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Fallow field near county offices could soon turn into fertile land to help future farmers

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — The infield of an oblong figure-eight shaped walking track near the county offices in Aztec is filled with weeds and prairie dog holes, but that could soon change.

San Juan County is entering into a partnership with New Mexico State University’s agriculture extension office to transform this into fertile farm land.

The County Commission approved a land use memorandum of understanding that will allow the extension office to start the process. Some of the details of the agreement are still being worked out, but the County Commission’s approval on Sept. 1 allows work to begin this year.

Sunflowers grow along the walking track, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, near the county offices in Aztec.

Growing Forward Farms will provide education as well as a place for entry-level farmers to begin growing crops.

The crops grown at Growing Forward Farms can then be sold for use in schools, senior centers and the community.

Wes Medlock, the extension office’s new farmer network coordinator, said the cost of buying land is one of the biggest barriers that entry-level farmers face.

“This will help encourage a younger generation of farmers,” he said.

Entry-level farmers will have the chance to lease tracts of land.

Agriculture Extension Agent Bonnie Hopkins-Byers said the office is ready to hit the ground running, starting with soil samples, reestablishing the irrigation system and planting cover crops.

The infield of a walking track near the county offices is pictured, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Aztec.

The planned farm will include lease tracts, a pollinator area, a riparian area, a small orchard and other trees as well as a demonstration compost area. The educational demonstration portion of the farm will educate people about the best practices for growing crops in San Juan County.

In the upcoming years, an outdoor learning center will be established and informative signs will be installed for program activities. The extension office also hopes to offer a scholarship program for new farmers.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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The planned Growing Forward Farms site is pictured, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Aztec.