For several generations, Veronica Serna’s mother’s family raised fruits and vegetables, pigs, dairy cattle and laying hens in Buena Vista, northern New Mexico, making enough to support themselves on farming alone. Over 60 years ago, however, they stopped farming on a large scale when some of her uncles were drafted into the military, leaving behind a few siblings, including her mother, who ended up marrying and leaving the farm for better opportunities. Soon after Veronica’s parents met, they moved to Colorado and then Wyoming, and eventually moved back to northern New Mexico in 1971. Unfortunately, by then the family’s larger acreage had been sold off piece by piece when times were tough, but her parents wanted to return to farming nonetheless. While her father stayed away during the week to work, the rest of the family remained at home to tend to a small herd of cattle and to continue their education.
Today, Veronica farms 30 acres of her family’s original landholding with her husband, Michael, and their two sons, Miguel Lucas and Julio X. Serna. “I have always enjoyed this type of life but never had the time to dedicate to this,” she explains. After 25 years working for Luna Community College, 30 miles from the family’s farm, Veronica was able to retire in 2013 and commit herself full time to producing vegetables and tending her animals, including a flock of AWA-certified laying hens. In 2014, Michael will retire as well and join her full time on the farm. Much of their 30 acres is irrigated by an “acequia”—a community-operated watercourse or ditch, many of which are hundreds of years old—for grazing and hay production. One well on the property is used solely for crop irrigation and as a backup water source for their livestock. Careful management of water is as important as any other farming practices in the arid landscape of northeastern New Mexico, which has been made more extreme by recent drought conditions, and the Sernas plan to set up a water catchment system to mitigate the effects of long-term drought and as a means to continue their farming should conditions worsen.
Veronica pursued AWA certification for the farm’s 60 laying hens because, she says, “We truly believe in the mission and purpose of Animal Welfare Approved.” Raising her chickens on pasture is good for her animals, good for the earth, and good for her customers: research shows that pasture-raised eggs are higher in vitamin E, beta-carotene, and omega 3 fatty acids than industrial eggs. “Pasture-based management maximizes the quality and quantity of forage growth,” Veronica explains. “Resting grazed lands allows the vegetation to renew energy reserves, rebuild shoot systems, and deepen root systems, with the result being long-term, maximum biomass production. This type of pasture management is especially effective because foragers like hens do better on the more tender younger plant stems. Pasture management also leaves parasites behind to die off, minimizing the need for de-wormers.”
Veronica also hopes that having the AWA label on her egg cartons will encourage others to consider high-welfare farming techniques: “I hope that with more publicity, we can encourage more people to follow these practices, or at least appreciate what this way of life has to offer and how it can benefit them with better quality food and a healthier life and environment.”
The Sernas want to keep growing their flock of laying hens and improving the infrastructure of the farm. They look forward to continuing the family’s tradition of sustainable farming and hope that one day the farm will sustain the family once again. The Sernas are also part of a larger resurgence of farming in the area and are active members of the Los de Mora Local Growers’ Cooperative, Inc., a producer-owned cooperative made up of 35 small family farms and ranches. Their pasture-raised eggs are sold through the Cooperative to local supermarkets. For more information, contact Veronica at email@example.com or (505) 617-5062.