Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Economic Viability of a Small Urban Farm


All and all, 2013 has been an amazing season.  We grew twice more than we did last year even though we got hit twice by hail and were prevented by the City in June from using groups of volunteers and lodging farm interns in tents or trailers. 
We managed to grow our crops with the same limited amount of water that we worked with last season, using a precise watering regimen. Each bed received 3X10 minutes of water per day on drip tape.  Plants are set every 8” on a drip line (rated at 20gal/hr/100’ of drip line).  Each plant therefore receives exactly one cup of water a day.   Our farm consumes the same amount of water as 12 Santa Fe residents (107 gal per person average).

We grew about $2,000 worth of produce each month for 6 months. The rest of the year, we sold seeds, worms, plant starts, compost tea and, this year, during the four weeks prior to Christmas, healing salves.

Breakdown of 2013 revenues

Compost tea
Plant starts

We have 1/3 acre under cultivation so our yield for this season was $63,000/acre.

These figures could look impressive compared to the average yield of a small market farm (1-3 acre) but when one looks at the economic reality of a 1/3-acre urban farm, these figures are far from being compelling.  The cost of operating the farm in 2013 (building new structures, food for interns and volunteers, equipment, irrigation supplies, printing, seeds, organic amendment, gas, farm supplies, poultry feed, utilities, repairs, farmers market fees, organic certification fee, etc.) was around $16,000.

Gaia Gardens' NET revenues for 2013 were $5,000

(NOTE: The 2009 US Census states that the net earnings from farming activities on 90.5 percent of all farms in America (with sales less than $249,000) was on average $2,615!)

We don’t have labor costs and do not pay rent for the land we use for farming. I don’t pay rent for my housing as I manage the rentals on the property. My partner Dominique doesn’t draw any revenues from the farm.

After two farming seasons in Santa Fe, I can’t help but wonder how to make the economics of an urban farm like ours work if we are going to: 1) inspire young people to get into urban farming as a livelihood, 2) help foster an urban farming movement in Santa Fe.

Growing some 20 varieties of market vegetables, building soil, running a 22-member CSA, tending to a flock of chickens and ducks, and maintaining a year-round presence at the Farmers Market is not a part-time occupation!  Whoever chooses to get into urban farming cannot work another job, and ought to make a decent living at farming.

I am used to living on very little but I can’t expect people interested in urban farming to live by the seat of their pants like I do!

In reflecting on these financial figures as well as the reality of being prevented by the city to operate with a volunteer workforce, I can’t help but think that, unless we build a large greenhouse in order to grow year-round, and education is allowed in the text of the urban agriculture ordinance currently being re-drafted by the Food Policy Council, a small urban farm like we operate is NOT A VIALABLE economic model.

Building a large greenhouse (20’X100’) would extend our growing season and considerably add to the farm’s revenue potential. Allowing education on urban farms would let us welcome small groups of people and offer workshops, also increasing our revenue potential.  In addition, if the future urban agriculture ordinance allows school visits, urban farms can be structured as educational non-profit organizations, and thus be able to write grants and solicit donations, increasing their ability to be viable operations. 

Because I consider Gaia Gardens a community endeavor, we all need to wrap our creative minds around how to improve what the farm is doing.  Are the crops we grow relevant to this climate?  Are the prices we charge proportionate to the care that goes into growing our crops?  Is the style of farming we practice too labor intensive?  Is a 1/3-acre farm too small to expect making a living from it?

As the year comes to an end, I have a lot on my mind as far as how to proceed into next season, what to grow, and how to make it work so urban farming is truly regenerative, not just for the environment and the community, for but also for the people who choose to do this work because they believe it’s the right thing to do to bring about a healthy new culture. 

Your suggestions and participation are not only welcome but needed.  Feel free to email your ideas to

Thanks for all your support and Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Holy Cow, Holy Shit!

Greetings to you on this beautiful snowy day!

I recently attended a Biodynamic preparations workshop in Colorado where we made Horn Manure which is the basis for soil fertility and the renewal of degraded soils.  I have been using various Biodynamic preparations since we started the farm, in particular the Field Spray which aids the transformation of organic materials already in the soil into humus, and the Compost Starter used for creating healthy, effective compost.  But getting the "transmission" from Lloyd Nelson was extraordinary.  Needless to say that this winter, I will be busy reading Steiner's major writings on agriculture!

