Thursday, June 27, 2013

Inspiration, Elections and Childhood Wonder

Today, five building inspectors came for yet another visit.  They found many building violations on sheds, a basement apartment and the metal shop.  None of these buildings have anything to do with the farm.  Because of these violations, our ability to obtain a home occupation license may be jeopardized. 

City inspectors were thorough, polite and friendly.  I command them for their professionalism and kindness.

After a busy morning of inspections and a conversation with Jackie Jadrnak, from Journal Santa Fe, I spent a brief moment in the garden to weed and connect with the plants.  In the past few weeks, I have spent an enormous amount of time on email and phone, dealing with the crisis that we have been facing.  My daily work in the garden has been seriously hampered to say the least.  It seems as though the weeds have been taking advantage of my absence.

This evening, after three weeks of being pissed, combative, depressed and deeply concerned about the fate of the farm, I finally found myself inspired.

Ms. Turner, the neighbor who complained to the City about our activities, has not only brought our neighborhood closer but also galvanized the larger community around the critical issue of urban food production and its potential benefits to a City.  Her actions have also revealed how zoning codes are preventing urban farming and education on the topic from taking place in residential neighborhood.

So for that, Ms. Turner, I am deeply grateful to you!  You have served a pivotal role in initiating a timely community conversation.

City officials follow procedures, dictated by codes and regulations.  They don’t make policies.  I imagine that sometimes, they themselves find it difficult to enforce certain codes because their language is so vague. For example, the Notice of Violation that was issued to the property owner states that the farm has too many visitors and it’s not allowed in a residential neighborhood.  How does the City determines what’s too many?  Our neighbors directly across the street all state in their letters of support that they’ve never experienced traffic, noise or parking issues. Are the codes interpreted and enforced arbitrarily and capriciously in our City different?

My inspiration this evening has to do with wanting to work WITH the City and not AGAINST the City.  To that effect, our legal counsel, representatives from the neighborhood, the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute, the New Mexico Community Foundation, teachers, parents and others will soon be developing a plan to engage City officials, neighborhood groups and policy makers to look at how our zoning codes need to be amended to support the creation of a resilient community.

The situation that we face can be turned into a tremendously creative opportunity.

Our troubles with the City have brought many of our neighbors to the farm.  They have attended our potlucks and we are attending theirs this weekend.  Many parents have expressed their gratitude for what we offer.

When I met with a panel of senior Land Use planners over a year ago, at the end of our meeting, I offered to share our experience with them after a year of operation.  That time is now and my offer stands more than ever.

What we’ve done in a year’s time is way beyond growing a magnificent garden.  What we’ve done is engage a large and varied community of people, neighbors, students, children, parents, organizations, businesses (our sponsors), to create a model of community farming where sharing knowledge, resources, ideas, feelings and support has brought numerous benefits to all parties involved.

We have also shown that we were able to quickly build healthy soil using food scraps from restaurants and food banks, grow a large and diverse amount of crops, offer our environment to school for field trips, generate revenues from the farm and give away hundreds of plants to gardeners, school gardens, farms and community gardens.  We did all this on a shoestring, demonstrating that with a vision, a community and determination, we can grow food in the City with very little water.

In our upcoming conversations with City officials and policy makers, we want to offer our experience (including all the mistakes we made!) for the benefit of this City.

The 2008 Santa Fe Sustainable Plan, approved by the City Council and the Mayor) states the following:

        Design and implement a City Harvest (food within the city) program to create multiple food growing, processing, storing, and selling opportunities
        Review the variety of urban harvest programs that are happening in the U.S. and elsewhere to expand awareness of multiple techniques and to develop multiple pilot research projects to determine the most productive and sustainable methods for Santa Fe.
         Identify and reduce barriers- legal, economic, educational, etc. to urban agriculture including the retailing of food.
         Include food growing opportunities into all affordable housing as a critical component of economic and food security
         Develop programs for urban gardening for the homeless and low-income people, as well as therapy for those with mental and physical disabilities and for urban “at-risk” youth, ex-cons, etc.

Gaia Gardens, without the help of the City or grant money, has done many of the above.

Is it time for the City Council to get to work on amending the City codes to implement its Sustainable Santa Fe plan?

It’s election year.  The topics of food security, community resilience and sustainabilty education should be high in the range of election conversations.

Think about how you personally want to make this city truly different.

Thank you for all your support, hard work, love and inspiration.


Dear Santa Fe City Council,

I'm writing today because I want you to know the scope of impact Gaia Gardens, Poki and Dominique have had on our family. The following are only but a few reasons why Gaia Gardens is important for my family, but most of all, for my children. (Ages 6.5 and 3 years) During our bike rides to this extraordinary farm, my girls truly partnered with Mother Nature to make magic.



















