Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Beware of Eldorado Doctors!

Last week, I filed a Request for Public Records at the City Attorney's office regarding the latest round of complaints about the farm.

The person who recently sent a complaint to the City about our farm stand lives in.... Eldorado!

That's exactly 18.4 mi from the farm!

Her name is Dr. Deborah Watkin, she's the anonymous (not anymore!) blogger Deborah who left the following comment on our website:

"Gee, I wanna drive my BMW 100 miles an hour, darn I can't well maybe I'll just do it anyway and in the meanwhile see if I can schmooz the police to let me whizz by.... ever think regulatory mechanisms empower people to excell. Your business model would be perfect for a third world country, busloads of school kids, no nagging neighbors, no regulations on inspections to ensure your produce is safe...  Thailand perhaps, I saw a cheap one way ticket, the donators would get over it... bye bye bozo."  See her comments here

She is most likely an acquaintance of our immediate neighbor who's regularly been using proxies to wage her war on the farm and our water rights since 2013.

Dct. Watkin called the City numerous times, including the City Attorney's office, and threatened litigation against the City if the farm wasn't shut down.

Her accusations:

1) We are operating the farm without a business license
True.  We applied for one in 2013 but it was denied on the grounds that there were building violations on the property (having nothing to do with the farm). The City has let us operate the farm since then.

2) We are illegally using domestic water from a well
False.  On Jan. 16, 2014 the Office of the State Engineer granted us 1.05 acre-feet of irrigation water rights.  The transfer of these water rights is currently being protested by the same neighbor who has tortured us to death for the past 3 years!  While the Office of the State Engineer is conducting formal hearings on the protest, the use of water for irrigation from our domestic well is legal.

3) We are squatting on a property that's in foreclosure
False.  The farm leases one acre of the property for its operation. We have worked with multiple lawyers over the last few years to see what the farm could do regarding the foreclosure, but as a tenant, we have been limited by the property owner’s actions and desires because he’s the party responsible for the foreclosure.  Last year, we formed a community land trust and raised money to attempt to buy the property out of foreclosure, way more than a tenant would normally do.
4) We are building structures without proper permits
False.  The only structure that was built (hoop houses do not require permits) is the garden structure that we had permitted in 2013 and later used for our short-lived farm stand!  A previous shed structure built by another tenant without proper permits was torn down in 2013 upon request by the City.

We are in a position of financial and social power, and we could be agents of change in our society. Without pretension, I believe we could be a nice little gardener who takes care of the garden, and hopefully our neighbor will do the same. Then, maybe we'll achieve a better world - Guy Laliberte

Jan. 2013 Letter to Mayor Coss asking for Help to Legalize our Farm Stand

2012 "Best Recycler" Award Ceremony at City Hall with Mayor Coss in the backgound

In anticipation of a meeting with Mayor Gonzalez next week, to discuss the Gaia Gardens situation, I am releasing the following letter sent to Mayor Coss in Jan. 2013.  I sent the letter twice and never got a reply from Mayor Coss.  

Jan. 18, 2013

Dear Mayor Coss,

I most recently met you at the City Council session of Nov. 14, 2012, where Gaia Gardens received the "Best Recycler" award from the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, and two weeks ago at the Carbon Economy Series on Sustainable Tourism.

Gaia Gardens, a new urban farm in the City limit, received many praises from the Santa Fe press in 2012 (see press coverage here)

I am writing to you to seek your guidance and support on two issues having to do with urban farming in residential zoning.

With Gaia Gardens being located next to the Arroyo de los Chamisos Trail, many neighbors, bicyclists and walkers stop by to visit our beautiful garden.  Upon their frequent requests in the Spring, we opened a small farm stand and sold produce three mornings a week during the summer months.

Being a new non-profit, having that farm stand was an economic life saver since we were on a waiting list with the Santa Fe Farmers Market and could not get a booth on Saturdays until later in the summer.  The farm stand sales accounted for nearly half of our income in 2012.

Quandary #1 : According to city zoning codes, the sell of farm produce is apparently not allowed on our premises.  I understand that one of the reasons for not allowing retail in residential zoning is related to noise and parking issues.

In our situation, 90% of our customers come on foot and access the farm stand via our garden gate situated off the Arroyo de los Chamisos Trail.  Most are neighbors and enthusiastic about being able to purchase fresh organic produce from their neighborhood farm.