It's been a while since I found the time to write anything substantial on this blog.  For one thing, the farm being prevented by City codes to operate with groups of volunteers has kept me quite busy to say the least! And in addition to running the farm, I have inherited the management of the property as the owner now lives in Colorado, and have been dealing with the many building repairs imposed by the City.

If you've been wondering how we've been doing, I am happy to report that we are doing quite well.  As much uncertainty as we are in regarding the fate of the property and our ability to continue operating as a farm, we've been proceeding as if we will indeed do another farming season here.  As the harvest season came to a near stop (we still have chard, kale and collard growing), we have been busy putting the garden to sleep. During the winter, much activitiy goes on underground and nourishing the soil with both compost, cover crops and love is essential to building the soil health that next year's plant will depend on.  During the summer, we made over 30 yards (over 9 tons!) of compost from food scraps donations from the Food Depot and coffee grounds from Dulce.   All that yummy compost has been turned in the garden beds and they've been mulched with straw.  The straw keeps the soil protected from the damaging effects of UVs and in the early spring, keeps the weeds from growing.  I find all that work winterizing the garden very nourishing, as if putting a child to sleep.  Along with the garden, I get ready to go underground, dreaming of the sun's return and slowing down after a season that had the furious pace of a marathon!
Despite all the hurdles thrown at us by the City and neighbor, two hail storms and some major crop failures (cucumbers in particular) we managed to double the volume of food we grew last year.  In our tiny 1/3 acre farm, we managed to grow some 10,000lbs of the most delicious and nutritious produce.

This fall, we've been creating some new beds on the farm slopes. They will benefit from a better and longer sun exposure and some (berms) will only be watered with rainfall. We used corn and sunflower stalks, garden waste, horse manure and recycle potting soil from the Santa Fe Greenhouses nursery to build the bulk of the soil in these new areas.  Some of the berms edges have already been seeded with wild flowers.

Remember Brian DeBenedetti (left), my friend from Seattle who helped us build our first greenhouse last year?  Well, he's back in Santa Fe and is busy building our new luxury walk-in chicken coop (formerly an old root cellar) with the assistance of Kim (right), one of our beloved volunteers.

Speaking of volunteers, ever since the City restricted us to using only 2 volunteers at a time, our volunteer help has dwindled.  I am not one to ask for help very often but we need to beef up our circle of volunteers to support and nurture our project if we want to have a successful impact on urban agriculture in Santa Fe.  Any help is appreciated.  We are always busy building, preparing beds, sorting seeds, organizing, turning compost, tending to our feathered friends, writing grants or magazine articles and even making a documentary!  If you have any time and energy to spare, we can always find something interesting for you to do.  Our intention in this grand adventure is to share our experience and knowledge with our community in order to make it more resilient and self-sufficient.  If interested in volunteering, please email Dominique.

The City also prevented us from lodging interns (wwoofers) in a trailer.  In June, the workforce that we were planning to depend on for the operation of the farm was taken away.  We receive a lot of requests from young people interested in urban farming and we want and need to be able to accommodate them next year.  Because we don't have the facilities to lodge them, we are looking for host families for next season.  Wwoofers usually stay from one week to a month.  We provide them with a bicycle and give them a $40 stipend a week for food.  If interested in hosting one of our wwoofers next year, please contact me ASAP as we already have a waiting list of interns for 2014.

The situation raised by our project has revealed the inadequacy of Santa Fe's codes to support urban farming.  An ordinance specifically tailored to urban agriculture is in the works and in the hands of the Santa Fe Food Policy Council which has just released the draft of its Food Plan.

