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Hispanic farmers embrace conservation with StrikeForce

By Beverly Moseley

Alfredo Zamora (right) worked with NRCS District Conservationist Gerry Gonzalez to install pivot irr

Alfredo Zamora (right) worked with NRCS District Conservationist Gerry Gonzalez to install pivot irrigation lines on his Arizona farm

Jorge Espinoza of Laredo, Texas, worked with NRCS to install a solar-powered pump, making his farm m

Jorge Espinoza of Laredo, Texas, worked with NRCS to install a solar-powered pump, making his farm more efficient and better for the environment.

Adán Trujillo works with friends and volunteers from the American Friends Service Committee to creat

Adán Trujillo works with friends and volunteers from the American Friends Service Committee to create raised beds in the high tunnel at El Rincon Farm in Chimayó, N.M. The high tunnel is home to rhubarb, rainbow chard and Russian red kale to sell in the nearby community.

Alfredo and Sabrina Zamora have spent their lives farming in Cochise County, Ariz., where they raise cotton, pecans and alfalfa in rural, arid, open land just 30 miles from the United States and Mexico border.

Conservation is at the core of their operation, as they have worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for hands-on conservation planning and implementation of practices with NRCS financial assistance.

NRCS is honoring contributions made by Hispanic Americans, like the Zamoras, to our nation during National Hispanic Heritage Month, an annual commemoration held Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

“I got started really super young. It was very hard for somebody like me with very little experience and no money to go into a government office and ask for things,” Alfredo Zamora said. “We’ve come a long way in the last 20 years I’d say in that I feel completely comfortable going in there.”

Recently, the Zamora’s qualified for financial assistance to install new pivot irrigation lines on their cropland from Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds which were available through the USDA StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative.

The national initiative addresses high-priority funding and technical assistance needs in rural communities in 16 states, including Arizona, with a special emphasis on underserved communities and groups that have been historically discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity.

Gerry Gonzalez, district conservationist with NRCS in Douglas, Ariz., said he was excited when he learned that Arizona was part of the national initiative because it provides NRCS additional funding to do specific and specialized outreach to more historically underserved communities.

“As you know, here along the border areas, there are a lot of small landowners – a lot of underserved, nontraditional clients and the USDA Strikeforce Initiative provides opportunities for them,” Gonzalez said.
In fact, he says there has been a sharp increase in Hispanic landowners coming into the local NRCS field office asking about the agency and available technical and financial assistance.

“This year alone, we have half a dozen new Hispanic individuals seeking assistance with whom we are developing conservation plans that could be funded out of StrikeForce money,” Gonzalez said.

Across the country, Hispanic producers are setting conservation examples with help from NRCS and StrikeForce.

In Laredo, Texas, Jorge Espinoza is new to farming and on the road to becoming a successful cattleman with NRCS’ help. After visiting Espinoza’s land, NRCS recommended cross fencing for rotational grazing, which helps create a more diverse plant base and healthier soils that can hold more water.

NRCS also helped Espinoza install a solar pump on an existing water well with financial assistance through StrikeForce. The new pump eliminated his need to pump water from the well with a generator, saving energy and money.

“If you really want to know something about what you want to do, just go with these people. They’ll help you out,” Espinoza said about NRCS’ technical and financial assistance.

With the help of conservation, siblings Adán and Pilar Trujillo have been able to grow healthy produce almost year round for the community in Chimayó, N.M., even in the face of drought and frost.

They received NRCS assistance to construct a high tunnel that acts like a greenhouse to help grow crops earlier in the spring and later into the fall without fear of frost. Their lettuce and chili peppers feed students at local schools. And they sell their rhubarb, rainbow chard and red Russian kale at the community market just down the road in Española.

StrikeForce is creating conservation opportunities in rural communities and tribes across the nation. Learn more.