“The Current Financial Crisis  -- An Opportunity in Disguise?” 
Agriculture and Business
Anita LaRan and Isabel Lopez
Northern New Mexico-Mora County

The current financial crisis may be “an Opportunity in Disguise” partly because in all reality rural women and communities have always been in a financial crisis!  In speaking to community members, I often hear “What recession? “ Haven’t we always done the best we can with what we have?” The difference today is that the financial crisis has hit Wall Street and the wealthy.

Rural Women, let us use this financial crisis as an opportunity to build our communities and build on services to take care of our constituents.

Anita, I think you’re right, but can you spell out how the crisis gives us an opportunity?

For the past four years we have been working with small farm families in Northern New Mexico to help them acquire the knowledge and skills to successfully operate their agricultural businesses.  Our training emphasizes the importance of record keeping and business planning for their farming or ranching operation; how to gain knowledge of other agricultural agencies and organization and the opportunities they offer; how to use their business records to make sound business decisions; methods of marketing their products and/or produce; how to make a comparative analysis of several potential enterprises such as agro-tourism, natural tourism, and value-added products; develop business plans and be able to determine their risk because of improved business practices.

Farming and Ranching have been a part of the culture of Hispanic and Native Americans in Northern New Mexico for over 500 years, but for many it has not been considered a business but a survival tool. Our challenges are many: We are seeing property taxes increase (as wealthy Texans build second homes in the area). Water rights issues arise as water needs in surrounding communities increase. Energy costs are increasing rapidly (due to demand). Many local residents are on fixed incomes because of age or disability and are being forced off their land. Increased economic development in the gaming industry in surrounding communities is challenging our basic value systems. Our culture and tradition – and our farming and ranching -- are at risk. As we develop our projects, families are starting to look at their farm or ranch not just as a family tradition, but also as a profit center.

We are fortunate to have access to two New Mexico State University county agents and one Agricultural and Small Business Development agent who work closely with us in the development of our projects. They bring valuable resources and educational opportunities to our members. The Soil and Conservation office (of the state government also provides us with much needed resources to help and educate us on the importance of preserving our land and environment through safe and responsible farming practices. Our farmers are learning to manage their land by practicing holistic land management and using dry farming methods. Heifer International provided has funding to the group so that we were able to purchase high quality livestock that have been placed with (22) twenty-two families. Animals purchased included Black Angus Heifers and Southdown Sheep. Animals placed with families have been bred with registered animals. In turn, families gifted with animals then breed their first female offspring and gift other families with same quality animals. The education process will continue with new families.

How do we get ourselves out of poverty? We start by looking within ourselves. My belief is that our biggest accomplishments come from our greatest challenges. If we look within ourselves and within our communities, we will find our greatest strength. “From the bottom up and inside out.” I heard this phrase during one of President Obama’s speeches.  In 1995, we were designated a Federal Enterprise Community and this phrase was used repeatedly in our application for designation. Maybe, just maybe, this is our opportunity to show the true strengths of rural communities, as we are the backbone of the world.