Thanks to our input, they've incorporated the following goals in their draft:
  • Work with Santa Fe County to incorporate land use allowances for agricultural activity into the Sustainable Land Development Code. Potential Partners: Santa Fe County Growth Management and Land Use Department, Santa Fe County Board of County Commissioners, Water and Soil Conservation Districts, local farmers and non-profits
  • Develop a Residential Agriculture Home Occupation Permit to protect neighborhood and farm interests within the city by setting policies for uses, traffic, infrastructure, employees and visitors. Potential Partners: City of Santa Fe Land Use and Zoning Department, Santa Fe City Council, neighborhood associations, non-profits, farmers, and community members 
and acknowledged us as a CONTRIBUTING STAKEHOLDER along with the following organizations;  Santa Fe County Community Services, Santa Fe County Emergency Management, Santa Fe County Growth Management and Land Use Co, Santa Fe County Open Space and Trails, City of Santa Fe Economic Development, City of Santa Fe Emergency Management, City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, City of Santa Fe Environmental Services: Sustainable Santa Fe, City of Santa Fe Parks Division: Chamber of Parks Advisory Commission, City of Santa Fe Wellness Department, Farm to Table New Mexico, Cooking with Kids, Kitchen Angels, Adelante, The Food Depot, Food for Santa Fe, Bienvenidos Outreach, The Community Farm, The Street Food Institute, Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute, La Montanita Co-op and Cooperative Distribution Center, Santa Fe Community Co-op, Homegrown NM, Gaia Gardens, Santa Fe Watershed Alliance, La Familia Medical Clinic, Santa Fe Public Schools, Institute for American Indian Arts, Santa Fe Community College, Area Agency on Aging, Eight Northern Pueblos Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (ENIPC), New Mexico Income Services Division, New Mexico Department of Health.

I've never been particularly interested or involved in local politics but with a 2014 Mayoral election and several vacancies on the city council, I have been attending house parties, labor movement gatherings and other meetings to gauge the position of mayoral and city council candidates on the issue of urban farming.  I will soon post my recommendations for the upcoming elections on this blog  (Please make sure you are registered to vote.  We need to elect a good Mayor and city councilors)


Last year, the Santa Fe chapter of Architecture for Humanity chose Gaia Gardens as the recipient of its Design Santa Fe grant.  With the help of many volunteers, they built a beautiful structure that will be used as a future (when the new urban agriculture ordinance passes!) classroom, meeting room, farm stand and food preparation area.  Thank you AFH for your kindness and generosity!

We have begun a conversation with a variety of individuals and organizations about the prospect of purchasing the Gaia Gardens property and preserving it as a trust for urban farming.  If you have the financial means to help us acquire the property, please contact us.  

In closing, I want to express my gratitude to all the people who have supported us and believe in the work that we do.  First and foremost my heart goes out to my beloved partner Dominique who keeps an undying faith in our mission and nurtures the land with so much beauty and joy.  To Jay Tallmon, the owner of the property, who from the beginning has thrown his faith in our cause. To the children who bless our land with their giggles. To the Santa Fe Farmers Market, the Santa Fe
Farmers Market Institute (on which Board of Directors I now serve), our CSA members, volunteers, generous donors, our fiscal sponsor the New Mexico Community Foundation, the Los Chamisos Homeowners Association, our neighbors, our attorney Kyle Hardwood, our architect friend Wayne Lloyd who helps us negotiate with the City, David Craver our mechanic who keeps the farm truck running, Aromaland for donating water barrels and Scrapper the cat who keeps us entertained day in and day out.

Thank you all for being part of this wild and fabulous adventure!

Happy Holidays!

PSST!.  Gaia Gardens is a non-profit project of the New Mexico Community Foundation, a 501(c)3.  Consider donating here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Offerings for the Holiday Season

We'll be at the Farmers Market every Saturday this winter selling seeds collected at the farm.  Until Christmas, we are also offering healing salves made by Dominique using many of the herbs and flowers she grew at the farm this season.

Osha-Sage infused Honey
with a splash of rum                  $13 (2oz)
A classic and well paired combination of Oshá and Sage, two herbs well known for their powerful healing effects on the respiratory tract. Both are diffusive and warming, with expectorant, soothing, and stimulating effects that make them ideal in situations where there are signs of respiratory congestion, coldness, tiredness, an achy sore throat, and possibly chronic respiratory infection. 
Oshá is an emmenagogue and is not recommended for pregnant women.

Hecate’s Healing Salve                  $13 (2oz)
Soothing and healing agent for cuts & scrapes, dry & cracked skin, rashes, fungal irritation and burns. It also helps eliminate the itch of bug bites.  Ingredients: Olive Oil**, Sunflower Oil**, Calendula Flowers*, Comfrey Leaf *, Plantain Leaf *, Yerba De La Negrita*, Golden Beeswax, Cocoa Butter**, Essential Oils of: Lemongrass, Lavender, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Rose Geranium & Roman Chamomile, Vitamin E Oil, and Grapefruit Seed Extract (*grown at the farm)(**organic)
(Hecate is an ancient Greek Goddess associated with crossroads, entrance-ways, fire, light, the Moon, magic, and knowledge of herbs and poisonous plants.  She has rulership over earth, sea and sky, as well as a more universal role as Mother of Angels and the Cosmic World Soul.  She was one of the main deities worshiped in Athenian households as a protective goddess and one who bestowed prosperity and daily blessings on the family.  May the mystic nature of this Great Goddess and the potency of the herbs come through in your healing).

