Pretty soon she realized that she had a knack for growing food. In her first year as a grower, she says she convinced 10 friends to support her budding occupation by signing up for her newly formed Community Supported Agriculture cooperative (CSAs link consumers directly with local food producers). And then “it just kind of spiraled,” she says. “I didn’t think it would become a career.”
But perhaps she should have known better, because it seems that farming runs in Mendenhall’s blood. Her great grandparents were pinto bean farmers in Moriarty (although she didn’t discover that until about a year ago).
Mendenhall has been managing Four Moons Farms for eight years on about five acres of land—she works one acre at her home in Los Lunas and is leasing another four in Peralta. She sells her produce at growers’ markets in Albuquerque and Corrales.
Crop variety is a trademark of Four Moons Farm, Mendenhall says.
“I grow just about anything that will grow here,” she says, adding that she produced about 100 different types of crops last year. “I like to be as diverse as I can.”
She says this crop diversity aids in pest management, but it also keeps her on her toes. “I would get bored if I grew the same thing over and over.” She says she could have up to 50 crops in one field.
Mendenhall thinks she’s most known for her spring brassicas—broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and turnips, to name a few. Most farmers here don’t grow these in the spring because insect pests are more of a challenge during this time of year, Mendenhall says. But then she laughs, “I think maybe smart farmers avoid those things because they know better.”
One of Mendenhall’s goals as a grower is to improve soil health through sustainable farming practices. Pesticides and year-round farming can contaminate and deplete soil, making farmers more dependent on the same chemicals and unsustainable practices. “I want to build the soil instead of degrading it,” she says.
Mendenhall says that she has prioritized eco-friendly practices over the years, but at times her methods don’t go hand in hand with supporting herself financially.
“I started farming with this ideology of wanting to be self-sufficient and emissions free,” she says, noting that she even used to do all her work by hand (i.e., no machinery). Although she still feels her initial goal was noble, she says it’s not “super practical for those who have bills to pay. There is a balance to be struck there and that’s really hard.”
Mendenhall loves her job for a slew of reasons. “On a really basic level I like the work. I like to be productive. I like to be outside and be active. I feel really lucky to get to do all those things.”
She also says she loves New Mexico’s growing community. Mendenhall describes her fellow community farmers as “selfless people who want to see others succeed.” And she adds that she loves interacting with her customers on market days.
New Mexico’s market community is unique, Mendenhall says, because of some special programs that help people on WIC and SNAP use their benefits. Double Up Food Bucks is a program that helps make market food more affordable for people on SNAP. Those enrolled in this program can use their financial assistance at twice the value when they shop at a farmer’s market. Mendenhall appreciates these types of programs because “everyone eats,” she says, and because they give access to quality food to a greater variety of community members.
Mendenhall’s been selling at the Albuquerque Downtown Growers’ Market and Corrales Growers’ Market for the past five years, but now she’s starting to scale up her business. She’s currently part of the Agri-Cultura CSA and says she’s recently started selling to some restaurants as well.
This year, she’s also hiring an employee for the first time. Mendenhall says she’s looking forward to learning how to manage workers and teach them about agriculture without burning them out or taking advantage of them. “I want people to have a good experience with me,” she says. “I want the people who work for me to be able to pay their bills.”