Roger Candelaria receives 2023 Conservationist of the Year award


Photo courtesy San Juan Conservation District

The San Juan Conservation District honors Roger Candelaria with the 2023 Conservationist of the Year award. Candelaria accepted his plaque from Robin Young, ex-officio board member, at the Archuleta County Fair.

By Cynthia Purcell | San Juan Conservation District

The San Juan Conservation District honored Roger Candelaria with the 2023 Conservationist of the Year award. 

A plaque was presented to Roger at the Archuleta County Fair on Aug. 5.

His ranch, Ranchito Alegre, roughly translated, means “Joyous Homestead.” Ranchito Alegre owes its existence to many twists and turns of history. In the big picture, their roots trace back to the New Mexico families who, over several centuries, grazed farther and farther north into the upper Rio Grande and the upper San Juan Basin. 

Among those born in the 1800s were Fidelia Abeyta (La Garita) and her husband, Anastacio Candelaria, who settled at the mouth of Canyon del Prieto (Dark Horse Canyon), about 6 miles down the Piedra River from Chimney Rock. Both died young, leaving five youngsters to fend for themselves. 

Their career paths later scattered them to several states and professions. But at least some of their descendants were drawn back into agriculture, animal husbandry and agronomy — and even to the exact same parcels that were once homesteaded over a century ago by some of their ancestors. 

Teddy Roosevelt signed off on a homestead made by Roger’s great aunt, Victoria Anita Candelaria, and her husband, Juan Gurule, in 1906. Almost a half century later it went to her nephew, E.J. Candelaria. Then it came back to Roger’s father, Martin, and Roger in 1974, along with an adjoining parcel that E.J. inherited from his father, Francisco Candelaria. 

Coincidentally, the initials for Ranchito Alegre, “RA,” also stand for regenerative agriculture. Roger applies newly understood scientific principles regarding the soil biome and its relation to human health to organically produce foods for our local community. As Roger likes to say, “We don’t treat our soil like dirt!”

Roger is a food hero, participating in Healthy Archuleta or the Food Coalition, a local nonprofit, contributing to the community’s vision for a sustainable, health promoting and equitable local food system so that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious foods. He has also partnered with Chris Frederics to offer produce shares for purchase or donation. The installation of high tunnels has enabled him to grow a multitude of produce on his ranch. 

Roger is implementing many innovative principles on his land to improve the soil. He uses goat and chicken droppings for organic fertilizer, strip grazing and has planted many cover crops. He is diligently working toward improving his irrigation methods to be able to produce even more high-quality, organic produce. He even offers hands-on farm stays and ranching experiences to people wanting to learn about regenerative agriculture. 

Through hard work, dedication to the land and a willingness to share his experiences with others, we commend Roger on his conservation ethics. 

The San Juan Conservation District was formed in 1947. It is one of 76 districts throughout the state. Conservation districts were organized to get soil and water conservation on the land. The focus has now been broadened to address all the natural resources as well. The San Juan Conservation District encompasses Archuleta County, and parts of Hinsdale and Mineral counties.

The San Juan Conservation District board consists of five elected landowners representing different sections of these counties that volunteer their time to help get conservation on the ground and improve our natural resources.