Wormwood Ginger Liniment              $10 (2oz)
Used to increase blood flow to an area that has poor circulation. Prevent stiffness & soreness after heavy workouts. Provide relief from swelling and pain. Aid in lymph drainage. Ingredients: 80 proof vodka, organic fresh ginger, organic wormwood* (*grown at the farm)

Bharati’s Joint & Muscle balm      $13 (2oz)
These herbs will help heal joint and muscle disorders, alleviate the pain and swelling of rheumatism and arthritis.   Ingredients:  Olive Oil**, Sunflower Oil**, Arnica Flowers*, Comfrey Leaf*, Chili Pepper*, Holy Basil Leaf, Nettle, Tumeric, Wild-Harvested New Mexico Sagebrush, White Willow Bark, Wormwood, & Yarrow, Essential Oils of: Lavender, Ginger, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, & Clove Bud, Vitamin. E, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Beeswax.  (*grown at the farm) (**organic)

Bharati’s womb & belly butter        $13 (2oz)
This fragrant mix of warming, analgesic, and antispasmodic herbs and essential oils, combine gracefully to create a soothing balm for both cramping and sluggish digestion, i.e., the lower abdomen.    May be used by both men and women (not recommended for pregnant women as cinnamon is an emmenagogue).     Ingredients: Coconut Oil**, Sunflower Oil**, Castor Oil, Cocoa Butter**, Beeswax, Lemon Verbena*, Wormwood*, Essential Oils of: Lavender, Lemongrass, Ginger, Cinnamon, Rose Geranium, & Chamomile, Vitamin E and Grapefruit Seed Extract (*grown at the farm) (**organic)
(Bharati, Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, and science more commonly known as Saraswati, helps the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe.  It is our hope that this balm assists you in regaining your health, so that you may step into your creativity with more vigor and vitality!!)

Seed Varieties
    •    Bachelor Button (polka dot)
    •    Calendula
    •    Dill
    •    Gaillardia (red)
    •    Giant sunflower
    •    Hollyhock (pink and yellow)
    •    Indian corn (blue and rainbow)
    •    Marigold
    •    Mullein
    •    Scarlett Runner beans
    •    Tobacco (pink and yellow)
    •    Zinnia

 $3/packet        $5 for 2 packets       $11 for 5 packets

We are happy to ship if you live outside of New Mexico.  
Email us your order and we'll send you an invoice including shipping (or pick up at the Santa Fe Farmers Market on Saturdays (8:00am-1:00pm).  
10% discount for orders over $50

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Wendell Berry on His Hopes for Humanity

Wendell Berry, a quiet and humble man, has become an outspoken advocate for revolution. He urges immediate action as he mourns how America has turned its back on the land and rejected Jeffersonian principles of respect for the environment and sustainable agriculture. Berry warns, “People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.”
In a rare television interview, this visionary, author – and farmer – discusses a sensible, but no-compromise plan to save the Earth.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rules, “Regs” and Dollars: the challenge of running an urban farm in Santa Fe

Story and Photos by STEPHANIE HILLER
Published Oct 29, 2013 in La Jicarita, An Online Magazine of Environmental Politics in New Mexico

An idyllic vision of community, farming, feasting, and creating art has collided with a wall of local ordinances and at least one neighbor who feels her personal and property rights have been infringed upon.

Gaia Gardens, an urban farm created by “Poki” (Hugo) Piottin and Dominique Pozo according to biodynamic agriculture practices, is the realization of his vision of “regenerative culture, a response to the crisis in environmental destruction and abuse that threatens to overwhelm and even destroy civilization as we know it,” as he frames it.

Dominique Pozo

Poki Piottin

It is a vision that has its roots in the communal farms of the Sixties and differs from the current permaculture movement in only a few details; but like permaculture, a highly effective approach to sustainable land use, Piottin’s “regenerative culture” is a more mature effort to create a healthy, environmentally sound alternative to the corporate agriculture that now dominates the market for food.

