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Living off the land

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By Katy Korkos

“This earth gives to you all that you need,” Emigdio Ballon said, when he spoke to the Los Alamos Sustainability Energy Network on Thursday. “You get everything you need from the Mother.”Ballon is the agricultural resources director for Tesuque Pueblo, directing a program to bring food self-sufficiency to the Pueblo.Tesuque Pueblo has an agricultural initiative that is not quite three years old. Their goal is to grow much of the food needed to support the 600 people who live on the Pueblo, and to teach them to grow their own food.Ballon and his crew of three have planted 750 fruit trees as well as beans, corn, squash and medicinal herbs on 15 acres of land. The crew processes all of the seed by hand, often with the help of volunteers. The fruit can be eaten fresh at harvest time, or dried or turned into juice for storage.The herbs are dried or used fresh, both in cooking and as medicine. The crew has been experimenting with varieties that are suited to the high dry climate, and in the short three years of the program have already identified varieties that thrive here, as well as refining their techniques of planting for water conservation, soil fertility and the use companion plants.They are growing peaches, apricots, pears, plums, cherries and six varieties of apples. Among the dozens of herbs on the farm are chamomile, stinging nettle, California poppy, ashwaganda, green tobacco and feverfew.Ballon is a Quechua Indian from Bolivia who has studied biogenetics and practiced organic and biodynamic farming techniques in high altitude farms throughout Colorado and northern New Mexico. He worked as one of the co-founders of the company “Seeds of Change” and was brought to the Pueblo to lead the initiative.In addition to his overview of the agriculture program, Ballon told the Los Alamos group about the traditional ways of the Quechua people, who live in the highlands of Bolivia and Peru. He said that nothing is undertaken without first acknowledging, thanking and asking permission of the spirits, who are always present. He said that there is a kinship between his people and the Pueblo peopleHe began his talk by making an offering to the spirits. “The spirits, they love the chocolate,” Ballon said. He added that the traditional morning greeting of his people is “Don’t be lazy, don’t steal, don’t lie.”Ballon asked the audience to consider whether it makes sense “to put gas in the car then drive to the natural food store and look for a parking spot close to the door,” rather than to work in the field for food.He believes that the energy of the people who work the land is transmitted to the plants, and the plants are better for people’s health with that energy.New Mexico is among the 10 states with the highest food insecurity rates in 2006, according to the Food Research and Action Center. In October 2005, New Mexico was second in the nation with 15.8 percent of the population at risk for food insecurity or going hungry. The New Mexico Association of Food Banks, of which the Santa Fe Food Deport is a member, has released a study from 2005 that shows an increase of 38 percent in the number of people seeking emergency food assistance.Los Alamos Emergency Management coordinator Philmont Taylor recommends that people stockpile their own supplies of food for emergencies. “If you are looking at a six-to-eight week interruption in supplies to the grocery stores, such as with a pandemic where people are ordered not to travel, maybe you ought to stockpile accordingly.”The Los Alamos Sustainability Energy Network hosted Ballon as part of its monthly series who directs the agricultural resources program for Tesuque Pueblo.