For the first summer since it was acquired by the Village in 2008 to be preserved in perpetuity as farmland, the 5.5-acre Gonzales field is almost fully growing crops. Approximately two-thirds of the Juan Gonzales Bas Heritage Farm west of Wells Fargo Bank is being cultivated for produce. After lying fallow or growing only cover crops for years, the acreage considered the centerpiece for Corrales farmland preservation program is leased to Silverleaf Farms which is selling to growers’ markets, grocers, restaurants and once a week to customers via drive-thru at Milagro Winery.
The farmers, Aaron and Elan Silverblatt-Buser, had been waiting for the Village to install an irrigation well and pump so the land could qualify for organic certification. They were concerned that use of ditch water for irrigation would not allow such a designation.
When Corrales Comment encountered Aaron Silverblatt-Buser at the farm September 30, he explained the well was installed in mid-August, so they did not plant seed until early September. “That was a week or two later than ideal, but we went ahead with fall crops, mostly vegetables in the cabbage family,” as well as watermelon radish and others.
Including the heritage farm, Silverleaf now has about 18 acres under cultivation, all of it in Corrales. Silverblatt-Buser said he understood that the last third, adjacent to the Corrales Acequia irrigation ditch, may be planted by members of a 4-H club. Preservation of the Gonzales tract, which had remained in the ownership of descendants of Corrales’ founder, Capitán Juan Gonzales Bas, since 1712, could determine the valley’s character far into the future.
The long-anticipated closing on the purchase of the Gonzales family’s parcel came September 29, 2008. Discussions about the purchase of the tract by municipal government went back more than five years. The purchase was made possible by villagers’ approval of general obligation bonds specifically for farmland preservation in 2004 and by grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While the Village owns and manages the land, the New Mexico Land Conservancy, based in Santa Fe, holds the conservation easement on the parcel and will be responsible for its long-term monitoring and legal defense. The Gonzales property was part of the original 1710 Town of Alameda land grant from the King of Spain. The grant of more than 100,000 acres was made to a corporal in the Spanish army, Francisco Montes y Vigil. But the soldier was unable to meet conditions of the grant, so the land was sold to Capitán Juan Gonzales Bas in 1712.
The Village’s outright purchase of the Gonzales parcel, adjacent to La Entrada Park, represented a major shift in the community’s farmland preservation effort: for the first time, the municipality actually owns the land, not just an easement on land that saves it from non-agricultural development. So as landowner, Village officials must get involved in farming decisions: who, exactly, will plow, plant and harvest? Before the Village’s acquisition, the Gonzales family had leased the land to Gus Wagner, who directed Corrales’ most active farming operation.
The 5.5 acres purchased had been the site of the Wagner family’s corn maze and pumpkin patch a little earlier. However, the Village’s 2008 purchase did not include the front three acres of the Gonzales tract, adjacent to Wells Fargo Bank, whichhad been zoned for commercial use since the early 1980s. It remains zoned for an office complex.
On August 31, 2004, by a margin of nearly 5-to-one, Corrales voters approved issuance of municipal bonds to buy conservation easements on farmland here to keep it out of development. The bond election was the culmination of a 33-year commitment by villagers to keep their community rural. Corrales became the first municipality in the state to approve bonds to save farmland through purchase of conservation easements.