ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For years, Arroyo del Oso Elementary School teacher Jayne Rademacher has brought her first-graders to Wagner’s Farmland Experience in Corrales, a field trip that is both fun and educational.
Kids can meander about the six-acre corn maze with more than two miles of trails, make a selection from a pumpkin patch, go on a hayride and get familiar with animals in a petting zoo.
“I think it’s very important for these urban children to experience the rural lifestyle,” Rademacher said. “In class we talk about life cycles of plants and animals, and the difference between urban and city life, and then they come here and have the real life experience. Afterwards, we do activities to reinforce it.”
Rademacher was with her class on a recent weekday when she learned that this may be the last season Wagner’s Farmland is open because the lease on the land will expire and will not be renewed. “It would be a real loss,” she said. “Where else can these kids go to get this kind of experience?”
Arroyo del Oso parent Adela Botello was accompanying her daughter’s class. “It would very much be a loss if it closed,” she said. “Not only do the kids look forward to the activities, but they’re learning about where their food comes from and about the cycle of life.” The Corrales property, she added “is part of the Albuquerque metropolitan area, but it remains agricultural and rural and gives urban kids a chance to see the rural.”
Roxanne Wagner, whose family operates Wagner’s Farmland Experience, at 6445 Corrales Road, has leased the property since the early 1980s and opened it to the public in 2005. The family farms 19 acres on the east side of Corrales Road and 12 acres on the west side of the road, where the maze, pumpkin patch and other Farmland amenities are located.
The Farmland Experience season runs mid-September through the end of October and generally attracts about 8,000 visitors, she said.
The business is separate from Wagner Farms, also in Corrales, which owns an 11-acre apple orchard, operates the Apple Tree Cafe, and farms an additional 200 acres in Socorro.
“We wanted people to have an experience involving food that doesn’t include going to a store, so that they would get some understanding of where their food comes from,” Wagner said. “It was especially important for us to educate kids about this.”
Initially, the Farmland Experience attracted mostly school kids on field trips, “but now about half of our customers come from the general public,” she said.
Unfortunately, the land lease expires at the end of this season and from all indications will not be renewed. The half dozen or so members of the family who own the property “are getting up in age and decisions have to be made about what to do with it,” Wagner said. “Many of them live out of town,” and even if they can appreciate the property as an agricultural treasure, it’s hard to ignore that it is also a lucrative financial asset, she said.
And that’s the dilemma. Land in Corrales has become extremely expensive. “I don’t think any farmer would buy it to farm, because the land is too valuable.” She estimated that the two parcels combined would likely cost a minimum of $6 million.
“If they can sell the 19 acres across the street, maybe they won’t be as anxious to sell this 12-acre piece and will hold off a bit. I know that they’ve already had a home developer come and look at it.”
Beverly Henry, 71, a member of the extended Trossello family that owns the property, said she is sad to let the land go and would love to sell it to someone who would preserve it for farming.
“I live right on the property and have gotten really spoiled seeing crops growing and having peace and quiet, except for the hum of a tractor working the land,” Henry said. “It’s been in my family going back to the late 1800s and has been farmed that entire time, so it’s a sad thing to see this happen. But I understand the rest of my family, especially the older ones who will be needing money for assisted living.”
In an attempt to preserve the land, the Wagners and others have begun a “Save the Space” campaign. The corn maze design this year was carved to incorporate the shapes of a sandhill crane, Canada goose, roadrunner and an owl – some of the wildlife that take refuge there when visitors are not present and which feed on the land after the corn is tilled back into the soil at the end of the season. In addition, the words “Save the Space” are carved into the design.
A Facebook page, Friends of Farmland Preservation, has been created to encourage Village of Corrales residents to support a bond question in March authorizing the village to purchase the land and put a conservation easement on it.
“The last time they had a bond election for land preservation there was an 84 percent approval from the voters, so people in Corrales fight fiercely for farmland,” Wagner said. “A big challenge would be to get it on the ballot.”
A GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/save-the-space, has also been created with a goal of raising $5,000 to help sustain the ongoing campaign.
“We have to protect and preserve our farmlands,” Wagner said, noting that agriculture is a defining characteristic of Corrales. “Once that’s gone, I don’t know how you ever get it back.”