Amyas Maestas: the Renaissance farmer of San Luis
SAN LUIS — Amyas Maestas is not your typical 17-year-old kid. Energetic, wise beyond his years and perpetually smiling, Amyas is a sculptor with one of his sculptures on display on Main Street and two pieces in the city of Alamosa’s permanent collection.
He plays the trumpet, saxophone and piano. He is also a cabinetmaker and actor, having starred in four plays.
At 10 years old, he was listening to Glenn Miller and wearing a fedora. He laughs while telling the story.
“The first time I heard that band music, I said, ‘Wow, what is this,’” Maestas said.
One could almost call him a Renaissance man.
Yet, with all those talents, for much of his young life, Amyas dreamed of being a farmer. It was in his blood. He would be the eighth generation in his family to farm in the San Luis area. A favorite memory from his childhood was his grandfather giving him a calf when he was 6 years old. In school, he had taken FFA classes, and as a freshman, had wanted to buy a few cattle but “prices were too high — $1.50 to $1.60 a pound,” he says.
During the pandemic that had him learning remotely from home, Maestas started raising a few sheep and some chickens.
“I guess you could say it was kind of an interesting time. I spent half my day working on the computer and the other half with the animals,” he says.
And then, at the age of 16, a door opened in the form of a $5,000 loan he took out through the FSA Youth Loan program with the USDA, money he used to buy six already-bred, registered red Limousin cows from Templeton Ranch in La Garita. Each cow gave birth to a healthy calf, and, within a relatively short period of time, Maestas became the proud owner of a small mama cow and calf operation.
“I’ll have my loan paid off in three years,” he says.
Rewarding as that was, Maestas had not fully realized his dream. He still wanted to farm, drawn by his heritage and the goodness and simplicity he saw in working the land and growing food for people to eat. But with no land to farm or equipment to work with, the prospects looked dim.
At the age of 17, another door opened. His grandmother, Dana Maestas, was approached by Devon Peña, a professor of anthropology at the University of Washington who owns property in the area and is committed to protecting the acequia community. Peña asked if Amyas might be interested in farming a quarter acre of land, joining a co-op of farmers growing vegetables in San Pablo on the acequias.
“I said, ‘yes. Yes, I would,’” Maestas said.
There are eight farmers in the co-op, each growing crops to sell at the R&R Supermarket in San Luis, which Peña has reportedly purchased. The other farmers range in age from 50 to 80 years old, an age difference that Maestas enjoys.
“Yes, I’m the youngest farmer,” Amyas says, with a laugh. “They help me a lot. They loan me the things I need to farm.”
When asked about irrigation and what crops he grew, Maestas the farmer emerges.
“Carrots, three varieties of onions, German potatoes, Hopi corn that we milled for flour to make tortillas. Three varieties of peas, including Kaber peas — Kaber was the name of my grandfather’s friend who grew very good peas to eat. Beets, green and purple lettuce and fava beans. Except for the Kaber peas, I use Johnny seeds. I use biodegradable mulch and farm on the acequia, so it’s all flood irrigation with 100 percent ditch water. And I follow all the guidelines for growing organic,” he says.
Maestas has even stepped into the world of management.
“During the summer, I hired farmers to help with the crops,” Maestas says. “They were local kids from an organization called Move Mountains. Most of their programs are things like horseback riding and hunting, but this program teaches youth about agriculture and how to grow crops.”
Amyas laughs, half self-consciously.
“I was kind of supervising them — and they were about the same age as me,” he says.
He paid the workers $15 an hour.
When Governor Jared Polis came to the area, Maestas was chosen to be the spokesman for the group.
“The governor said he was going to find funding to make this [agricultural] program go across the whole state,” he says.
He had a good harvest, so good that it landed him, along with the other farmers, a meeting with the CEO of Natural Grocers. Peña did the negotiating.
“They said they needed more produce than just a quarter of an acre, so next year I’ll be expanding to farming four acres instead,” Maestas says.
The endeavor also caught the eye of National Geographic who, in June, sent a reporter to cover the project.
Now in his senior year at Sangre de Cristo High School, Maestas finds himself “at a fork in the road,” deciding between pursuing a college degree in agriculture and animal science or continuing to farm while living the life of simplicity and hard work he treasures. He wants to start a micro-dairy someday.
If the past is any indication of the future, it is a good bet that Maestas will find a way to do it all.