Looking for ways a ranchito can prosper.
Many times Sebastián has given me a tour of his garden. He has showed me his peach trees with hundreds of peaches on them, his tomato plants, carrots and chiltepiquines, a kind of chile from his native state of Michoacan.
I got to know him and his wife Amalia years ago when they and their kids lived north of Deming on Fourth Street. But then they moved south of town to a trailer with a half-acre of land.
He loves his garden and works there when he gets back home from slaving in the vineyards in Lordsburg. At home he plants, waters, weeds and picks till dusk moves in.
It's not exactly what we'd call a garden here in the States. He plants things wherever he can find space and as far as his water hose will reach.
For years I've stopped by from time to time to sit in their living room, with their three teenage daughters sitting on a long couch, one of them getting a can of Jumex for me while we chat.
I met Amalia when I was working at a chile processor, and I partly use our conversations to keep me clued in to what's going on in the processors and in the fields.
A few years ago a health food store in Deming had fresh local vegetables daily and had two farmers' markets a week. I asked Sebastián if he'd like to sell some of his stuff there.
But he and Amalia had already been selling their produce to neighbors and didn't want to do more.
Always when I go there in the evening, Sebastián is in his garden.
The last time I went, there was some kind of chile plant that I guessed to be bell pepper. He said no, but he didn't know what kind it was. He used to grow tiny red chiltepiquin chiles from Michoacan on the other side of his trailer, but they didn't grow well in this climate. (That may be a folk pronunciation of what is called chiltepin on the Internet.)
There was a half-grown row of lush corn and some low wooden frames in front of it with some kind of covering, either metal or plywood. Those, he explained, were tomatillo plants that he was sheltering from the blazing heat.
Down a little farther were tall onion stems intermixed with the row of corn. There were squash plants, but he doesn't know what kind. A few green-bean plants grow under some peach trees.
There were some tomato plants with plastic gallon milk containers placed next to them. I asked him what those were for, and he said a man from Queretaro had told him to put those there with a little hole in them for a kind of drip irrigation.
He has lots of grapes on arbors, which he likes to make into wine.
He showed me his five quince, or membrillo, trees that bear a fruit like wrinkled green apples that are really popular among Mexicans. They love to make a transparent quince jelly.
Sebastián has five apple trees, too. One at least just grew up by itself, but it bears beautiful big Gala apples.
His 10 peach trees together I'm sure produce thousands of peaches. Sebastián also points out a small apricot tree.
Several smaller trees in a row have carrots underneath. He says he does that so he can water both at once. The majority of the carrots have gone to seed and look like Queen Anne's lace.
Banana peels and other garbage are strewn around the plants for fertilizer.
One night last summer I got a call from Lucia, who worked for the Colonia Development Council in Las Cruces. She was collaborating with the US Department of Agriculture in a project to foment small farms owned by Mexican immigrants and wanted to know if I knew anybody who might fit.
I thought immediately of Sebastián. So Lucia and her USDA colleague Eduardo came for a visit with him.
He showed them around his garden the way he shows me around. He said he believes in being as organic as possible and thinks it's important for his family to eat fresh produce.
He and Lucia chatted about the violence in Mexico. "Mexican men are too macho," he commented. He told her he likes to watch the Discovery Channel in Spanish.
When Lucia talked with me to one side, she gazed into my face as if to say, "Isn't he amazing?"
I said I thought that lots of farmworkers have the dream of having their own ranch, and she agreed.
Lucia and Eduardo came back twice and held two very small meetings that I missed. I went to the third meeting, where seven people showed up. Sebastián and Amalia had chairs set up outside. Amalia came out to meet her guests, looking kind of nervous and holding her grandson Daniel in her arms.
The couple who lived next door came. A gray-haired widower from two streets away who had a few fruit trees took part. And two old friends of Eduardo showed up.
They spent close to an hour drinking Coke, laughing a lot, and talking about starting a cooperative. Eduardo promised to get them some materials for drip irrigation for starters. To me, he and Lucia seemed interested, but Sebastián seemed skeptical that the idea would work.
But Lucia and Eduardo never come back. They never even called Sebastián. They never did anything about the drip irrigation. I e-mailed Lucia, and she said something about lost funding. She had to get a new job.
I've been hearing about a new farmers' market in Deming on Saturdays held in the Post Office parking lot. I heard from someone that the most recent one they held started at 8 a.m. and was sold out already by 9 a.m.
So I told Sebastián about it, because he doesn't read about these things. He has said he doesn't want to sell there, but I didn't know if he meant it. I think what I said about the market selling out perked up his ears.
Last night I said to him, "You're not thinking about doing the farmers' market, are you?" and he said, with a little smile, "A ver" (We'll see). Later I said, "Are you considering it?" and he said, "A ver."
He's taking this seriously.
Sebastián may have found a place for his ranchito to prosper.
To help the people of Palomas, see our list of resources
Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.