“I grew the fruit, picked it with my own hands and made and packed the jelly,” said Tiana Suazo to a recent customer at Taos Pueblo’s Red Willow Farmers Market. During traditional harvest time this season, the young woman participated in the weekly market as often as possible.
Suazo didn’t set out to work as a farmer, despite the fact that her family participated in agriculture. After high school, she attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Suazo earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 2014. At the time, she planned to open her own business.
She took her search of the local business climate information to the Taos County Economic Development Corporation. The staff helped her discover Ogallala Commons, for which she completed an internship in marketing. The Ogallala organization works with high school, college and graduate students as far as North Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
“This past year, I was given the opportunity of a job as the Native American outreach coordinator. I was very excited because now, I’m able to work out of Taos as well as to travel. I started the job by attending an orientation retreat in Texas. I’ve also been to South Dakota and last month went to the Seed Sovereignty Summit in Wisconsin,” said Suazo.
Part of the internship program placed Suazo at the TCEDC office in Taos. There, she helped clients develop operating plans and complete state Department of Health paperwork required for starting food businesses. Suazo said that she learned much about the food business through the internship.
In 2015, Red Willow Farm received a grant from Ogallala Commons. At the time, Angelo McHorse managed the farm. He coordinated the work with young growers. The program, also in California and Colorado, helped youngsters work on farms through activities such as weeding and planting. “I was fortunate to be a part of this program,” said Suazo.
As much as she enjoyed her participation in the farm food business, she wished to participate in the outdoor work, too. It is in her blood. Her grandfather, who is Gilbert Suazo Sr., farms and Gilbert Suazo Jr., her uncle, managed the “mobile matanza” traveling slaughter operation at TCEDC.
“I got some tools from Angelo. My grandpa and uncles helped me prepare the field. Grandpa Gilbert gave me my first seeds – white corn, watermelon, red corn and squash. He was very happy to see me doing this,” said the young farmer. “It was my first year using this plot of land. My crops were planted on 1 acre located at my parents’ house near the Pueblo.”
The first year, Suazo grew cucumbers, squash, lettuce, cabbage, chard and kale. Only cucumbers, corn and squash materialized. She presented tiny squash and pumpkins for gifts to guests at the San Geronimo feast. She canned the cucumbers and froze some of the squash. The young farmer also saved corn to begin her own seed base.
The second year, Suazo farmed for only three months because of the opportunity to work as a farm intern at Leanne Hills’ Laughing Wolf Farm in Mancos, Colorado. The hands-on experience taught Suazo much about a variety of crops. Her fellow interns were from New York and Ohio. Suazo lived in a teepee that rested on a wooden deck. The group grew potatoes, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, onions, garlic, squash, carrots, spinach and pumpkins. In a separate field, buckets of strictly native seeds included the beginnings for crops such as native pumpkins, watermelon and corn. In August, a fellow intern taught Suazo how to can food. Later, Suazo enjoyed a class taught by Roxanne Swentzell in Española.
In 2016, her third year as a farmer, Suazo harvested her crops largely for canning. She completed jars of carrots, green beans and pear butter. The young farmer also turned late-season apples into apple butter, jelly, sauce and pie filling.
This year, she grew beans. In July, Suazo canned and sold Mexican red beans, pickled green beans and black beans. Other canning efforts include peaches, choke cherry jelly, wild plum jelly, pear jelly and pear butter. She also canned pears in syrup, Jemez Pueblo style, influenced by her mother’s native pueblo. More spicy offerings by Suazo include peach maple jelly, tomato chile jam and pickled hot peppers.
She uses tomatoes grown at Red Willow Farm for her completed products. “For my products, I try to use as much organic as possible – herbs, spices, organic sugars and local honeys – and still be cost effective.”
Suazo sells products at Red Willow Farmers Market and at other town markets. Next year, she hopes to expand into broader areas of farming. “Next year, I want to do a full-time farm with my boyfriend, Daniel Martinez,” she said. “We’d like to work on CSA, community-shared agriculture, in which I grow the food, place some in a bag or basket and share it with people who buy shares in the farm. When things are ready, those who own a share pick up their package.”
Suazo said, “An example of a CSA bag includes items such as tomatoes, squash, lettuce, spinach and onions with recipes – and a newsletter about farm food and herbs and flower seeds. People may purchase more than one share and have a share for various growing seasons of the year. We’d also like to use youth interns to build the farm and to share knowledge. During these times of unemployment, interns can earn an income. Once students learn the value of hard work and good food, they realize that they can do something good for themselves and bring back agriculture.”
Not all of her time involves agriculture. Suazo likes to spend time with her grandparents, Gilbert and Martha Suazo, of Taos Pueblo, and Juanita (the late Mike) Martinez, of Jemez and Taos pueblos. She also enjoys visiting with her parents, Alfred and Valerie Suazo; and siblings Anton Suazo, 23; Aspen Suazo, 22; and Aiden Suazo, 17. A special little one also remains close to Tiana Suazo. Recently, she became a godmother to Holly Mariah Marcella, the daughter of Sonia Suazo and Henry Sanchez. The first-time godmother said, “I’m happy to be a part of her life. I’ll guide her in any way I can.”
Suazo enjoys traveling, especially to learn about food in Native American communities and how it is processed. She has visited India, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota and possibly Belize this December.
“I view Patty Martinson of TCEDC as a mentor. My work as a farmer helps me share what I’ve learned with others,” said Suazo. “Land should be used and productive, not ignored.”