It’s plot of land next to the First Christian Church that appears unassuming, especially in contrast with Las Cruces High School’s modern architecture, but if you look closely, you can see a simply built Johnson-Su bioreactor composter creating rich soil for the garden and an outline sections of land ready to grow plants.
For Rachael Ryan, owner of Backyard Farms, the land is a piece of a larger network to cultivate and actively improve lives and farming in Las Cruces, New Mexico. To get from blooming ideas to a full-fledged business, Ryan went through the programs at New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center.
“First, I had to learn about business to grow Backyard Farms to where it is now,” said Ryan, who is a Ph.D. candidate at NMSU with a background in working as a population geneticist.
In 2017, Ryan joined Studio G, a business accelerator providing free services like workshops on marketing and accounting. That same year, Backyard Farms became a winner of Arrowhead Center’s Aggie Shark Tank competition. After that, Ryan went through the AgSprint, a six-week incubator for agriculturally focused businesses to get on the fast track of success.
“I had no business experience. For example, I didn’t know what a balance sheet was. AgSprint was like going back to grad school,” she said.
Ryan delved into learning as much as she could from the business aspect – the customer discovery, marketing, budgets – to create a sustainable model that could support nonprofit efforts, like working with Las Cruces High School students to get their hands dirty. The students were able to build a working composter and chicken tractor for the garden.
Kristin Gustine, an environmental science teacher at Las Cruces High School, said that many students had never thought about growing their own food, or had a conceptual idea of that cycle in their lives.
“Even for high schoolers, they are more likely to eat a new food if they’ve grown it. It inspires them to learn the story behind their food,” she said.
You might have seen more of the Backyard Farms story if you’ve walked into a Las Cruces local foods market and had a clear carton of
speckled mini eggs catch your eye. Those quail eggs are another component of the business, one that’s even garnered it global attention.
In October 2019, the eggs were served at a charitable dinner event in a collaboration with El Paso’s own Taft-Díaz and Mexico City’s world-famous restaurant Pujol.
But Backyard Farms is not just focusing on the global marketplace, it’s also sharing a bounty with those in need. Some of the produce harvested has been donated to local school programs and food banks at First Christian Church, El Calvario United Methodist Church, and El Caldito Soup Kitchen.
For Ryan, Backyard Farm is also about adapting what comes out of the garden to where it’s planted, like cultivating lettuce that can thrive in July.
“It’s about breeding hardiness because our environment is harsh, not just in the lack of water but low humidity, windstorms and salty alkaline soil,” said Ryan. “Working with Arrowhead Center has opened many doors, like access to marketing, accounting, funding and legal help that small businesses need but often can’t afford in the early stages. Backyard Farms shows that an agriculture business can sustain conservation.”
Along with AgSprint, Arrowhead Center offers programs for businesses in other industries, such as healthcare and clear energy, along with initiatives that focus on ventures from a variety of sectors.
“Arrowhead Center can help businesses get started, no matter where they are in the journey or what their goals are,” said Kathryn Hansen, director of Arrowhead Center. “Our programs can kick off a whole network of opportunities.”
Author: Cassie McClure – NMSU