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Farming is lifelong occupation for Ernesto Valdez, 89

Posted: Thursday, Jan 24th, 2013

Ernesto Valdez is still farming at nearly 90 years old.

COSTILLA COUNTY — As he approaches his 90th birthday, Ernesto Valdez and his wife Alice continue to live in the adobe home where they raised five children. Situated in the uplands of southern Colorado, Ernesto’s homestead is located in La Cordillera, Colorado.  Populated late in the nineteenth century, La Cordillera is composed of scattering of farms and ranches that form a corridor along the road east of the village of San Luis.

Born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where his father was learning new farming methods in a World War I veteran training agricultural program, Ernesto and his brother Gaspar—like their ancestors before them—were cultivators. In Ernesto’s case the opportunity to farm came during the Great Depression when he as a 15 year old and the 18 year old Gaspar purchased a 46-acre plot. Since the Southern San Luis Valley Railroad and its packing sheds and ice house were located in New San Acacio (8 miles west of the farmstead) the brothers grew cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli for export. When the railroad operating out of San Acacio went into decline the Valdez brothers cultivated potatoes, which they stored in a large adobe soterrano, or earthen root cellar, whose roof was constructed from wood obtained from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains known to local people as La Sierra.

While the Valdez brothers grew bolita beans, white corn, alberjon blanco (dry white peas), habas (fava bean), peas, and pumpkins in their kitchen garden, they became commercial producers of these crops in the 1950s. To raise crops for sale in northern New Mexico and the San Luis Valley the Valdez farm relied on water from the Culebra Watershed via the Acequia del Cerro. Because their farm obtained their water through the Luciano Lucero extension, which was located at the end of the ditch, Ernesto and Gaspar drilled an adjudicated irrigation well in the 1960s. Through time part of the farm was sold. When Gaspar died Ernesto farmed 23-acres, where he continued to grow specialty crops. As was customary the seed used by Ernesto was passed down through generations of farmers. The heirloom seed used by Ernesto into 2006 allowed him to produce 12,000 pounds of bolita beans in addition to large quantities of habas, white corn for chicos, and alberjon blanco. While he delivered fresh produce to stores and customers from Espanola to Denver, Ernesto had a faithful following of local families who relied on crops he produced. As a testament to the importance of the farm the Valdez white corn seed is archived at the National Seed Bank and the adjudicated well remains one of the few irrigation wells in the Rio Culebra Basin.

 Ernesto’s son Arnold has followed in the footsteps of his father. Growing up helping him plant and harvest the crops, Arnold built his own solar farmstead complete with an attached greenhouse and animal shelters in 1978. Using his father’s heirloom seeds, 1940’s John Deere and Farmall tractors, and irrigating with the well and acequia last year Arnold commenced intensive farming a small 6-acre plot and kitchen garden. Arnold is one of six NRCS recipients of a season extenders in the Rio Culebra Basin, which he plans to propagate in 2013.

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