Just under 60 miles north of Silver City on Highway 180, you will find the picturesque community of Pleasanton nestled in the Williams Valley along the San Francisco River. Originally settled by Mormon settler George C. Williams who arrived in 1879, the town was named, not for its very pleasant location along the river, surrounded by fields and orchards but for an Army officer named Pleasanton.
The originator and master mind of Frisco Farm is Kyle Skaggs who grew up in Glenwood just three miles farther up the road. After graduating from Evergreen State College in Washington where he studied environmental science and working at several seasonal farming jobs, Kyle found that he loved the work and, five years ago, moved back to start Frisco Farm which, you might have guessed, takes its name from the San Francisco River that runs next to the land that he owns with his family. The river provides an abundant source of water for all agriculturalists in the area, most of whom are growing grass and raising cattle. The farm is made up of about five acres of vegetable fields on which Kyle and partner, Meggie Dexter, grow a wide variety of produce that they sell at the Silver City Farmer’s Market, the Silver City Food Co-op, and other health food stores around New Mexico.
Most of the big field at Frisco is flood irrigated using river water rich in nutrients which feeds into a community operated acequia (irrigation ditch) and then onto the crops. An ample supply of water is a great boon for the farm and, with the exception of the use of a pump to run a few sprinklers, watering is accomplished using gravity, without an outside energy source. Kyle and Meggie have a team of two Belgian draft horses that they use to cultivate the land, which is not necessarily cheaper than a tractor, but animals eliminate the need for petroleum-based fuel for machinery. The horses are fueled by grass, so I guess you could say that they’re solar powered. They use all the manure that their horses can produce, plus more from other horses in the valley. This is the only fertilizer that they add to their already fertile river valley soil. Another method they use, sometimes called “green manure,” is cover cropping, a technique frequently used in sustainable agriculture. The primary use of cover cropping is to increase and manage soil fertility. In the fall, when the food crops are out of the field, Kyle and Meggie plant a cover crop of winter rye and Austrian field peas (a legume that helps to introduce nitrogen into the soil), let it grow as long as they can, and when it’s time to plant the next food crop, the rye and field peas are plowed back into the soil. They try to keep all the fields cover cropped when not in use for field production. Frisco Farm also uses crop rotation, a tried and true practice that benefits the soil and assists resistance to various pests. Historically, crop rotation methods are mentioned in Roman literature and evidence suggests that it was a highly developed system used by Asian civilizations.
Kyle and Meggie do as much as they can with their horses but much work is done by hand, and planning ahead to make sure that weeding and irrigating will be as efficient as possible is a crucial part of their planting strategy. Everything is planted and harvested by hand. There is a lot of manual labor. Last winter, they built a big root cellar that will hold beets, carrots, turnips, cabbage, celery root and other root veggies that love a cool, humid storage area, enabling them to sell veggies well into the colder months of the year.
Each year the two of them learn more about farming and how to stay on a small scale while maximizing production. An important part of the equation for them is getting variety crops and short-storage veggies to a size that’s just for the farmer’s market and the Co-op and the rest of their yield for a bigger wholesale market. They are continually working on finding a balance and honing in on practices that can be sustained over the long haul, perhaps for a lifetime. They have worked hard at developing good a relationship with their customers and have huge support at the farmer’s market for their produce where there is a demand for everything that they grow. Speaking with customers face to face, they are able to explain their responsible, chemical-free growing practices. Taking a principled, values-based approach to their work, Kyle and Meggie have made a commitment to sustainable farming practices and, hence, to healthy people and a healthy planet.