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Growing a Community’s Self-Sufficiency—

Los de Mora Local Growers’ Cooperative BY ANN ADAMS

ive years ago Veronica Serna was pondering what she was going to do in her retirement from her current job as Los de Moras Local Growers’ Cooperative is the Director of providing marketing and Counseling Services at Luna Community business support for 35 growers in the Mora, College in Las Vegas, New Mexico. When a New Mexico area. friend and colleague, Roger Gonzales, asked her what her plans were, she said she thought she’d do some gardening as she had always enjoyed that activity. Her grandparents had a small farm where they raised livestock, fruit, and corn near Mora, New Mexico, which is near where Veronica and her husband, Michael, live. Roger told her that there was a new Livestock Grower’s Association forming and there was opportunity to expand her gardening interest into an income if she was interested. The Association had gotten some funding from Heifer International and there was some training available to learn about how to improve soil health without chemicals and how to improve production. Veronica decided it was time to start learning before she actually retired from her job. From the Livestock Grower’s Association emerged the Los de Mora Local Growers’ Cooperative, a cohort of 35 growers who are committed to learning as a community how to grow more of their own food as well as marketing the excess to their community in an effort to increase the community’s self-sufficiency and access to healthy food. The Cooperative seeks to secure resources to assist in the production of processing and packaging in a region currently underserved and lacking sustainable economic options. Little did Veronica know how busy and rewarding the work of growing and marketing the food the community grows could be.


One Step At a Time

As more of the growers in the Mora Grower’s Cooperative began to produce more product, the Cooperative knew it was time to look at local markets to take the excess. As more of the producers began to sell their product to outside markets, more of the community members became interested in also making use of the opportunity. Roger knew it was time to get more training in


members know what wholesale price they can pay for the grower’s produce. At this point, the Cooperative has decided not to add any more markets until they have more committed producers. “We don’t want to burn out,” says Veronica. “There are opportunities out there. We need to look at them collectively and see how they benefit the Cooperative.” Each month, the Executive Board meets to address any management issues and develop agenda items for the quarterly membership meetings. At these meetings the membership votes on which markets to try to get into and discuss who is going to be producing what

business planning for these producers so they could determine how much they wanted to grow and what they were capable of so that the marketing arm of the Cooperative would better know how many markets they needed to sell the produce. In the winter of 2014, they brought HMI in to teach their Whole Farm/Ranch Business Planning series to a cohort of 20 producers. Cindy Dvergsten taught most of this training which covers goal setting, on-farm/ranch decisionmaking, financial planning, business planning, and marketing planning. “The HMI training really helped us learn the importance of keeping records, particularly labor. Before, we would grow whatever we felt like. Now, we are getting clear about what pays for that time,” says Veronica. It was this kind of clarity that helped some growers learn how to treat their business as a business and not a hobby and make the extra effort to create income from their farming. A number of the Cooperative members put up hoop houses to grow Veronica’s hoop house in full production produce in. These hoop houses are necessary to make the most effective use products. “It’s really been rewarding to help the of resources in this arid and cold climate. community realize their potential and to help Veronica put up a hoop house and says it has people make use of their land with very little already paid for itself. She mostly sells loose tools,” says Veronica. “People didn’t realize the greens and gets 3 cuttings from each bed before demand that was out there for these kinds of she replants. She has found that with this system products. With more growers using hoop houses, and drip irrigation on a timer is a very low we’ve been able to show others in the community maintenance system. She can also stagger just how much produce can be grown even in plantings to meet market demands for certain types of produce. She is researching what are the small spaces.” “The training was helpful for all of us. It taught quality products she wants to produce to sustain us how to include the necessary people in the the farm between lettuce harvests. She is trying decision making,” says Veronica. “In my family we some winter crops for the first time as well to are having meetings now about making decisions, extend her farm into four seasons. Currently the Cooperative is selling to groceries and restaurants in Taos, Espanola, Dixon, and Las Vegas, as well as some of the local farmer’s markets. All of the members take turns with the marketing whether it is calling restaurants or taking a turn at a farmer’s market to sell the Cooperative’s produce. Currently the setup is that all produce sold through the Cooperative is subject to a 10% commission to support the Cooperative. Each member sets their own price when selling at a farmer’s market. The Cooperative negotiates Veronica and neighbor Jenny Brizal looking over certain contracts with the restaurants production in hoop house. and grocery stores and then lets the

January / February 2015

#159, In Practice, January/February 2015