By David Arkin: CNJ Correspondent
ALBUQUERQUE — Glenda Balas grew up on a peanut farm in Portales and watched her mother play a vital role in the success of her family’s business.
She also watched her mother, Verla Brown, 80, receive little credit for the successes.
That’s one of the reasons the University of New Mexico assistant professor of communications and journalism is setting off on a lofty project with another UNM professor to document the experiences of women farmers in New Mexico.
Balas and Miguel Gandert, a UNM professor of photography, are working together on the “Gifts of the Land: New Mexico’s Farm and Ranch Women,” which will make its way to an exhibit at the Herzstein Memorial Museum in Clayton in the Fall. For the next several weeks the duo plan to interview and photograph between 14 and 17 of the state’s female ranchers and farmers.
The project is being funded by $8,000 in state grants.
When Balas was in the sixth grade her father Delbert Brown, 83, started raising peanuts and ever since has been a prominent player in eastern New Mexico in developing the Valencia peanut, according to Balas.
“He worked with New Mexico State University to further refine the Valencia,” Balas said about her dad.
But what has grabbed Balas’ interest now is the hard work her mother demonstrated, without much recognition.
“My mom was part of the operation from the beginning,” she said. “She raised five children and before she would go to bed at night she would be up doing bookkeeping for the different projects. But like so many women involved in agriculture, my mother didn’t have as large as a public voice as my dad.”
And years later things haven’t changed much.
“It really doesn’t surprise me much that women don’t have that voice,” she said. “And that is one of the questions that I will be asking women as I interview them, why they don’t have a broader voice in agriculture.”
Through her interviews, Balas hopes to paint a clear picture of who the women are and their importance to agriculture.
“My idea was to get to know these women and understand their culture and get a sense of what it is that keeps them tied to their life on the ranch,” she said.
As part of the exhibit, Gandert photos will be featured in the Clayton museum with short biographies of the women, which Balas will write.
D. Ray Blakeley, director of the Herzstein Memorial Museum, said he is excited about exhibit and believes it will be a big attraction.
“We certainly have some outstanding agriculture women in our area,” he said. “The agriculture women here have been well-organized for years.”
Balas and Gandert will travel to visit personally with every woman featured in the exhibit.
In addition to the exhibit at the museum, Balas is also planning a book that will have more detailed stories of the women.
“The book will include scholarly essays on various angles,” Balas said. “It will include biographical stories on all these women and some of the women will write narratives of their lives.”
Balas is working on setting up an interview with a woman from Portales and said she has a lead on someone in Tucumcari. However, she is still seeking someone from Clovis.
So far, she has completed a few interviews.
In Clayton she has interviewed two female cattle ranchers and in Los Ojos an organic lamb breeder and sheep rancher.
Balas plans to spend the rest of the summer and parts of
September completing the interview process.