Heather Salopek is Branching Out

If you’ve ever driven through the Mesilla Valley, you can’t help but notice the pecan orchards that run up and down the valley. These orchards are a pillar of the agriculture economy in New Mexico. Heather Salopek, founder and owner of Legacy Pecans, was raised with the backdrop of pecan orchards. She decided to go into agriculture herself and has gotten highly involved with the communities in the Mesilla Valley. She took some time out of her busy day to talk with us about how she decided to pursue agriculture and why she loves it.

NMDA: What inspired you to get involved in agriculture?

Heather: My family, really. I grew up on the farm so I’ve been in agriculture my entire life. But I didn’t really think that I would continue in agriculture until I went to college and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do so my mom encouraged me to take some classes in the college of agriculture. She was like “You’re going to meet great people it’s going to be wonderful, so go ahead and take some over there”! So I did and little did I know how right she was. There’s something about the people in agriculture- they have a strong work ethic, strong values, and they’re always willing to lend a helping hand. I think that’s what really inspired me to stay in agriculture for a career- the people.

NMDA: What are your long term goals in agriculture?

Heather: To make a difference, to give back to the community, and really carry on the legacy of what farmers and ranchers of generations before have created. To really educate and showcase how important it is to be in agriculture and how agriculture touches people on an everyday basis from the food on our tables to the clothes on our back. Through my business, Legacy Pecans, I really hope to share our story of perseverance to inspire others to achieve their American dream through agriculture. Giving back is something that has been near and dear to my heart, so I started my “Legacy of Love” campaign that gives underprivileged children healthy pecan snacks. That’s my little way of giving back to the local community.

NMDA: What advice do you have for young people who want to get involved in agriculture?

Heather: Learn the importance and the value of hard work, perseverance, and patience in agriculture. Agriculture is a unique industry because it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. You really have to understand that. You have to be willing to do whatever you have to do to grow a successful crop. If that means getting up well before the sun comes up or going to bed well after it’s gone down, you have to do what you have to do to make yourself successful. In the blink of an eye Mother Nature can come in and make a flood or damage your crop by hail and you have to pick yourself right back up and do it all over again. Those are some hard lessons to learn in agriculture. Connect and engage in the local community. One of the best ways to learn to grow is from mentors.

NMDA: If you were to have five minutes with an influential policy maker either at the state or federal level what would you like to discuss with them and why?

Heather: In New Mexico we grow some of the best quality crops in the US. Chile and pecans are our Texas “oil”, if you will. I would really focus on growing the value-added sectors of those two areas of agriculture specifically. You know Hatch chile has done a great job in gaining national recognition for their chile. You see it on menus all across the US. We need to gain that recognition for New Mexico pecans. As an entrepreneur and someone who travels the US and says they have a New Mexico pecan-based company, people are surprised that we grow pecans in New Mexico. But that’s our number one commercial food crop. I find that really interesting and that’s a huge disconnect. So I think I would discuss how to create and implement value-added programs and grow our local economy through those programs as well as through research and development of pecans.

Photo Credit: Legacy Pecans Facebook Page

If you want to keep up with Heather and find out more about her company and what she does, you can find her here:

Legacy Pecans Website

Legacy Pecans Facebook Page

Legacy Pecans Instagram

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