I found the perfect cucumber when I discovered Silver Leaf Farms. Not since living in Beirut, Lebanon, where they harvest cucumbers before they become big and bitter, have I tasted such sublimely sweet and crisp little cucumbers. In the States, it can be harder to find such cucumbers—but Silver Leaf Farms is an exception. Their cucumbers are so delicious you can eat them straight off the vine. I did exactly that when I visited the farm’s headquarters in Corrales, where Elan Silverblatt-Buser gave me a tour of his greenhouses and a passionate account of his journey into farming.
Elan and his brother Aaron Silverblatt-Buser grew up in the Corrales area. They were encouraged by their parents to grow food—with the rule that if they planted something, they would have to eat it. This early practice helped them see and understand the process of growing things. As Aaron grew up, he decided he was going to be a farmer. He started a backyard garden and then began growing food on small 1/2 to 2 acre plots, experimenting with seed catalogs from Johnny’s Seeds to see which crops grew best in the desert climate. Meanwhile, Elan went away to college to study plant biology, climate change and food security, only to realize that what he was really interested in doing couldn’t be learned in a classroom. About three years ago, he moved back to New Mexico and started farming full-time with his brother.
It really seems like Elan is in his element out in the fields or in the greenhouses, not only because he’s always smiling, but also because of the way he speaks about farming. “Farming is never boring!” he tells me. Of course, Elan can apply a lot of what he learned in college about plant biology to his business; there’s a lot to know about sustainable agriculture. There’s a science to soil, composting and crop rotation, and New Mexico has its own unique farming challenges. Elan and Aaron believe it’s important to be resource efficient, which is why they use solar energy and grow food year-round in greenhouses. Vegetables grown in greenhouses use much less water than those grown in the field. For example, their lettuce produced in greenhouses uses approximately one gallon of water per head, whereas lettuce grown in the field may use 60 to 80 gallons of water per head. Food grown in greenhouses is not affected by evaporation or competition from weeds, and watering can be done more precisely.
Connecting to the land and to other people in the community are what keep Elan passionate about his work. He emphasizes close relationships with people being as important to the farming process as is the growing of food. Silver Leaf Farms value their employees and don’t rely on interns to work the farm. They pay their seven full-time employees a living wage in hopes that someday they will also pursue careers in agriculture. “We don’t ever want to take the personal touch out of farming, and enjoy being connected to the community through growing food,” says Elan.
Having a personal connection with one’s food is rare these days. In the grocery store we can find carrots and lettuce from California and exotic fruits from South America, but it’s more gratifying, healthy and better for the planet to eat food that’s grown locally. That’s one of the things that Elan highlights about his farming experience. It’s incredibly rewarding to deal directly with clients through local farmers’ markets, restaurants and grocery stores. None of the produce from Silver Leaf Farms travels farther than Santa Fe.
I keep thinking of the word “alive” as I walk through Silver Leaf Farms. There is vivid life all over the farm, from the Corrales buttercrunch “living” lettuce that is harvested with roots intact to retain its nutritional value, to the energy collected from the sun to operate the business, to the passion flowing out of both brothers. When Elan talks about his love of farming, there is an energy that is unmistakable.
Those little cucumbers are a good enough reason to support Silver Leaf Farms, but more importantly, it’s a thoroughly uplifting experience to buy delicious vegetables produced by those who love and appreciate the farming process, and who are painstakingly resource efficient. Your taste buds will be pleased and your conscience eased knowing that you are supporting a business run by brothers who are good stewards of the land and who value their community.