Corporate agriculture features sophisticated machinery, highly toxic pesticides and soil amendments, monoculture, high water usage, and most recently, genetically modified foods, technologies justified as the best means for feeding the burgeoning population of the planet.

But the industrial production of foods has unpleasant consequences, as the popular documentary, The Future of Food, amply reveals; and the public has become increasingly aware that it has little control over its food supply. But where is one to get fresh healthy food? Here in Santa Fe, we have access to many farmers and organic stores, but across the country from truck stops to Safeway most of the food supply is processed, and the rest has been sprayed and otherwise adulterated.

America was once a country of small farmers, extolled by Thomas Jefferson as the very heartbeat of a democracy. Now the family farm has gone the way of the bison. Places like Gaia Gardens attempting to regenerate abused land for organic farming thus strike a chord in the hearts of many Americans who want clean food and may not be able to grow their own. The Urban Farm movement that is now taking hold in desperate cities like Detroit as well as on rooftops in Manhattan, trashed lots in Chicago, in St. Louis and elsewhere, was also inspired by the memory of the “Victory Gardens” that sprang up in response to food shortages during World War II. Where there has been nothing but junk and garbage – rocks, beer bottles, crushed cigarettes, the occasional hypodermic needle, and condoms – there is now swiss chard, tomatoes, and peas.

Urban farming is not the same thing as organic industrial farming. Based more on sharing than on profit, it often has the goal of providing fresh food to poor people without access to it. The labor, which is intensive, is supplied by neighbors augmented by visiting volunteers called “woofers” – interns or apprentices who travel to small farms to share in the work and the harvest, usually accommodated on the land in some form of housing. Woofers owe their name to a networking organization called WWOOF, Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, USA (WWOOF-USA®), whose mission “is part of a worldwide effort to link visitors with organic farmers, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices.”

At Gaia Gardens, a number of woofers helped with the work while living in trailers and tents. With their volunteer help, the farm produced bushels of colorful vegetables without machines or chemicals, demonstrating ecological techniques of recycling, composting, and pest control, and bringing school children out to see where real food comes from. It also holds monthly potlucks where neighbors share the food they grow, creating a convivial atmosphere of community and sense of shared purpose, and beautifying the grounds in view of the public hiking trail.

But not everyone in the neighborhood was enchanted; in particular, one woman, a retired lawyer whose house directly abuts a corner of the property, became increasingly irritated despite what Piottin sees as his best efforts to mollify her. Finally, she filed a detailed complaint that brought city investigators crashing down on the beaming faces of blooming sunflowers and threatened to bring to a close Gaia’s two year sojourn.
Gaia Gardens is located in a residential neighborhood that is zoned R-5. Properties in this type of zone are not allowed to engage in commercial activity. Their activities are governed by the Home Occupation Ordinance, which restricts the number of nonresident employees or volunteers to two. Having workers live in tents is also not allowed.

For neighbor Susan Turner it may have seemed that Occupy had come to stay, with people living in temporary and unpermitted dwellings with limited facilities. (She declined to be interviewed, saying she was too busy.) Her complaint, in addition to identifying relevant zoning regulations and unpermitted structures, also accuses the city of not responding to earlier, unofficial communications. She charges, among other things, that the neighboring vegetable garden is “massive . . . a large scale for- profit agricultural production” in which workers “frequently work into the night, sometimes picking by means of car lights shining on the garden.”

Gaia Gardens next to Susan Turner's house

The garden occupies approximately one acre on a 3.5 acre piece. Gaia Gardens is not-for-profit, and not large scale.

The complaint further calls the property an “eye-sore” and a “possible health hazard,” alleging that “trash, retired piles of building materials, various equipment, etc., is piled in various areas.” But a visit to Gaia Gardens this month revealed no garbage. Piottin told La Jicarita that the property was trashed when he rented it two years ago, and he carried away loads of junk and rocks before he could begin to nourish the dried, hard soil.

Turner’s complaint also refers to the “degradation” of property values caused by the farm, “as well as a gross invasion of our quality of life as homeowners” and called for a “complete halt” to the operation.  But other neighbors see the garden as a valued addition to their neighborhood. Deb Farson, who lives within the neighboring Arroyo Chamiso complex, told LJ the garden greatly enhanced the view from the trail.
Farson is the head of the Neighborhood Association for the complex that recently sent a letter to the Land Use Department expressing its support for the project. She said the situation is complicated by the property’s history of multiple owners, many of whom trashed the property. For her, Gaia Gardens is a great improvement to what was there before.

