Young local farmer captures the Mesilla Valley in stunning images

By Kristie Garcia ’07

At age 16, Jay Hill told his dad, Jim, he wanted to take over the 10-acre family farm to grow onions. Jim agreed to co-sign on the loan if Jay created a business plan and if he agreed to do all the work.

The onion market was very profitable, and Jay leased the neighbor’s farm the following year.

“I’ve gone from 10 acres to the 3,500 acres we have now,” Hill says. “We hope to be at 4,000 acres very soon and at 10,000 acres by the time I’m 40.”

At age 33, Hill grows more than onions. The co-owner of Wholesome Valley Farms, Hill Farms, The Fresh Chile Company and Organ Mountain Produce, Hill and his team produce 63 crop varieties, including chile, pecans, squash, beans and alfalfa.

Hill recently invested in an abandoned egg processing plant in Berino, New Mexico. The 270-acre property will have traditional farming operations, greenhouses, seed drying rooms and cottonseed milling. His first challenge was finding a solution to the contaminated groundwater.

“Being the Aggie that I am, I remember professor Frank Ward saying that the solution to pollution is dilution,” Hill says. “I suggested we pump out the high-nitrate water at a slow rate, mix it with clean deep well water, and use that nitrate as a crop fertilizer.”

So Hill had a $1.2 million state-of-the-art drip system installed on the farm.

“We’re able to use that high-nitrate water to grow crops,” he says. “At the same time, we’re cleaning the drinking water for the community.”

Not only does Hill have a special place in his heart for the community, but for his employees as well.

“Everybody that works for us has a job to do, but it’s a labor of love,” he says. “I work with people who are invested – maybe not financially – but they are physically and emotionally attached to this farm.”

Of his 27 full-time employees, five are NMSU alumni under age 30. And four of those are managers. He enjoys watching them grow and learn about the industry.

Educating people about agriculture comes naturally to Hill. While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in individualized studies at NMSU, he realized that many people didn’t know much about agriculture.

“Being out of the ag college really helped me develop the heart and the love to educate people about agriculture,” he says. “There’s one thing that brought us all together – we all eat every day.”

Hill has continued to educate others, even on the national level. The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance selected him as one of America’s Faces of Farming & Ranching for 2015-2016.

“I went coast to coast about 13 times, talking to people about what farmers and ranchers do,” Hill says. “I recently testified in front of Congress. When something important is going on in agriculture, they want somebody to speak who’s comfortable in their own skin.”

Hill is also comfortable with a camera in his hands. In 2008, he borrowed his parents’ basic camera to take a photo of the sunrise. He was hooked. Nine years later, he owns a professional camera and a large photo collection.

“I wanted to show agriculture in a professional photography light,” he says. “I’m colorblind, so shapes and emotions come out really well for me in clouds.”

Although he is mostly self-taught, Hill is highly influenced by Las Cruces photographer Wayne Suggs.

“Wayne has the most incredible eye, and I feel emotion in his photos,” Hill says. “When I shoot something on the farm, I want people to understand the emotion that goes into that picture.”

The emotion felt in his photography may also be heard in his voice, whether he’s speaking about his employees or the community.

“It doesn’t matter if you dig ditches or you’re a manager, everybody in the company has the same voice,” he says. “And as we’ve grown, the community has grabbed on to our idea, and we’re all growing together.”