By Jeff Radford. Almost 20 years ago, Corrales became the first municipality in New Mexico to start a farmland preservation program using $2.5 million in voter-approved general obligation bonds to protect prime farmland from development into subdivisions.

The wisdom of that decision by voters here has been made abundantly clear, given the rapid growth that transformed fields, pastures and orchards into home sites. That early success, which brought in matching funding  from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, encouraged Corrales voters to approve a second round of  GO bond funding for $2.5 million in 2018. That has now been spent, so voters are again being asked to approve bonds to raise another $2 million when they go to the polls November 7.

Since 2004, about 70 acres all around the village’s valley lands have come under conservation easements intended to save it in perpetuity for crops or open space. But the real estate value of Corrales’ bottomland has increased exponentially; an acre of land east of the Main Canal can now sell for $200,000.

Among the tracts that already have conservation easements are 5.5 acres of the historic Gonzales property north of Corrales Library and La Entrada Park, part of the Trees of Corrales holdings at the north end of the valley, six acres of Ventana Grande Ranch between Corrales Road and Loma Larga, and six acres along Mira Sol Road at the south end. It’s worth noting that Corrales’ first conservation easement, the one along Mira Sol Road in 2001, was donated by the landowner, not sold. Jonathan Porter, son of acclaimed photographer Elliot Porter, believed in keeping fertile land under cultivation;  his donation of the easement to the Taos Land Trust provided helpful tax benefits.

For the most part, in the 1980s and 90s, developers carved up the vacant, largely unused tracts west of the Corrales Main Canal, especially after Loma Larga was constructed providing legal access to that acreage. But as development pressures increased on the bottomlands, villagers responded with a grassroots effort to save farmland.

With the “can do” community spirit  that built the library and established a nature preserve in the bosque, villagers threw themselves into the farmland preservation effort. First a local land trust was established as a non-profit organization to receive donations of conservation easements. But that was a little ahead of its time.  The Corrales Land Trust was dissolved a year or so, before a rejuvenated movement mobilized to gain voter approval for issuance of municipal general obligation bonds to purchase agricultural easements. Owners of farmland got to keep title to their land while selling their right to subdivide part of it for homes.

Villagers’ support for the 2004 GO bond proposal by an overwhelming five-to-one margin. Voter support for the 2018 bond proposal was also strong, and Corrales’s Farmland Preservation and Agricultural Commission had continued to buy easements until that funding also ran out.

Corrales’ interest in preserving farmland dates back at least to its incorporation as a municipality in 1971. The first master plan produced for the new Village government in 1973 recommended techniques be explored to accomplish that. Successive planning documents and ordinances over the years have endorsed that goal. (See Corrales Comment Vol. II, No. 8, August 20, 1983 “Can Corrales Stay Farmland Forever? Yes, Say Planners, & Here’s How.”)

Corrales’ 20-year drive to save farmland is not over. There’s still plenty of farmland to save. In 1983, an Air Force colonel who retired to Corrales, Jack Rawlings, led a task force to identify prime soils in the Corrales Valley which should be saved from development as housing. The Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) project was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service. Although much of the targeted acreage has since been lost to subdivisions, plenty remains for farming.

Equally important, a new generation of focal farmers has emerged to keep that acreage under cultivation, as demonstrated by owners of Silverleaf Farms, who last year opened a retail shop in the business district. A new generation of the Wagner family keeps their produce stand bins full during harvest season as well. And smaller scale gardeners around Corrales sell produce at the Corrales Growers’ Market which continues going strong after nearly 40 years.

Vote yes on the proposal to sell more GO bonds for farmland preservation by going to the polls for the November 7 election.

Jeff Radford is founder and publisher emeritus of the Corrales Comment.

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