Over 110 years ago, two sets of my great-grandparents settled one mile apart on the Llano Estacado of Eastern New Mexico, throwing distance from the Texas state line. Their children, grandchildren and now me have all lived on and worked this land that I am proud to call my home. It has always been my hope that my children, who were also born and raised here, and their children will continue to be a part of this land as well.
I remember what agriculture used to look like in Curry County. Corn, sorghum, barley, wheat, alfalfa, cotton, even soybeans and tomatoes. You’ll never hear anyone say that farming the High Plains is easy, but back then and depending on what plot of land you worked, we did what we needed to to keep the land healthy but also to survive as a small family farm.
Today, however, it seems as though agriculture means one thing: cattle. The land is used to either grow feed products for cattle or to house, milk and process cattle directly. No more sorghum, and gone are the tomato fields. This is not meant to be an affront to my dairy and rancher neighbors, but rather to state clearly that the cattle business is the only real viable agricultural business in the area.
In this way, “Big Ag” has won the battle. Small farmers like me are slowly breathing our last breath, and those of us who remain are likely without succession plans and, in the worst cases, saddled with enormous debt.
Small farmers just don’t have many options — and when a business runs out of options, it dies. However, what we do have is some land and vast knowledge of how to work it, around 300 days of sunshine every year and a work ethic that doesn’t have an off button. Given options, small farmers will succeed. In so doing, they will hire local help and support their local communities; it’s what family farms do.
That is why I, my entire family and many other small agricultural business people across this state adamantly support the legalization of cannabis in New Mexico. To assume that the fine folks across the rural communities of this great state are against legalization would be a grave mistake.
There’s one aspect of the draft legislation that’s especially relevant to the small farmer. It’s rare that the little guy gets a fair shake, and I’ve never been one to heap praise on politicians, but kudos to the folks who came up with the idea for the integrated microbusiness license and the production microbusiness license. In creating these licenses, and by scaling license fees based on production, the legislation creates a more level competitive field for small growers. It allows small growers the chance to enter the business with minimal capital, in many cases utilizing existing land and infrastructure, and it specifically gives microbusiness licensees (the little guys) more flexibility and privileges than it gives the commercial licensees (the big guys).
Will New Mexico politicians decide to lean on false assumptions, propaganda and fear, and continue to ban the sale of an unprocessed plant that can grow almost anywhere? Or will it decide to walk confidently, yet diligently and with purpose, into a new era by expanding a market that already exists in the state, and in the process giving the small New Mexico family farmer an option to continue to care for and work their land?
Long ago, I had a conversation with my grandmother — who had been born in 1898 and was a schoolteacher in Texico and the surrounding area for 63 years — about whether to leave town and go off to college or stay home and work the farm. Being a family of educators who also maintained the farm, she, of course, pushed the college route. However, what she said has always stayed with me. “Go to school and get your degree. Come home and help us here whenever you can, but don’t worry about the land. We’ll be working it and taking care of it, and we’ll make sure it’s here for you when you want to come back and stay.”
I’ve always hoped to be able to make that same pledge to my own grandchildren, and with this bold legislation, I just may have the option to do so.