) climate.

When we moved to this house, I vowed I would change my bad habits and consider the entire SYSTEM. Of course good gardeners and farmers have been doing this for years, but I'd been stubborn, thinking that I could coax anything to live, anywhere. I guess that one can try to grow roses in the desert (and many do, including these that I inherited and haven't had the heart to tear out yet) but the plants end up needing a superstructure of support that just isn't sustainable. How so, one asks? Well, in the desert, plants need water. Period. We have water here, but it's city water (we're not on an acequia like many farms in the valley) ...so expensive (not to mention precious) because desert agriculture often takes so much more water than elsewhere.  However, when plants don't get enough water or other nutrients, they get stressed. Stressed plants need extra support... like protection from pests (which requires pest control). When plants get too much sun...or wind, they can get stressed (which requires protection, or more water). More water can seem like a good fix, but then plants become used to it, become spoiled. They grow shallow root systems and don't work to reach the natural moisture and nutrients in the soil. One day without water for these spoiled little suburban plantings can mean the end. You get the idea.

Successful growing in New Mexico calls for strategies that will support plants, allowing them to be the best they can be, making them stronger, more heat, drought and wind tolerant. One can either work with the environment or against it (an expensive, and for the home gardener or farmer, often non-sustainable proposition).

Living: So then, one might ask...why farm at all here, if we can't support it? That's a good question and one that I've been struggling with for years now. Gardens and farms aren't just pretty; they are can provide nutritious local  food, quality of life, wildife habitat, and cultural continuity. And although agriculture is necessary to the modern way of life, many people just don't have the space or resources to grow their own food. On the otherhand, modern reliance on commerically available food has expanded into an ever growing industry that's based on fossil fuels. Only those living under a rock for the last decade don't realize that  we are running out of oil. How are we going to furnish our food supply and demand?  So it comes down to ideas of  quality and availability. In order to attain this, we just need to get back to some of the basics...find some balance. I think that one of the ways to do this may be through backyard farming and the local food sharing systems that are (dare I say it?) "cropping up" around the country.  

Planning:  So, I thought I'd finally get started, take what I'd learned growing up with my grandparents as role models, and what I'd come to care about over the years and make a project of it. See if it works.. But how to do this in a way that is sustainable? I'm starting with a few philosophies. I won't grow anything that can't be eaten, either by humans or wildlife. I'll focus on trying to grow as much native vegetation as possible. If it isn't native, it needs to be drought tolerant. I'll try to utilize my micro-climates to the best advantage, shady spots for cooler loving plants, walls, rooflines and trees for water run-off. Waste-water will be utilized as much as possible. Mulching  will be necessary to reduce evaporation and wind burn. I'll try to recycle as much plant waste back into the soil to add nutirients that are being depleted. 
Up next:

Harvesting & Preserving 
Farming vs Gardening