Our farm is part of the Wwoof-USA organization (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), and we welcome young people the world over, who are eager to work and learn at organic farms.  We host these young people in 4 small tents, have built an outdoor kitchen and have bathrooms and showers for them in one of the buildings on the property.

Quandary #2:  According to Code Enforcement Officer James G. Martinez, whom I spoke with recently, city codes don't allow camping on our property.

Wwoofers, along with volunteers that we welcome three days a week in the garden, are the labor force that makes the operation of our farm possible, just like many other organic farms selling at the Farmers Market.

Question #1:  Is it possible to get a variance to be allowed to sell produce at our farm stand?  We get an average of 20 people between the hours of 7:00am and 11:00am on Mon., Wed. & Fri., with sales ranging from $75 to $200.

Question #2:  Is it possible to get permission to have up to 4 people at anytime camp on the land.  Most Woofers stay for a couple days to a couple weeks as they tend to visit several farms while in the area.

Our farm is flanked on two sides by the Chamisos Subdivision, an association of 53 homes.  We are frequently featured in their newsletter, many of the association members are our customers and we recently agreed to host their chicken co-op on our property.  

Growing food in our city seems essential to developing a sustainable Santa Fe. Selling that food on site is not only the most sustainable solution but also helps build community and neighborhood resilience.  In addition, farm stands are, according to Selena Marroquin, Agritourism Coordinator for Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship, "a vital part of agritourism".

Earlier last year, I wrote to you seeking your advice on water rights issues related to starting a farm in the city.

You were very kind and responsive in referring me to Heather Lamboy and Tamara Baer.

I would appreciate hearing any suggestions that you may have on the above mentioned topics.


Poki Piottin
Executive Director
Gaia Gardens 

Gaia Gardens is fiscally-sponsored by the New Mexico Community Foundation, a 501(c)3

Sunday, August 23, 2015

In the New Mexican Today



A garden that could have changed lives

Every day I strive to spark changes in my patients’ diets. I’m not very successful and neither are my pediatric colleagues. We need help. Just look at all the trends of increasing childhood obesity and diabetes.

Bucking these trends takes a collaborative effort from many sectors of our communities. Gaia Gardens, Santa Fe’s premier urban farming initiative, has been a shining example of one such effort. Started in 2012 by Poki Piottin in a neighborhood near Santa Fe High School, this 3.5-acre dirt lot soon blossomed into an oasis of organic vegetables and free-range chickens and ducks.

Poki and his partner, Dominique Pozo, love children. They have welcomed school groups to Gaia Gardens to learn firsthand not only how sustainable organic urban farming benefits our town but how we can live healthier, happier and more fit lives through forging a connection with the outdoor world and becoming aware of the benefits of freshly grown food. This kind of experience inspires children and their families to make the kinds of lifestyle changes that I encourage in my practice.

This summer, Gaia Gardens was selling vegetables from a small farm stand on their property, which borders the bike trail. When people see a beautiful garden with fresh vegetables for sale in their neighborhood, some of them are bound to at least ponder bringing more healthy produce into their kitchens. Moreover, Poki and Dominique have been training others in their farming techniques and have considered starting a more formal school for urban farming. They are offering a “ripple of hope” that could spread throughout our city and beyond.

What has been the response from the governing members of our City Different? Instead of embracing such a winning program the way many other cities have — some more outwardly stodgy than ours — the city quickly enforced petty restrictions and has yet to pass an ordinance that would provide a legal framework for urban agriculture here. I understand that government works slowly, yet one would think that this is the kind of win-win program that any progressive politician would go out of his/her way to promote, pronto.

Poki and Dominique announced recently that they were quitting their urban-renewal undertaking in protest of all of the red tape they have had to battle in order to stay afloat. They have been working patiently with City Hall for years; they alerted the City Council of their intentions to operate from their small, part-time farm stand two months prior to its opening; they have tirelessly worked to comply with all city codes and to be good neighbors.

There may still be time for our city to rally behind what so many other cities have already embraced — one proven solution to the epidemic of obesity and outsourcing. Let’s not make this a lost opportunity.

