Family Farming - August 24, 2012

"You’ll find more than apples at Pat Montoya Family Orchard."

The farm is called Pat Montoya’s Family Orchard. The word “family” tells the whole story. Pat Montoya Jr. has worked at Los Alamos National Labs for 40-plus years, and looks forward to his last 10-hour shift this month. He also runs an orchard established by his father in Velarde. His family used to be based in Santa Cruz, schlepping back and forth across Espanola every day to bring apples from the orchard to the processing center, but Pat has since built a center with a home above it for himself and his wife on the orchard. His son, Michael, who works full-time as a firefighter, lives on the orchard with his family; and his mother-in-law lives in a separate home on the property. Pat’s daughter, Victoria, and granddaughter, Alison, are the only ones who don’t live on the orchard. Together, they cover the markets in Santa Fe, Taos and Los Alamos, and while the apples sell well enough, the Montoya’s really support themselves on the cider.

Melina, Baby Shae and I arrived at the Montoya’s last Friday as Pat was cleaning the cider press. He had woken up at 4 am and had pressed nearly 100 gallons by himself as the sun traveled across the orchard to greet him. He and Victoria showed us around, then we headed out to pick some golden delicious apples for market the next day.

Victoria asked us about our experiences interning on a farm, saying that they had thought about hiring an intern, but wanted to make sure the deal was fair for all. We told her that the most important thing to do is write up a contract with their potential intern, explicitly stating expectations and responsibilities for both parties. The idea is not to create legally binding document to hold over one another’s head, but to ensure that everyone understands each other. After that, we suggested providing not just food, but meals, specifically lunches on work days, in the hope that sitting down together will not only establish a stronger bond, but will give everyone an opportunity to talk about what’s happening out in the field.

Sitting down with one another has been essential to the health of my relationship with Melina. We had only been dating three months when she got pregnant, and though the bond between us was strong right from the start, we still have a lot to learn about, and from, each other. So we try to catch up every four to six months by creating a space specifically for listening, allowing and giving. Earlier this week, that space saved our relationship.

Almost everyone we know, certainly our family members, assume that because we have a baby that we are going to get married, or at least that we’ll stay together…even today with all the “broken” marriages. And we have agreed that we have something worth pursuing over the long term, but I had a total crisis of confidence on Monday that nearly put an end to that agreement. You see, if you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I quit my perfectly fine, regularly paying job to move my family to Mer-Girl Gardens. So when we got the boot from the farm and moved in with Mel’s mom in Taos, I thought, “What the hell have I done?” Then, I thought, “Who am I?” I was no longer an editor, and I could barely call myself a writer with only a handful of poorly paying freelance gigs. Adding insult to injury, I missed out on some teaching work at Northern New Mexico College because my cell phone doesn’t work at her mom’s house. I wasn’t feeling like much of a provider, so I thought that maybe Mel and Shae would be better without me. Then, I blamed her for dragging me into this—for insisting that I spend more time with the family, for plopping me down in this town where she has history and knows people, and for ending my career.

I drove her brother to school that morning, and spent the day at a coffee shop trying to get some work done, but mostly refreshing Facebook and email for some hint that I still matter. I really needed a professional boost, but I would have taken a personal shout-out as well. After too much coffee and disappointment, I drove home, scowled at Melina and tried to take a nap. I stared at our bookshelf, my mind focused on other things, but when I actually looked at the books, I saw Melina’s tarot deck and decided to ask for help. The cards confused me, so I took a walk, and when I returned, I asked Mel for a catch up session.

She voiced her concerns and gratitude, first, and then I told her about my walk. About how the clouds turned into a hard and dark rain while I brooded on dark thoughts. About how I ducked under a tree, and watched water run down its trunk. About how I took in a big gulp of air as if I’d just emerged from a period under water, and then continued toward the end of the road after the rain subsided. The cards all wanted to teach me to have patience and to let go, to make myself available for new opportunities and to trust my intuition. I had started to think that what I had to give up on was the idea of making this family work. But my intuition told me that making this family work is the key to everything else. And I suddenly knew that I wanted to commit myself to her fully, to set my intention for this life, no matter what the challenges or consequences. Just then, the clouds parted to reveal the sun, mist rose from the fields around me and I felt a weight lift. The clouds resumed their position and I hurried home.

Melina has complained here and there that she never sees me cry, and here I was telling her about my discoveries with tears filling my eyes, snot filling my nose and that little choke you get when you have something really difficult or really meaningful to say. Then I offered her two small symbols—one of my heart and one of my soul. We have different words for it, and an unconventional notion of what it means, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll say that I proposed marriage and she accepted.

Family tells the whole story.

We picked about six bushels of golden delicious with the Montoyas, then took a tour of their home above the processing center. We could practically see the whole Espanola Valley from their deck, and their walls inside were covered in family photos. Little Alison had a private little play loft that felt like a secret hideout from which she could observe the rest of the family, cooking or talking in the living room. The Montoyas invited us to pick some apples and pears for ourselves, and said that we could come back any time. In fact, they’ve opened their doors to anyone who wants to visit with a “U Pick” Day on Sundays. You’ll find more than apples at Pat Montoya Family Orchard.