Local food heroes: Alice Chavez and Rose Chavez

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Photo courtesy Food System/Food Equity Coalition
Mother-daughter duo Alice Chavez and Rose Chavez.

By Rose Chavez | Food System/Food Equity Coalition

Healthy Archuleta, a local nonprofit in Archuleta County also known as the FSFE — Food Coalition, continues to celebrate the local food heroes that make up the food system in Archuleta County and the surrounding southwest region. 

These individuals uniquely contribute to the community’s vision for a sustainable, health-promoting and equitable local food system so that everyone has access to affordable nutritious foods. 

The effort to capture the profiles of these integral community members was initiated as part of the Archuleta Food System Summit that took place on April 9. Today, I would like to share the stories of my mother and myself as we contribute to the vision of an equitable and local food system and healthy Archuleta.

We are a mother-daughter duo growing fresh produce in downtown Pagosa Springs. We grow a variety of crops from year to year. In the past, we have done a three sisters garden patch with a 63-day corn, squash and pole beans along with a variety of New Mexico chiles from some of the different pueblos, including Chimayo. Originally, my mother selected this property on Lewis Street because of the apple trees we continue to enjoy. In addition to the vegetables I mentioned, we also love to have plenty of fresh greens, a variety of herbs, garlic and a selection of edible flowers like nasturtiums and bachelor buttons for garnish and embellishments.

I am a third-generation resident of Archuleta County, my mother Alice Cora Chavez a 1959 graduate of Pagosa Springs High School and the granddaughter of our matriarch, Mary T. Archuleta, who was born and raised, homesteaded out on Colo. 151 along Stollsteimer Creek near the old Hispanic community of Frances, which is within the Archuleta County boundaries. 

Since I am the second youngest of nine children, my mom, dad and siblings all had previous experiences in small-scale agriculture that I inherited through anecdotes and hands-on experiences. My mom grew up helping with her grandmother’s gardens and my father’s family always had a chile huerta, so this was a way of life that meant you either put the effort into growing your own food or you just don’t eat. The healing power of food was a lesson my parents learned from their parents and taught me when they transformed their labors into nourishing foods for our family. For many years, my family worked the land in New Mexico and Nebraska and subsisted on their own labors from a few acres they cultivated before we returned to Pagosa Springs in the 1980s. 

For my part, after my childhood, I left Pagosa Springs in 1999. I went on and pursued my education in public health nutrition and community planning, along with many other adventures. During some of those years, I worked the land in New Mexico in Albuquerque’s South Valley, growing traditional medicinal plants and fresh produce as part of the Dragon Farm Charter School program for a handful of years along with three years growing intensively in and around Cuba, N.M., which has some similar growing conditions to Pagosa Springs. For some time in the past, I was also a member and leader of a handful of community gardens and permaculture cooperatives in the Front Range and currently facilitate the Vista Lake Community Garden. 

For my mother’s part, she has been gardening every year since we moved into this house on Lewis some 30 years ago. Growing up and today, mom still integrates these seasonal vegetables, fruit and herbs into our diet and has deeply influenced my skill set as a home chef and nutritionist. In addition to the crops we mentioned, mom always has a beautiful selection of flowers. Every year, we have a row of sunflowers to celebrate our ancestors and especially my mom’s brother, James Archuleta. We sell our excess at the Pagosa Farmers Market Small Growers Coop booth on weekends and donate throughout the season to the Healthy Archuleta Food Pantry Network.

Since I recently moved back to Pagosa Springs, I have enjoyed supporting my mother with her gardens, contributing to the work of Healthy Archuleta and being Pauline Benetti’s right hand on weekends at the Pagosa Farmers Market. Mom shares her passion for growing and the healing power of having her hands in the soil by starting early in the season and designing the layout of the gardens, selecting which produce to try and ordering seeds early. To my utter delight, she continues to rattle those pans and provides us with many of our nourishing and traditional foods of beans, chile, quelites, verdolagas and tortillas. Periodically, she enjoys doing public food demonstrations to share her knowledge and bring family and community together to connect. 

The connection to the land and food through the act of gardening and caretaking is powerful in many ways and provides us many opportunities to practice mindfulness that is a much needed balm in this complicated but beautiful world of ours. We are grateful to care for our community through these small but important acts that nurture our interconnectedness and well-being. To visit our garden, please contact us at (505) 920-0305 or send an email to tranquilrosa@gmail.com.

For more information, contact: fsfearchuleta@gmail.com, call (401) 371-322 or visit: https://www.foodcoalition4archuleta.org/community.celebration.html.