I moved back to New Mexico with my young family 10 years ago and chose to live in Santa Fe because I expected that the common values under which it operated would champion grassroots efforts like Gaia Gardens, and that my ideals as a pediatrician for improved public health would be bolstered by a caring electorate. Why does the city make way for fancy art shows and high-end restaurants while failing to support a beacon for a healthy future?

I’m with Poki and Dominique — maybe it’s time to move on.

Dr. Daniel Coles lives in Santa Fe with his wife, two sons, dogs, cats and horses. He is a pediatrician at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital. Dr. Coles loves playing outside, the color orange and collaborating with others to change dysfunctional social paradigms.

Gaia Gardens represents possibility for urban farming

I am a young professional raised in Santa Fe but educated out of state, and, now that I have finished college, I am looking for a community in which to start a career. I care deeply about community and environmental sustainability, so an important factor in my choice of a home city will be the presence — or absence — of grass-roots community organizations focused on local, sustainable food.

I have experienced firsthand the benefits such organizations bring to communities. In Sacramento, Calif., where I lived last year, multiple farmers markets and urban farms provided affordable, nutritious food to my low-income neighborhood. In addition, volunteering at Sacramento’s urban farms helped me de-stress and connect with my neighborhood community.

Everyone in Sacramento was encouraged when the City Council approved an ordinance last March legalizing farm stands in residential neighborhoods, since the ability to sell produce on-site makes many more urban farms possible, especially in low-income areas where people badly need both fresh food and additional income.

This summer, I had the privilege of moving back home to Santa Fe and volunteering at Gaia Gardens, an urban farm on the Arroyo Chamiso Trail. Weeding, pruning and transplanting along with the other volunteers amid a wilderness of sunflowers and flowering herbs was invaluable for my mental health. Even more importantly, I could tell that my work was contributing to real, substantial community formation, similar to what I experienced in Sacramento.

Dozens of neighbors, friends, volunteers and customers — and their children — shared food at Gaia Gardens’ monthly potlucks. When Gaia Gardens opened its farm stand by the bike path on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, a steady stream of customers poured in to buy vegetables, drink tea and chat with the farm’s owners.

Even after the farm stand closed, not a morning went by without someone turning off the path and coming up to the farm to express disappointment that they could no longer buy fresh produce in their neighborhood. Now that the farm stand is shut down, it is not feasible for Gaia Gardens’ owner to continue farming in the same location, so the farm will close. This is a tremendous loss to me and my community.

To me, Gaia Gardens and its farm stand represent the possibility of a vibrant urban-farming scene in Santa Fe — the kind of farming scene that so attracted me in Sacramento. I want to encourage everyone in Santa Fe to support urban farming by pushing the City Council to legalize farm stands so that young professionals like me can come home to a community-centered, sustainable city.

Eleanor Stevens is a Spanish student and a recent AmeriCorps graduate. She will spend the next year working with nonprofits in Mexico; after that, she hopes to move back home to Santa Fe and start a career in education or social work. She was in the Santa Fe Waldorf Class of 2010.

Letters to the Editor

August 23, 2015

City Ripe

Mayor Javier Gonzales says, “Urban agriculture has a great future in Santa Fe,” just as the city makes it impossible for the only farm in Santa Fe to continue. This is unconscious politically and unnecessarily cruel.

If the city does not make Gaia Gardens possible now, nobody will ever try farming in Santa Fe again (“Grower says community garden facing its last harvest,” Aug. 12). We will not find a more appropriate place, nor a couple who will put in the kind of work and devotion that Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo have mustered.

Wake up, Santa Fe City Council. We are losing some of our most valuable resources; namely, people who can teach our children how to actually live in this place. To grow food in Santa Fe is a high art. It’s a devotion, not for the meek or money-oriented.

These generous citizens of inspired vocation are worth more than gold. I’d like to see them get a Living Treasure award. Let them sell vegetables on the Arroyo Chamiso Trail — a lovely use of the public path — the most beautiful food stand in town. 
Chris Wells 
Santa Fe

Realized Revenge

Poki Piottin (“Grower says community garden facing its last harvest,” Aug. 12) should clutter the land with dead cars, camping trailers, heavy equipment and maybe tie up a few dogs for the rest of their lives. There are laws and ordinances about these, too, but no one enforces them even when numerous people complain. It is only fair that his neighborhood have what many of us have to endure instead of a beautiful garden. 
Susan Macdonell
Santa Fe

August 19

One voice
No wonder Santa Feans are leaving for places like Portland and Austin. These cities thrive on innovation and enterprises that benefit a broad and curious population. Allowing one neighbor to close down a charming and thriving urban farm is absurd (“Grower says community garden facing its last harvest,” Aug. 12). Once again, a single individual has overwhelmed the collective good. 

