News-Bulletin Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Valencia farmer MatthewAragon, the
Citizen of the Year, is literallya driving force in local agricul-ture.In addition to his own farmand ranch business, he spendshours in the tractor seat tohelp run the Los Lunas HighSchool student farm located onthe Los Lunas Campus at theformer Los Lunas Hospital andTraining Center.It’s a team effort of students,educators, agriculture officialsand local farmers and busi-nesses, Aragon said.He and Los Lunas dairy farm-er Janet Jarratt haul their ownfarm equipment to the campusto do the farming and upkeep.They had to secure personalinsurance coverage to indem-nify the school district’s liability before they could even begin.The farm was so run down,and over-run with brush andtrees that Aragon had to comeout with his brush hog just toclear the fields and irrigationditches before any crop could be planted.“It’s really important to him because he’s really worriedabout agriculture with all thedevelopment that has comeinto the valley,” said his sister,Elizabeth Aragon. “He’s worriedthat it’s just going to disappear.He wants to educate the youth,so if they want to continue withtheir family farms, or start their own farming business, they’llhave the choice to do it.”Matthew Aragon wants tointerest young people in smallfarms and ranching careers because the average age of farmers today is 72-years old, hesaid. He wished there had beena school farm when he was inschool.“It personifies who he is,” saidKyle Tator, the Valencia Countyextension agent from NewMexico State University. “Itspeaks a lot about his character,and his willingness to help, andhow important he feels agricul-ture is to this community.“That’s the bottom line. He’sout there, not getting paid, andlike he said, there’s a lot of other folks that aren’t getting paideither, but he never complains.”“Everybody puts in their fair share of work — and thensome,” said Matthew Aragon.What motivates him are thevalues instilled in him throughhis agricultural heritage. He isa fifth-generation farmer andrancher on a farm passed downfrom his great-grandfather,Juan Aragon. His family cameto Valencia in 1739 from theProvince of Aragon in Spain.The 33-year-old farmer feelshe is in a race against urbansprawl to protect agriculture for future farmers and retain foodsecurity for the county and thecountry.His passion for the agricultur-al way of life and food securitycompels him to do whatever hecan to promote it.“He’s got the attitude of, ‘Wecan do this,’” said Jarratt. “Ithink that’s one of his best attri- butes. It’s that attitude of notthinking about how it’s a prob-lem, but how to make it happen.“It was really good to havehim to talk to about the dreamfor that place — the communitydream — and to promote agri-cultural economics in the highschool,” she said. “These aretimes when we’ve got an oppor-tunity to really do somethingwith that renewable resource.Making a living off the landwhile promoting good steward-ship without having to invest alot of money is timely.”Aragon was instrumental in bringing together a variety of local education and agricultureofficials to get the school farmgoing.Jarratt brought in her contactswith the National ResourceConservation Service and Sen.Michael Sanchez (D-Valencia).Chris Martinez, president of the Los Lunas Schools Boardof Education, had one of theoriginal visions for the farm and brought it to the school board.“They had tried something prior to us, with one of their stu-dents, Zach Montano,” Aragonsaid. “He’s a really good friendof mine. He is definitely a hardworker. He tried somethingthere, but it didn’t work for him because he just didn’t have theresources.“... When we came, we brought all the different agen-cies and people to the table, andthat’s how we’re able to get itoff the ground,” Aragon said.“It took a team effort; it wasn’tanything any one person couldtake on.”This year, the crops being planted are used to reconstitutethe soil so a viable crop can be planted. They’ve plantedoats to add organic matter, andnow summer peas, which are anatural nitrogen builder, Aragonsaid.The values that motivateAragon were learned throughhis family and community.Doing whatever needs to bedone or helping someone in a bind comes natural to him.Aragon will stop what he’sdoing and go help a neighbor if asked, but they’d do the samefor him, he said.The Valencia native bringshis equipment and “real worldfarming experience” to the stu-dent farm.“He has his own farming business, which he’s had for years,” Elizabeth said. “But he’sadded the farming for the highschool. He’s been working reallyhard at that and telling me everyday, or once a week, how thingsare going out there.“He just seems so adamantabout making this work for thekids.”“The thing that I’ve appreci-ated very much about Matthewis that, if we’re in a pinch, hegenerally will find a way tomake the time to come helpout,” Jarratt said “That ‘can do’attitude is really important.”Over the summer, while LosLunas High School was betweenagriculture teachers, Jarratt andAragon worked with studentson the school farm. They gavean impromptu lesson on farmequipment purchasing whenthey were discussing types of swathers.A swather, or windrower, isa farm implement that cuts hayor small grain crops and formsthem into a windrow.