We had the good fortune of connecting with Elena Miller-ter Kuile and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elena, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
My Hispano family came to the San Luis Valley to claim properties through the land grants awarded by the Mexican government. We have been farming and ranching in the area ever since. I always say we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us. I went off to college to study and travel and quickly realized the great need in our country for more sustainable and inclusive farming practices. We are currently facing major environmental challenges and sadly there is a history of oppression of indigenous, black, BIPOC, and black communities. I hope to see this country become a leader for more positive changes.
I think watching my community and family struggle with a history of racial inequalities has given me a strong desire to see more social justice in the world. Agriculture is the base of society, and it is a crucial part, even if often ignored, we all eat and wear clothing, and no matter how far separated from agriculture we all need farmers and ranchers to raise our food. Access to land and healthy food is something many still struggle with in our country and the world, in addition, many indigenous communities and communities of color are still working to end the control of colonialism and neo-colonialism. We have a long way to go, and I feel part of my work as a farmer, even if I don’t always know how, is to keep working towards a more equitable and inclusive system.
The idea of land stewardship runs deep in my family, and I feel a calling to continue that legacy, with my little twist on things of course! Even if things can be frightening, I have a lot of hope for the future. One thing certain about humanity is our ingenuity and ability to adapt. I have a long way to go but I would like to be a leader in this movement toward more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agricultural practices. I feel like I have a unique perspective with our long history in the southwest and I hope someday to be able to share this more with a larger community.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have created a line of yarn and wool products out of my sheep wool, they are 100% homegrown on the farm and processed in Colorado. I add my own colors and dyes. Recently I have started naturally dyeing, using plants from nature to make vibrant colors. I still have a lot to learn and every day is a new adventure.
Most of my activities every day are taking care of my sheep. I have carefully selected by breeds and genetics to be the most productive and beautiful fiber possible. It is a fun process of picking each sheep carefully to select the best wool quality. We have been seeing the results of our labor with prizes for fleeces put into competitions. It is an exciting process of working to create the most beautiful fleeces and fibers possible and then turning them into other wool products.
I think farming is a challenging field to be in. There are a lot of factors against farmers, weather, economics, drought, and the list goes on. So much of the money for crops does not go to farmers and instead goes to the middlemen. I have struggled in the past with cash flow issues and have had to seek out other employment. Every time I did this, I always felt so frustrated as I would have so much less time to work on the business. I am so grateful I was able to take some business classes through the First Southwest Bank and they have helped me greatly with confidence and other creative ways to fund my business. I think in this country we are often crippled by debt and the need to always be earning money. My advice for others is just to keep going, being innovative is hard but so rewarding and we need more people thinking out of the box as we face new challenges going forward.
I raise my sheep and fiber with the most integrity possible. It is not always perfect but I try to ensure my animals have a safe and happy existence. They are fed organic feed and pasture and have hundreds of acres to pasture and move around. I am always working towards improving the quality of my fiber and I am always excited to be bringing out new products like this year my line of naturally dyed yarns soon to be posted on my website. As a Hispanic woman farmer on a historical farm, I am a bit of a rarity. I see some of my work is bringing attention to important causes for social justice and regenerative agriculture.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I find the most joy just being on my farm. There is this wonderful spring on the river that flows almost year-round. The water is clear and cool, it is a great place for a summer swim. We could drive around with the ATV and check out the farm and all the beauty it has to offer. There is a nice river and paths to walk. One of my favorite things to do is harvest off the land, mushrooms from the mountains, wheat from our fields, vegetables from the garden, and some lamb meat, this is probably one of the best meals I can offer.
We have some of the most beautiful mountains here in the San Luis Valley, there are the Great Sand Dunes and Zapata Falls. We are also close enough to the Continental Divide to go for a wonderful hike. For great places to eat Alamosa has surprisingly good sushi. The Farm Brewery is just down the road where they serve buffalo buggers, local sausages, and tacos depending on the day of the week. This is probably one of our favorite places to eat as there are also swings and so many activities for the little ones to do while the grownups visit and eat.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
So many people! My family and friends come first, of course, I would not be able to do any of what I do if it wasn’t for their encouragement and kind help. My dad as my business partner has always been there in helping me get started. And my mom who does so much to help me. My two wonderful sisters have always been there for me, to help with the kids or to encourage me on my way. Jo, Randy, and Cathy I would not be able to do it without you. And to my two daughters Amalia and Itzel for being the motivation and joy in my work.
I would also like to thank all the wonderful customers and mentors along the way. Carey the Fibertraveler for helping me get my website off the ground. Ranchers who went out of their way to help a beginner, Aniroonz Sheep, Sherry Haugen, the Teem family, the Barr family, Donald Martinez, and many more, The First Southwest Bank Women-Led Business Fund for helping me overcome my fears about going out on my own. The San Luis Valley Migrant Seasonal Headstart for being a safe and happy place for my daughter to play and learn and for giving me time to run my business. There are so many others who have been there and I appreciate them dearly.
Other: Tiktok: @cactushillfarm I do not use this a lot but hope to do more soon. 🙂
@cristi_bode for the wonderful pictures of the farm.