Middle Rio Grande Valley farmer, Ray Garcia, with his granddaughter
Article by Cecilia Rosacker, Executive Director of the Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust
Originally published in their Fall 2021 newsletter
Last summer, I visited Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust (RGALT) conservation easement landowner, Ray Garcia. Ray’s conservation easement was RGALT’s second easement. The easement protects 30 acres of irrigated farmland in the historic farming community of Tome. Ray and I were meeting to discuss protecting more of his farmland. The meeting took place at their kitchen table like most of our landowner meetings. The table was surrounded on three sides by big windows showcasing the farm fields. Ray’s granddaughter, on a break from virtual kindergarten, joined us. As we talked, she made us a make-believe lunch, graciously dishing out our delicious, invisible food from pans she had pulled out of the cupboards.
“Cecilia, meet my granddaughter. She’s gonna have land, I’m gonna make sure she has land. That’s why I’m doing this, putting conservation easements on my land. Look at it!”, he gestured his hand across the fields. “It’s beautiful! We love our land. The birds love it. We love wildlife. This land is for them. Where else are they going to go if I don’t protect it? This is all they have left, our farms.”
“This land is for my kids, my grandkids. My parents left us this land. It’s been in our family for a very long time, for generations. It’s part of our culture, we’ve been farming it a long time. Going back to the Spanish Tome Land Grant and the Native Americans, this land has been farmed. My grandmother was native American. I want all my kids to have land. And I’m going to make sure my granddaughter has land. I believe in girl power! The girls, they take care of us, they keep the traditions going, they keep the family together. My sister didn’t get as much land as us boys, but she is the one that keeps us together. I want to make sure my granddaughter has land. Because I believe in girl power. And this girl here, my granddaughter, she’s powerful! I want my granddaughter to have land. That’s what it’s about Cecilia – Girl Power! And the land!”
“The development is coming! It’s all around us. Did you see it? Yeah, eleven houses in the middle of the alfalfa field. They’re going to buy this piece next to mine and my brother’s conservation easements.” After Ray’s easement, RGALT also worked with his brother to convey a conservation easement on his farm next door. “The developer will sell the water rights and build houses there too.”
I had seen the houses in the alfalfa field down the road. Driving there, I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place, it all looked so different with all the new houses. In 2020, while we were on pandemic lockdown, eleven houses were built on what was once an alfalfa field. The alfalfa still grows strong in defiance, deep green and blooming purple right up to the front porches. The alfalfa was still there after a long, hot, drought-stricken summer without water. It persisted through the construction trucks driving over it, workers stomping it down, cement, stucco, and construction debris washed over it. The alfalfa persisted just like us farmers holding on to our land and our way of life while development and drought threaten our existence.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Ray, titled “Cancer or Predator”. I opened it wondering…over the last months he’d sent me his drone photos of the many species of birds that seek refuge and sustenance in his farm fields.
I opened the email along with the numerous photo attachments. My heart sank. The photos were of roads and a cul-de-sac bladed in the field adjacent to the Garcia brother’s conservation easements. Since last year, five more houses have gone up next to the Garcia brother’s conservation easement lands. He said, “I hope the developers save the little cottonwood forest next to it. There are two great horned owls who live there. When can you come to meet with me and my wife? I want to protect more of my land.”
As a farmer myself and having raised my family on my farm, I understand the immense grief of watching our farmland disappear. As stewards of the land, out on the land every day, we understand when farmland disappears we all lose.
- Less farmland means fewer migratory birds.
- Loss of farmland means wildlife corridors will become fragmented.
- Losing our farmland means losing our rural way of life and our cultural heritage tied to the land.
- Farmland loss means our children, future generations, may not have access to land and the open space we all enjoy.
- Farmland loss means our local food system will disappear.
- Losing farmland impacts the entire community
RGALT works with landowners who want to protect their land for future generations. It is the legacy they want to leave behind for their heirs and for the community.
RGALT’s mission to protect land and water for people and wildlife forever benefits all of the community. Alone you may never be able to improve a wetland, protect a family farm, or protect a wildlife corridor. Together, with your support, we can protect land and water for people and wildlife forever!