Asked whether Piottin was responsive to neighbor concerns, she said “absolutely,” citing an instance when the ducks in a pen near the residences kept residents awake at night. When they complained to Piottin, he relocated the duck pen.

But the critical issue, that sent up a red flag to the city’s Land Use Department, was Piottin’s creation of a farm stand that was open to the neighborhood three days a week.  The Home Occupation Ordinance does not allow for products of any kind to be sold on private property. Food grown in the garden should be for the family. Excess may be sold at farm markets.

Gaia Gardens is a tenant. The present owner of the property, Stuart Jay Tallmon, resides in Colorado; he has entrusted much of the management to Piottin.  When investigators determined that permit violations existed, a Notice of Violation was sent to Tallmon dated June 7, demanding immediate action.

In a phone interview, Land Use Director Matthew O’Reilly confirmed the property was not suitable for public use such as visiting school groups, interns staying in tents, and film showings. O’Reilly claims to have received “untold calls” about the Gardens, with neighbors calling to complain while supporters lived further away. For him, “the law is the law” and it’s his job to enforce it.

But he confessed he was not unsympathetic to the project. “I understand the sentiment completely,” he avowed. “I think this is a good debate to be having. If our governing body [the city council] decides this is the way to go, I’d be more than happy to enforce it.”

A resolution by Councilor Patti Bushee, directing staff to “draft amendments to the city code…related to the establishment of a permitted use in certain zoning districts for farm stands and urban agriculture,” is currently on hold, pending recommendations from the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission, which will consider the issue over the coming months within the context of a “range of food issues, including food security, food justice, the capacity of the region to produce food,” according to Katherine Mortimer, head of the Commission. In a phone conversation with LJ, Mortimer also said that the resolution, which would permit farm stands like Piottin’s, did not originate around the Gaia Gardens controversy.

Acknowledging that she has never visited the farm, she said she doesn’t want the Gardens to be a “lightning rod” for this issue. Past experience has shown her (she has worked on land policy issues for 30 years) that one person with a contentious issue can derail fruitful progress on a larger concept; the discussion centers on the contentions.
Referring to the complaints of “one neighbor,” Mortimer added that one of the neighbor’s claims – that Piottin dumped manure “three feet from her bedroom window” – suggests that her house may not be in compliance with regulations requiring “houses to be at least ten feet from the property line.” But she does not want to be engaged in any part of the Gaia Gardens issue.

On a chilly fall morning following a raging thunderstorm, I sat with Poki Piottin, wearing the wool jacket he loaned me for protection from the cold wind. Despite the brisk wind, the landscape before us was dazzling – a handmade horno, slightly beaten up by the night’s storm; a field of pumpkins ripening in the sun; rows of brilliant red chard; and beyond, the Arroyo Chamiso. No piles of building materials or trash were in sight.

Piottin, better known as Poki, hails from Lyon, France. He spoke with considerable fervor about the vision he had had several years ago on his way to Seattle, of a “regenerative culture” that would restore abused lands and create community around the growing of healthy foods.

Swiss Chard

Poki  had once – “in another life” – been a businessman, the initiator, among other things, of a famous grunge club and later the developer of a software company that was eventually bought out. But when the World Trade Organization protests hit Seattle and the police responded en masse, Poki saw what citizens are up against and understood the pressing need for a new society.

Now in his fifties, he became a farmer only a few years ago. With his partner, Dominique Pozo, he founded Gaia Gardens in 2011 and is deeply committed, not only to the project but to the vision of a radically new culture that it is intended to model.

He was drawn to this spot because it is “visible from the Chamiso trail, not hidden away from the people.” Not content to just grow food and sell it, he really aims to educate people of all ages about how – and why – to grow food sustainably.

“I was looking at all the components of culture,” he says, in a radio broadcast, “habitat, livelihood, money, food production, education, eldercare, healthcare, the more I was gravitating toward farming, how all these problems were stemming from an agriculture that’s toxic, and exploitive and destructive, so in order to build a culture that is healthy and sane…we need to rebuild agriculture.

“Urban agriculture can touch a lot of people quickly,” he added, and that is his goal.