Susan Munroe
Santa Fe

August 18, 2015

Keep Gaia Gardens
I read with sadness about the closure of Gaia Gardens (“Grower says community garden facing its last harvest,” August 12). The growth of individual and community organic vegetable gardens is a growing phenomenon in the United States. The sale of vegetable seeds has increased by double digits. There is a global effort to create more such wonderful gardens as exemplified by Gaia Gardens — and it is being forced to close here in Santa Fe?
Organic food, caring for the soil and eating healthier food (more vegetables) to attack our national health issues, including obesity, will ultimately have to include and encourage home gardens in urban environments as a cost-saving measure to provide sustainable food for the U.S. and the planet. Now is a good time to consider and create new zoning laws and small- business license regulations to support Poki Piottin’s efforts with open arms. Let’s get this one right.
Judith Haden

Santa Fe

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Front-yard produce stands the latest in Denver's local food movement

Take a look at what Denver just did. It is not that difficult!

New Home Occupation: Fresh Produce and Cottage Food Sales

Adopted by City Council via text amendment to the zoning code on July 14, 2014, and effective July 18, 2014, this home occupation allows Denver residents to sell raw, uncut produce and homemade cottage foods from their home. Sellers must have grown the produce in their home gardens or off-site at a community garden, urban farm, or another person’s property, and must have prepared the cottage foods at their homes. Cottage foods are defined by the State of Colorado Cottage Food Act and include non-potentially hazardous foods such as tea, honey, jams, jellies, and dried produce.
For rules and requirements associated with this home occupation, information on allowable cottage foods, and best practices, download the Fresh Produce and Cottage Foods Home Occupation Guide (PDF).

In the New Mexican Today-Our View

Our view: Urban farming still a dream

Posted: Wednesday, August 19, 2015 
The New Mexican, Santa Fe

Gaia Gardens, a noble experiment in urban organic farming, is shutting down after one last harvest. What lessons can we learn from this failure, especially in a city that claims to be committed to supporting urban farming and healthy eating? 

The Santa Fe Food Policy Council has stated its commitment to healthy food being available in all parts of town, including a section in its comprehensive plan that discusses in detail ways the region can promote growing food. One big unmet goal: the development of a “commercial scale urban agricultural permit to protect both neighborhood and agricultural interests within the city.” That would set policies about water use, sales, number of employees and volunteers, among other things.

The city of Santa Fe’s Sustainable Santa Fe plan is ambitious enough to discuss the notion of setting a “target such as ‘30 percent of the food consumed in Santa Fe by residents will be from a 300-mile food shed by 2018.’ ”

Yet despite these lofty goals, an otherwise thriving urban farm likely will shut down this fall after five years.

Founders Poki Piottin and his partner, Dominque Pozo, are tired of fighting City Hall. Until it closes, they are donating produce to The Food Depot — 100 pounds of collard greens, Russian kale, curly kale, chard and summer squash were taken in the first installment. More will be dropped off three times a week until the end of the growing season.

To be clear, the masterminds behind Gaia Gardens were not always easy neighbors — perhaps for the community at large, but definitely not next door. Many initial changes to the land and buildings were done without proper permits or city permission. Shifting ground in a way that floods your neighbor’s property is no way to win friends. The situation is a tad more complicated than City Bureaucracy vs. the Little Garden that Could.

However, at the heart of the debate is whether Santa Fe is serious about promoting urban agriculture, something that Los Angeles and even New York City have been able to do. Santa Fe, despite its talk, is not finding ways to help farms thrive.

Whatever happens to Gaia Gardens, the city needs to write its urban agricultural ordinance — not after the next farm starts, but before.

Santa Fe needs to balance residential needs with the ability of a small farm to sell produce without trucking it off-property. A farm stand along a walking trail, as Gaia Gardens operated, should not reduce the residents’ quality of life. Goodness, the city of Santa Fe allows weekly garage sales at some houses — complete with car traffic — but couldn’t allow a stand to which people walk or bike.

