What makes a farmer unique? Is it the farming practices they use, their community involvement or the path they took to become a farmer? New Mexico has many vibrant farming personalities, and on that list of distinctive people is Fidel Gonzalez. During a visit to his South Valley home and growing operation, I learned more about Fidel's journey into farming as well as his interests in travel, music and dance.
Fidel grew up in Mexico City where he says "all they grow there is concrete." As a city boy he had no interest in farming, but he was curious about his indigenous roots and music. He left Mexico when he was 22 years old, and worked as a musician for a while, playing guitar mostly. He then decided he wanted to try to make a living as a musician, but without having to travel all the time. He built a studio in his home and became a recording artist. Fidel continues to record music in his home, but now his main gig is working the land.
Fidel doesn’t claim to come to farming on altruistic terms; he was looking for a way to pay the rent. While collaborating on a documentary film about indigenous ways of life over 12 years ago, an Apache friend recommended that Fidel contact the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to learn more about organic farming. All Fidel knew previously about Quakers had to do with oats and an eccentric manner of religious worship.
The AFSC is a Quaker organization that employs experienced farmers to share their skills and knowledge with a younger generation who were not raised with a gardening or farming lifestyle. With the AFSC, Fidel says, “I learned not only to farm, but my mind was opened to looking at farming as therapy, religion and as a sustainable movement.” After his experience with the AFSC, Fidel became more attracted to nature and wanted to make a living out of farming.
About four years ago he traveled to southern India to learn more about biodynamics, a holistic approach to agriculture developed by scientist and philosopher Dr. Rudolf Steiner. Biodynamic farming, although organic, also employs a complex set of principles and practices. For example, preparing the soil, transplanting, cultivating and harvesting crops involves observation of the rhythms and cycles of the Earth and other celestial bodies in our solar system. Fidel got the fundamentals of this system of farming, but felt it was too expensive to implement on a consistent level. His approach to agriculture, however, was heavily shaped by this experience.
Fidel wants to make organic produce accessible to more people, so he sells his vegetables and micro greens at the Downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, works through the South Valley Economic Development Center to prepare boxes of produce for a Community Supported Agriculture program and for Albuquerque Public Schools. About a year ago Fidel opened a store called Moktezu Mart near UNM at Central and Harvard. His intention was to provide students with healthy, affordable food options and fresh, organic produce. The market had a kitchen where he prepared items such as burritos and atole. Unfortunately, after a year Fidel closed the market due to low sales. He says, “students spend more money drinking alcohol than eating right. They would rather eat processed ramen than real food.”
Fidel remains optimistic about a future store in a better location. This is one of his long-term goals, as is his desire to create a year-round farmers market, and have more restaurants and businesses buy from local farmers. He hopes to increase the market for local organic farmers. This year the Downtown market was overloaded with farmers and had to turn away over 25 people who were interested in selling their produce. Clearly, there is a plethora of local farmers who need more opportunities and venues to sell their products.
Finding ways to expand the market for local, organic produce, even to college students who may not appreciate it, is an important goal of Fidel’s. It’s a wonder that he can also juggle the skills and time it takes to be an Aztec dancer, guitar player, recording artist and community activist. However, what is most unique about Fidel is his heart and the way it drives him to share his interests with the community.