MESA Project

Pata Viva Farm / Bryce Richard

Funding Received: 2016
Las Cruces, NM
Funding Period: 2 years and 5 months
November 27, 2020

The MESA Project logo

Doña Ana County, in far southern New Mexico, is a heavily agricultural community that hugs the banks of the Rio Grande. Drawing on water from the Rio and from rechargeable groundwater aquifers, farmers and ranchers in the county raise cattle over desert grassland, produce more pecans than any other county in the U.S., and grow about a quarter of the country’s chile pepper crop. The rural landscapes, desert peaks, and wide skies of Doña Ana County are strikingly beautiful, but the high desert environment is also dangerously fragile, threatened especially by water scarcity, topsoil loss, and soil salinization, all of which are heavily impacted by agriculture. To protect our environment and the agricultural cornerstone of our economy, the people of Doña Ana County need to work together to develop agricultural practices that work for both humans and the environment. 

The Meetings for Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture (MESA) Project uses gourmet community meals, prepared by local chefs using primarily local ingredients, to bring together stakeholders from across the agricultural sector in Doña Ana County. Over good food and good drink, farmers, ranchers, agricultural scientists, engineers, policy makers, restaurateurs, chefs, grocery store managers, farm supply store owners, artists, writers, and more--anybody who identifies as a stakeholder--come together for community discussions, networking, and knowledge sharing about how we can improve the agricultural system to protect our environment. 

Participants at a MESA MealThe basic format for a MESA Meal includes sign-in; informal time for conversations and networking, first over appetizers, tea, and craft beer, then over a gourmet, multi-course meal; a brief presentation on a topic related to sustainable agriculture, given by a local agricultural scientist and/or a producer; a Q&A and community discussion on the topic; and more time for conversations over desert and drinks. Slightly over 240 people from our community participated in the MESA Meals. 

Each MESA event produces multiple benefits:

  • Through the formal presentation, Q&A, and informal conversations, all attendees have the opportunity to learn more about how sustainable agriculture can work in our area. Based on post-event surveys, 98% of participants reported learning more about sustainable agriculture through the MESA events.

  • Farmers and ranchers learn about sustainable practices that they can implement to help protect the environment. 84% of participating producers reported that they were able to implement one or more practices that they learned about through the MESA events.

  • Through networking with people from across the agricultural sector who share goals related to sustainability, MESA participants have the chance to form business partnerships. 53% of participating producers reported that they were able to do so thanks to connections they made at MESA events.

  • Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural scientists can make connections for in-the-field research. 50% of participating agricultural scientists and 32% of participating producers were able to do this. 

  • Producers who meet at MESA events can participate in bulk purchases of supplies and equipment for sustainable agriculture. 32% of participating producers were able to do this. 

In brief, we learned that it was highly effective to use the culinary arts to bring a community together for focused conversations about an important local issue--in this case, the importance of using our agricultural system to protect the environment. The creative placemaking of the MESA Project also led to less-expected benefits, but those are topics for other posts.