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Atelier Meets Abattoir NEW MEXICO LAMB RANCHING BECOMES COMMUNITY ART Story and Photos by Leah Roco

Throughout his career dealing fine art, Tim Willms used storytelling to build bonds between artists and collectors. By infusing the art with context and the artists' unique circumstances, the art he sold gained substance and palatability. Today, Willms, owner of Tallus Wind Ranch, is still a passionate storyteller, but his clients are farmers. Their works of art are heritage sheep, pigs, poultry, and cattle; his patrons are hungry New Mexicans. Over time, Willms has observed that, “Just as collectors need to know the artist's story, consumers are embracing connecting with their farmers.”

In 2007, Willms persevered for nearly a year to acquire USDA certification for the facility. Though it was rough terrain, it was the necessary path for growing the value of New Mexico lamb ranching. Before processing, ranchers and livestock must meet Willms's strict quality protocol and standards of environmental stewardship, and this is where atelier meets abattoir. Aggregating ranchers by way of a processing facility is similar to artists coming to an atelier. Whereas Willms used to market and sell prints for artists, he now buys livestock from ranchers, freeing their businesses from rigid paddocks to greener markets.

Not long after Willms purchased property in the Galisteo Basin, he decided to pursue lamb ranching. Soon his flock swelled and he was confronted by the dearth of local, small-scale meat processing facilities. Most ranchers in Willms' position shipped their herds to Colorado or California for processing and market distribution, but Willms discovered a new opportunity. “Local food sourcing is a seismic change, not a trend.” With that said, Willms mapped a route for improving the health of his local food system and economy by raising animals on the parched New Mexican soil and feeding the community. Talus Wind products can be purchased directly from the farm, at area farmers markets, Whole Foods, and even through Sysco for wholesale buyers.

Located in Torrance County, one of New Mexico's poorest, Willms struggled to find laborers who were concerned about the greater implications of playing a part in the local food system. Willms perceived that low self-esteem and complex social dynamics within these underserved communities resulted in erratic employment. To improve his odds, Willms partnered with New Mexico Workforce Solutions. As a condition for their services, new hires receive extensive skills training through the Mountainair facility, and the outcome can be seen on dinner tables across the state. A friends-and-family discount is also made available to workers in an effort to make local, sustainable meat more affordable to consumers who normally must purchase cheap, industrially processed meat. “People should know that by breaking bread with Talus Wind Ranch, marginalized communities are also being served.”

As Willms developed relationships among the ranching community, such as the Perez Cravens Ranch, Cooper Ranch, and The Enchantment Lamb Co-op, he recognized similarities between farmers and artists. “Farmers want to farm. They don’t want to deal with marketing. Just like artists don’t want to figure out how to sell their art. They just want to make it.” Stepping back into a familiar role, Willms became a collaborator as he once was with artists at an atelier in Santa Fe. He established the crucial link among ranchers within two hundred miles of his homestead: the Mountainair Heritage Meat Processing facility, located an hour and a half south of Galisteo.

Willms and his right-hand man, Chuck Hastings, recently expanded the Mountainair facility, which has the capacity to process one hundred lambs, twenty pigs, and five cows per week. With a wool and pelt project in the works, Willms continues to practice artful methods of traditional stewardship, honoring the animals, and promoting community collaboration. Whole Foods is sponsoring this series to support local producers. Look for the "I'm a Local" tags on market shelves. Visit www.ediblesantafe.com/wholefoods for producer video spotlights.

Profile for edible New Mexico

Edible Santa Fe Late Summer Issue 2014: Terroir  

In the wide open spaces and breathtaking mountain scapes that make up New Mexico, fertile terrain for food production is a rare commodity. I...

Edible Santa Fe Late Summer Issue 2014: Terroir  

In the wide open spaces and breathtaking mountain scapes that make up New Mexico, fertile terrain for food production is a rare commodity. I...