Write an uncomplicated code. Why does it matter that Piottin was the not the property owner, so long as the property owner allowed the farm and the tenant could prove he had permission? Such overemphasis on rules, rather than results, just makes Santa Fe look ridiculous.

Gaia Gardens might soon become history, but its founders paved the way for smart urban agriculture.

Our Comment posted in the New Mexican

Thank you dear editorial staff for your ongoing support!
I am the co-founder of Gaia Gardens and wanted to clarify your statement about "Many initial changes to the land and buildings were done without proper permits or city permission. Shifting ground in a way that floods your neighbor’s property is no way to win friends".  THE FACTS: 1) None of the building violations on the property have to do with the farm and happened prior to our leasing the land for farming.  2) the flooding of our neighbor's basement happened the year before we started the farm and has nothing to do with the activities of the farm or the farm property for that matter.  Her house is on the flood plain and at the bottom of a hill. The heavy rains that year were responsible for the flooding.  I wanted to clarify this point because our neighbor has lied repeatedly about this.  If indeed "we" flooded her basement, why didn't she sue us?  Because it's a lie and she doesn't have a case. And a house built on a flood plain isn't allowed by code to have a basement anyway! 

More Comments here

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Community Shrine, Seed Harvest and Equipment Sale

Building a Shrine to Community

Outside of the farm gate, along the Arroyo Chamisos Trail, a shrine was created in 2012 by a group of kids from the Youth Shelters who were visiting the farm.  They dedicated the shrine to their family and extended relations, even their “enemies”  With your help we will now be expanding this shrine to offer a space for our community to express its love, grief and blessings to Mother Earth.

Because the shrine is located on a public easement, we ask that nothing “permanent” (like concrete!) be used in the creation of the Shrine.  We will supply rocks, clay and water, as well as seeds & found objects to build/adorn the shrine.  Feel free to bring artificial flowers, trinkets and such for others to use.

Volunteers Needed

As you may know, we are now giving all our produce to the Food Depot, to be distributed to several shelters, school programs and old folks homes.  We would enjoy your help at the farm for the rest of the season.  We are now planting for the fall (kale, chard, cabbage) in order to have as much food as possible to give away. We welcome volunteers Monday through Friday 7:00am-12:00pm.  Lunch is provided. 

We are not done yet.  We’ve just shifted our focus and strategy, and are committed to finishing this season in beauty, grace and gratitude.

Seed Harvest

This year, we planted a huge variety of flowers whose seeds we now wish to harvest and share with the community (gardeners, school gardens, community gardens and farms).  We need your help to collect and winnow the seeds.  Dominique is available starting next week on Mon., Wed. & Frid. between 10:00am-12:00pm to direct our seed saving effort.  

The following flowers will be harvested next week: Bachelor Button, Calendula, Feverfew, Gaillardia, Golden Marguerite, Hollyhock, Plantain, Rutabaga.

Selling Farm Equipment

Unless something happens before November, such as someone stepping up to purchase the property and keep it as a school or farm, or a farmer wanting to take a chance to farm on the property like we’ve done, (knowing that the property is in foreclosure and could be under new ownership in a very near future), we will be selling and donating the farm equipment.  We have a handicap porta potty, two greenhouses that could be relocated to another farm or community garden, dozens of rain barrels, irrigation pumps and timers, tools, pots and seeding trays, market tents and tables and much more.  A complete inventory of our equipment will soon be posted so people interested in some of the equipment can make offers.

Putting the Farm to Sleep this Fall

Our intention is to amend the garden beds as if someone will start another farming season next year.  It’s a way for us to say thank you to this land, for its generosity and abundance.  If nothing else, thousands of flowers will bloom in the garden next spring, as we will make sure the garden is seeded to feed the pollinator and birds that depend on gardens like ours. 

With Warmth and Gratitude

Dominique, Rachel & Poki

PS.  A comment from the type of neighbor we don't wish you to have.

Your business model would be perfect for a third world country, busloads of school kids, no nagging neighbors, no regulations on inspections to ensure your produce is safe...  Thailand perhaps, I saw a cheap one way ticket, the donators would get over it... bye bye bozo.  Read more of this comment

Monday, August 17, 2015