“Matthew turned and askedthe kids, ‘Do you have any ideaof what we’re talking about,’”Jarratt said. “He did a reallygood job of explaining to thekids what the equipment did,how you make a good decision,how your equipment impacts thequality of your product. It makesthe experience come alive for the students, lets them see thereal world applications of it.”Zach Eichwald, a junior atValencia High School andthe manager of his school’sfarm behind Daniel FernandezElementary, met Aragon a fewyears ago.“He farms some property near my house and he would alwayshelp me,” Eichwald said. “Iasked him what kind of fertil-izer, what should I do for this or that ... he helps me a lot.”Eichwald is involved in bothschool farms.“He’s got a real good headon his shoulders,” Aragon saidof Eichwald. “These kids arehard-working kids, and they’resharp.”Aragon learned a lot aboutfarming and ranching from hisgrandfather, Alfonso Aragon,who was raised on a farm. ButAragon’s parents, Juan andCandelaria Aragon, had 9-to-5 jobs, he said. His mother wasraised on a farm in Santa Rosa.“Grandpa ended up workingfor the railroad in Barstow, thenthe war started and that’s whereeverybody ended up,” Aragonsaid.Originally, the family’s farmin Valencia was on 50 acres, but over time, bits and pieceswere sold. Aragon lives on theremaining eight and leases 150acres, mostly from cousins wholive in California.“It’s really interesting, a lot of people think that where they seethe river now is where it alwaysran,” Aragon said. “The river was actually put there in 1912.We had, on an old sheep’s hide,the original land grant drawn onit, and it showed where the river used to run. It did a big splitright here. It came down, part of it sort of ran where it is now, theother half ran around the edgeof the foothills, then kind of hitTomé Hill and ran around thatway.”Two dogs, Hunter and SmokeyBear, are the first to greet arriv-als at Aragon’s home. The yardis framed with plows and balers,swathers and a tall shed piledhigh with stacks of hay bales.An irrigated pasture on thesouth side, one of several rota-tional grazing pastures, is cur-rently home to his two horses,Rosie and Penko, a mustang-looking horse from Mexico.Across the road in another irrigated pasture are his 23 headof cattle. The bull is a muscular Hereford Aragon bought to mixwith his Limousin cows. Thecattle eat eight bales of hay aday, he said.He mostly grows alfalfa, butalso sorghums and triticale, alush green winter forage Aragoncan harvest hay from.“It provides bales of hay earlyin the summer when things arein short supply,” Aragon said.“In this business, everything hasto produce at maximum output.One little mistake can cost youa lot of money. You’ve definitelygot to be on top of your game.”Aragon raises his own cattlefeed and sells beef and hay.“The extension office puts outa map through the universityand it tells you all the cow-calf ratios per acre for different partsof the state,” said Aragon. “So,right away, if you’re going to purchase some land, they havealready done all the footwork.... It’s an average depending onrainfall a year, but you’ll get afeel for what it will do.”Aragon is also a member of the Valencia County Farm andLivestock Bureau, which has amission to promote and protectagriculture in the county.“He’s one of our most active board members,” Jarratt said.“He’s helping us move forwardand do things for the commu-nity at large to promote agricul-ture in a sustainable way withgood stewardship, and he sets agood example.”“He works his butt off, andhe’s self built to where he is nowwith all his farming,” Eichwaldsaid. “He’s found a way to makemoney on the farm and makehimself better. He’s almost anidol to me because I’m involvedin agriculture. ...He’s helped alot with what seminars to goto, advice on what to do andhow he got where he got. I usehim as a role model becausesomeday, I’d like to do the samething.”Aragon’s idea of success ismaking an honest living, and being respected by the peoplearound him. He lives by what he believes in and is an example of sustainable farming.“It’s good to see someone whohas his stuff together at sucha young age, and wants to bea farmer,” said Tator. “There’sdefinitely no doubt in his mindwhat he wants to do and he’sdefinitely a hard worker.”
2LOCALS 2011: Citizen of the Year/Unsung HeroesOctober 29, 2011
Valencia County News-Bulletin
VALENCIA RESIDENT Matthew Aragon makes a living selling hayand beef from his farm. He grows mostly alfalfa, but also triticaleas a winter forage.MATTHEW ARAGON feels he is in a race against urban sprawl toprotect agriculture for future farmers and retain food security forthe county.MATTHEW ARAGON chose to mix his Limousin cows with aHereford bull to foster an easier calving season. He has 23 head ofcattle in Valencia.
Citizen of the Year
Planting the seeds: Matthew Aragon preserves local agriculture
MATTHEW ARAGON spends hours every week on the tractor run-ning his own farm and helping the Los Lunas High School studentfarm, but says it’s all worth it.
Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photos
MATTHEW ARAGON, 33, is a fifth-generation farmer and rancher on a farm passed down from hisgreat-grandfather, Juan Aragon.