All of us are familiar with the enormous ranches and farming operations that are most often found flung across the Midwestern and Western United States. We are also familiar with the smaller scale ranchettes and farmettes that tend to dot many outer suburban or exurban districts of metropolitan areas. But, Albuquerque, New Mexico is home to two (2) fascinating ranchito (small ranch) suburbs that could be best classified as “nearburbs” due to their close proximity to downtown – the villages of Corrales and Los Ranchos de Albuquerque (to be referred to as Los Ranchos).
Both Corrales and Los Ranchos have long and storied histories. But they are most unique from an urban planning perspective by their location(s) amidst a much denser urban agglomeration and their lasting focus as mostly smaller-scale ranching and farming communities that also happen to be easily accessible to downtown and other key economic centers of Metropolitan Albuquerque. It’s this easy access that has put profound pressures on the agricultural heritage of both villages.
Corrales – Site of at least two (2) former Native America pueblos on the west bank of the Rio Grande, the location of Corrales was occupied by Native Americans as far back to 500 A.D. (CE). The community was first settled by those of European ancestry through a Spanish Land Grant in the early 18th century. Corrales was incorporated in 1971 to preserve the community’s long agro-centric legacy during a development boom taking place on adjacent ranch lands to create the new City of Rio Rancho. The village occupies 10.94 square miles and Census results from 2020 showed Corrales’ population to be 8,493.
Even today, this charming village is dotted with numerous small ranches and farms, horse corrals and stables, vineyards, orchards, and nurseries despite being wedged between New Mexico’s first (Albuquerque) and third (Rio Rancho) largest cities. According to the village’s 2009 Comprehensive plan, approximately 10 percent of the village is occupied by agricultural uses when including residential with agriculture. Driving through the community, the influence and existence of agriculture on the visual landscape of the village appears much larger.
Los Ranchos – Native Americans have resided in the area for at least 2500 years. Though Los Ranchos was not incorporated until 1958, its location on the east bank of the Rio Grande was first settled by those of European ancestry in 1661. Despite its close proximity to downtown Albuquerque (two miles), scenic Los Ranchos continues to be home to numerous small ranches, orchards, a vineyard, as well as many horse corrals and stables despite being nearly surrounded by its much larger neighbor. The village’s population was 6,120 according to the 2020 census and occupies 4.45 square miles of land area.
According to the 2035 Los Ranchos Master Plan, local agriculture primarily consists of the following:
“…the majority of Village farmland is known to be comprised of hay and alfalfa. However, there is also a wide variety of crops grown and animals raised in the Village, such as alpaca, apples, apricots, bees, cattle, chickens, chile, garlic, grapes, horses, lavender, peaches, pigs, and sheep. As demand grows, some potential crops that could be grown in the Village include more fruits, such as soft fruits, gourds, hemp, honey, hops, pumpkins, and potatoes.” Source: losranchosnm.gov/2035-master-plan
Both villages have intriguing visual landscapes given their proximity to the Rio Grande and its floodplain. Much of this wooded area has been preserved as a 4,300 acre regional open space known as the Rio Grande Valley State Park and the Corrales Bosque Preserve which occupies another 662.4 acres.
In addition, a vast network of levees; irrigation canals, ditches, and laterals; sluices; and weirs crisscross both villages to protect them from catastrophic floods and to direct waters from the river to area farms, ranches, orchards, nurseries, and vineyards. These corridors also provide many excellent opportunities for walking, jogging, hiking, biking, and horseback riding (see two photos below).
Preserving their agricultural heritage is important to both communities, especially as development pressures continue from new housing and land splits/subdivisions. This is reflected in their plans, zoning, and through community engagement (see photo below).
The Village of Corrales established a Farmland Preservation Program in 2000. To accelerate the preservation process, the citizens of Corrales approved a $2.5 million bond issue to support farmland preservation in 2018. The village has also incorporated several agricultural preservation and protection efforts into its 2009 Comprehensive Plan and its municipal code.
Meanwhile, in Los Ranchos, the following innovative ideas were included in the village’s 2035 Master Plan that was adopted in November 2019:
- Discourage subdivisions from instating covenants that prohibit agricultural activity
- Encourage use of safe non-potable water for agricultural irrigation
- Encourage community gardens
- Encourage home gardens
- Encourage forage cultivation for wildlife
- Provide shared agricultural educational space in the Village centered around but not solely focused on the Larry P. Abraham Agri-Nature Center
- Partner with and help to sponsor organizations and other jurisdictions to:
- Provide agricultural education to youth and adults
- Support and promote agricultural events and programs held in or by the Village including but not limited to:
- Utilize agriculture and agri-tourism as economic development techniques
- Market Village agricultural products within and outside the Village
- Encourage exporting of agricultural goods
- Promote the agricultural product lifecycle of growing or raising, processing, and consumption through:
- Farm-to-table operations
- Agriculture and livestock related businesses
- Encourage coordination with businesses for the sale of agricultural products
- Lease Village-owned land to farmers on a short-term basis to support upcoming farmers
- Encourage a shared tool cooperative to lease or share tools to reduce equipment costs
In conclusion, it will be interesting to see how these two (2) very distinctive ranchito communities will continue to preserve the agricultural legacy that makes them so unique amidst the surrounding urban environment of Metropolitan Albuquerque. To date, the programs that have been either proposed and/or implemented have incorporated both traditional and innovative actions. The future success of such preservation efforts will depend on the combined and cooperative efforts of local residents, businesses, farmers, developers, preservation advocates, non-profits, and government entities.