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My Interview with

D o n   B u s t o s

The Santa Cruz Farms was part of the original Santa Cruz Land Grant. It is here that Don Bustos lives with his wife Blanca, children Amilio and Anna, and grandson Angelo. For many generations the Bustos family has depended on this farm for their food and livelihood. Donís earliest memory was of how much he liked running through the field as Grandpa Bustos plowed. One day his grandfather gave him what he called "the important job" of leading the horse. Years later he realized that this wasnít an important job at all ≠ that the horse didnít exactly need his leading - but it was an clever and kind way for his grandfather to stop him from running over what was plowed.

The 3 1/2 acres where Don farms and lives is tiered. The top tier is where his greenhouse and home are located. You can only see all four tiers of the farm when you stand on the roof of his house. One of my visits included a trip up the ladder to view the entire farm from this vantage point, something Don does often. From here I saw the neat rows of asparagus, chili, garlic and other vegetables and flowers shimmering in the late afternoon sun.

When I asked what aspect of farming he enjoys the most, Don said that he enjoys all of it though later added that he receives a lot of pleasure watching plants grow; that this is what could be called "spiritual." The aspect of farming that he finds the hardest is informing and educating the public about how important farming is and how it is truly "interwoven with the fabric of culture." Don lectures widely, writes 2-3 articles a month, a monthly newsletter, and regularly meets with politicians here and in Washington. The greatest misconceptions Don attempts to dispel are "that people canít make a living farming" and that "you have to be a slave to be a farmer."

FarmingÖitís hard labor but pleasurable. Don Bustos

After high school, Don attended the New Mexico Military Institute. During his 20ís, he joined the Carpentry Union and did construction work. It was in the early 1980ís that Don decided to farm full-time because it was not only more enjoyable but more profitable. Eight years ago, Don became a certified organic grower. He tells how in the mid 1960ís a representative from the Department of Agriculture brought his family a gallon of DDT. They thought it was a miracle when no worms appeared on their corn after using it. Don spoke about how it took time for the public to learn the truth about the health and environmental hazards of these chemicals. His decision to grow without synthetic chemicals came on a Saturday afternoon about nine years ago. After dusting his crops in the field with Sevin (a synthetic pesticide in the carbamate family and linked to cancer and other health problems) he went in the house with Sevin dust on his pants. There was his son playing on the floor. He realized in a flash that these dust particles on his pants were settling on the floor where his son played and the horror of this made him do away with pesticides completely.

Broad-spectrum pesticides such as DDT have been [banned and] replaced by narrow-spectrum pesticides of even higher toxicity, which have not been inadequately tested and present equal or even greater risks. Al Gore from An Introduction to Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Don says that organic food was once enjoyed by those considered "on the fringe" and at a time when the term "natural" really meant something. As soon as "organic" went mainstream and became a mere marketing tool by large corporations, these terms have been "watered down" to mean less and less. Because these large companies have capitalized on what they saw as a money- making opportunity, what was once a highly profitable business for small farmers, has become less so.

Don is also participates in the MESA program (Multicultural Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture) and is very impressed with the young people he meets; how educated they are, and how their interest in how they can make a difference in the world outweighs their interest in purely making money. The day I visited, one of the MESA interns, Fabiola, who is from Bolivia, was braiding garlic. She is working on her Masterís Degree in Sustainable Agriculture and her experience with Don was part of her thesis. Don had several other interns working in the field that day, a young man from Mexico, and another from South America. He gives them real hands-on experience and teaches them about marketing, keeping the books, and crop planning and rotation. He regrets that the internsí stay is so brief, usually only 6-8 weeks long. He would rather they stay for 2-3 years in order to experience the weather changes and problem solving that occurs over time on a farm. In any case, these young people will take home to their countries the knowledge and experience they get.

Kids impress the heck out of me. Anyone who says different doesnít have a pulse on America. Don Bustos

Don says that the hardest lesson for farmers to accept is that "agriculture is very political" and it requires learning how to advocate. If farmers have a weakness, he stated that it is in dismissing the importance of this advocacy and being naÔve that government will look out for them and that policy will work to their benefit without their input. About 20-30% of Donís time is spent advocating. This includes meeting with politicians who are in many cases, eager for his input that determines legislation. Don and I spoke at length about the particular power of the written word, not only for its ability to communicate the truth which is extremely empowering but how once something is written down, it becomes a legal instrument not easily ignored. Don emphasized that you donít need an advanced college degree to shape policy - he is the evidence of this. It is through practice and more practice and the help of his trusty Thesarus that Don has learned to write effective letters and newsletters that help educate the public and communicate the importance of farming to political leaders.

Choose your leaders carefully, on the national and local levels. Who leads us makes a difference. Don Bustos