He is very frustrated by the city’s response to his forthright attempts to acquire a business license and follow the laws; he says he did what he was told to do. He knew that the farm stand might be illegal, but there was no space available at the Saturday Farmers’ Market and he needed to sell some produce, so he contacted the mayor, whom he had once met, to ask if he could receive a special permit to allow him to do it. Instead of hearing from the mayor’s office, he received a letter from the Land Use office citing him for infractions. He complains that he was scolded like a child by a man ten years younger than he.

He appears to be a man who is willing to play by the rules but is unable to wait years for the bureaucratic process to create the rules that would allow him to follow his dream.

At the October potluck, probably the last event until next year (if the farm is able to continue), a table serving as a buffet was piled with foods. People settled in around three tables in the outdoor kitchen. It grew dark, with only a makeshift chandelier of white Christmas lights over one table. Some people were neighbors, others came from farther afield, outside the city. Among them were people who were helping Poki disentangle the crossed wires of regulations and permits.

Poki sat down only long enough to eat and join a discussion about what happened and how to proceed. He doesn’t stay idle long. When I arrived, he was grating cheese. Later I saw him rolling out pizza dough. The pizza that landed on the buffet table was the best I have ever had.

The Gaia Gardens experiment promises much: the new vision that is emerging  all across the country of more sustainable land use and safer, healthier food could well be a viable response to a system of agriculture that just isn’t working for everyone. People like Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo are not trying to overthrow the government; they are fostering a return to a way of life that was America, and that offers promise for the future.

But, like other urban farms, there are problems. Not only will regulations need to change, which has happened in several cities, and neighbors accommodated, but water rights may also be at issue.

And then there is money.

As Poki explained at the potluck, “This type of farming is so intensive, you have to live on the land. You have to devote your total attention to it.

“So if you can’t sell the food, you can’t survive.”

Someone asked how many people this one-acre farm could feed.

“You won’t have the butter. You won’t have the quinoa. But vegetables, grains, eggs from the chickens? Maybe 20. Maybe 15.”

The challenge for urban farming, clearly, resides not only in re-crafting the regulations but in how those numbers will add up.

The Sustainable Santa Fe Commission has sponsored several meetings to address issues Katherine Mortimer described above. An upcoming meeting will be held November 2 at the Southside Community Fiesta at Zona del Sol located at 6601 Jaguar Drive.  There will be a community listening session covering a range of topics with mention of the Food Plan and a system for collecting comments on the larger goal areas so far identified for that plan, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. that day.

Stephanie Hiller is an independent journalist and editor based in Santa Fe. She blogs at

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In the Press Sunday Oct. 13

As a longtime ecology educator in town, I wondered what all the fuss is about Gaia Gardens, so I rode the bike trail right to the gardens and visited the only educational produce garden in the city.
As a gardener of four decades in Santa Fe’s challenging high desert environs, I was impressed by what I discovered. Even more so with the winds of climate change. Gaia Gardens is beautiful, productive and resilient, because its caretakers understand soil microbiology, are dedicated to building soil fertility and water wisely with state-of-the-art drip irrigation (four times a day for 10 minutes — brilliant!)

Only one neighbor out of a hundred in the neighborhood has complained about “the activities of the farm being beyond the scope of a home occupation business”; examples cited were using small groups of volunteers to run the farm operation and welcoming a few groups from the neighborhood schools. Why can’t the Gaia Gardens people, who are excellent youth mentors, and whose project is so needed in Santa Fe, work with groups of volunteers and school groups for free?

These are vegetable farmers who make $500 per week during the growing season, a far cry from the neighbor’s description of the farm being a “massive commercial operation.” So few people who attempt these types of community gardening projects succeed. The hurdles and challenges are too many. The restrictions imposed by the city already have badly damaged the farm financially.

But worse, neighbors, many of them elders and children, have been prevented from gathering and working together as they had done for the past year. It would be a shame to lose these gardens and see its operators relocate to a more urban farm-friendly town. I doubt that anybody will try again having a neighborhood farm school in Santa Fe after this experience.

The Gaia Gardens folks are exemplary teachers: kind, disciplined and generous. They did not deserve to be maligned. Their being called “bad neighbors” in the press is a shame when the neighborhood association of 43 homes bordering the farm on two sides has voted in favor of having the farm in the neighborhood.

Santa Fe needs to make this excellent educational gardening project possible, or the next generation will not learn this most vital human knowledge which we desperately need for each new generation. Each neighborhood needs a gardens and youth project. Perhaps this can be surmounted with “a little help from our friends” such as the Santa Fe youth and ecology supporting foundations? We are nominating the main gardeners, Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo, for the next New Mexican “10 Who Made a Difference” award and as Santa Fe Living Treasures.

I encourage all the city councilors to visit this unique urban farm, as Ron Trujillo and Peter Ives have already done. I hope the Gaia Gardens folks will be able to persevere and get past the hurdles, and that people realize the great gift this farm gives Santa Fe. These are the folks that we need involved in the new Arroyo de los Chamisos watershed enhancement the city is about to embark on.

If you read their blog at I believe you will see the truth of the situation. Please, wise citizens of Santa Fe, help save Gaia Gardens. They need and deserve to be championed.

Chris Wells is director of the All Species Project’s “Healing human relationship to the Earth, elements and species through cultural arts and applied ecology.” He has been the recipient of The Santa Fe New Mexican “10 who made a Difference” award, as well as the Roger Tory Petersen Award for excellence in ecological education.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gaia Gardens is a finalist (1 of 7) for the SPREAD grant!

Come have dinner at the Farmers Market on October 11 and vote for us!

See details for the SPREAD event here

SPREAD 4.0 dinner will take place on Friday, October 11, at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Doors will open at 6:45 pm.

Because all the ticket proceeds will become the grant for the winning artist proposal, tickets are sold CASH ONLY on a sliding scale $15-$50. Space is limited. Sorry, no phone or email reservations. All tickets will be sold in person at SITE in advance of the event on the following days:

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 9, starting at 6:00 pm, at SITE Santa Fe: Limited tickets will be released for current SITE members only (two tickets per Member in line, please). Not a member? Join now!

IN ALBUQUERQUE at Winning Coffee Co. 111 Harvard Drive Southeast, Albuquerque, NM 87106 starting at 5 pm, tickets will be released for general public (two tickets per person in line, please).

IN SANTA FE at SITE Santa Fe starting at 6 pm, tickets will be released for general public (two tickets per person in line, please).


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Los Chamisos Neighborhood Supports Gaia Gardens

Resolution in Support of Gaia Gardens 
The following resolution was proposed and approved by the Board of Directors of the Los Chamisos Association on September 4, 2013
WHEREAS the Los Chamisos Association, an association of 43 homes on 5 cul-de-sacs located off Paseo de los Chamisos, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is an immediate neighbor with a common property line to the small urban farm known as Gaia Gardens (see attached map), and 

WHEREAS at least 80% of the residents living within the Los Chamisos Association actively support the existence of Gaia Gardens, and
WHEREAS the Los Chamisos Association supports Association homeowners who wish to pursue alternative energy, plant a drought tolerant and sustainable landscape, and who wish to grow some of their own food, and
WHEREAS the Los Chamisos Association has a small community garden of its own,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Los Chamisos Association
Supports the concept of urban farms and the presence of Gaia Gardens in our neighborhood in particular, and
Supports the concept of farm food stands, including Gaia Gardens, for neighborhood access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and
Supports the concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA),  including Gaia Gardens, and
Supports the use of these farms as educational centers, including Gaia Gardens, that would reach out to schools, the Diabetes Center, and the surrounding neighborhoods, and
Encourages the City of Santa Fe to work with Gaia Gardens to secure the necessary permits and make any necessary changes to ensure that Gaia Gardens continues as a presence in our community for the benefit of the homeowners of the Los Chamisos Association and the many other residents in the larger community who have benefited from the produce and education provided by Gaia Gardens. 

The Los Chamisos Association
P.O.Box4123    SantaFe  New Mexico 87502-4123 

The Los Chamisos Association consists of five cul-de-sacs with 43 homes. 

The Association borders the Gaia Gardens property on two sides (see map below) and shares the Paseo de los Chamisos street access and street parking.

A poll of all Association households asking their opinion about the presence of Gaia Garden in the neighborhood gave these results:

  • 34 “yes we support”—nearly all were emphatic “yeses” 
  • 7 no opinion or no response 
  • 1 “we do not support” 
  • 1 “we don’t support how this farm has been done (not following the rules), but do like the idea of urban farms