Working at Gaia Gardens, my children have experienced the deep satisfaction that comes from caring for something over time, while observing the cycle of life firsthand. They eat the foods that they've nurtured and watch grow at the farm in our very own kitchen. That, I can say, is a real privilege these days for children. They have also participated in blessings for animals (who were dear, dear friends) that have crossed over. This experience had a profound impact on my older daughter who is now no longer afraid of dying. And she still prays at night to "Blondie" the chicken, thanking her for their special friendship. These rich life experiences are precious to me as a mother, and can't be mimicked by reading a book, writing an essay or watching a movie.

Gardening with Poki and Dominique gave my girls a chance to learn important life skills, many that are overlooked in standard school curriculums. By exploring the workings of nature, my children are learning patience, persistence and respect in the garden. They have to wait for nature to take its course. Patience is a trait that is often lost in our society. They have learned about boundaries and teamwork. Both girls helped load stones onto a truck with other volunteers (age ranging from twenty to seventy years old). They then helped prepare for lunch for their fellow volunteers by diligently cleaning off the counter tops and setting up chairs. They left that day feeling empowered and an important part of the greater good.



One day my child learned that worms are not just slimy and gross; they are garden friends and they help compost thrive. Another day they learn the art of carefully transplanting, watering and growing chard. A third day she pulls a carrot from the earth, brushes it off, and eats it. A fourth day she crawls around hunting for duck eggs for our following morning pancakes. These girls have had rich experiences and Gaia Gardens, indeed!

This garden is a true treasure chest; I and my young gardeners, exploring together, have discovered its priceless bounty. I am forever grateful for what Gaia Gardens has blessed my children with. For these reasons above, I hope you consider allowing Gaia Gardens to continue nurturing the natural magnetic attraction between children and the earth.

May we celebrate the wonder of childhood.


Katie



What our Neighbors Say


















When I think about the conditions I want to see my three- year old daughter grow up in, I think about a shared sense of community, connection to place and land, and the opportunity to work with and inspire others to grow the vitality of the place in which they live.  I firmly believe that Gaia Gardens embodies all of these qualities, and while it is a new member of our community, it represents a beacon of hope and vibrancy in a place that continues to face increasing challenges.    Adam


We are writing to share with you our gratitude for our local urban farm, Gaia Gardens. Gaia Gardens provides us with a place to go to learn gardening techniques, share in local foods, and teach our child about plants, chickens, ducks, and community. We have an 8-month old baby who loves her days at the Gardens where Poki shows her baby ducks and lets her play with plants and dirt. We are also grateful to have the opportunity to be part of a Community-Supported-Agriculture program, right in our neighborhood.   Amber and Rob


My wife Karen and I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your efforts in creating Gaia Gardens.  We are homeowners next door in Los Chamisos and have enjoyed watching the transformation of barren land into a lush garden.  Creating these gardens gives opportunity for many to learn about sustainable organic farming techniques that can be used by anyone.  The gardens are testament to what can be done without the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers.  As a teacher, I hope to use Gaia Gardens as a "field trip" lesson for my students.  Gaia Gardens is a wonderful neighbor and we look forward to visiting your operation for many years to come. 
Bob & Karen


We are residents of Los Chamisos Association, and live very close to Gaia Gardens. This project has been executed with care and concern for the environment. We have absolutely no objections to the continuation of this project. To see the gardens from the arroyo is a beautiful sight, and only makes people more aware of the possibilities of eating foods that are locally grown. 
Our personal experiences with the gardens have been only good, and we would be very disappointed to have any changes take place for Gaia Gardens.    
Brian and Linda


In the past 18 months, Gaia Gardens has been a great supporter of our community garden organization. We have received a number of valuable donations from Gaia Gardens, including donations of steel drums to regulate the temperature in our hoop house, as well as composting resources and a large number of vegetable and herb plant seedlings. We consider Gaia Gardens to be a great supporter and benefactor for community gardening in Santa Fe. I believe that by providing quality food, educational resources and space for community gatherings and events, Gaia Gardens is a tremendous asset to the City of Santa Fe.  Duskin


I live a few houses away from Gaia Gardens and have found it to be an exciting addition to our neighborhood.  Fresh, local, sustainable food from a known source is becoming increasingly important to our community. Many of us in the neighborhood have attended events at the garden and have volunteered our time in support.  Gaia gardens is doing more than just grow healthy food, the farm has welcomed the community to participate in planting, growing and eating the food.  It has become a center for teaching children about healthy food, how to grow it, and the importance of a healthy environment.  Gaia Gardens has been an excellent neighbor: Poki Piotin and the other volunteers have gone out of their way to reach out to the neighborhood and invite them to participate.  They have also worked hard to address any of the neighbors' concerns.  Deb


Our property is adjacent to the Gaia Gardens property.  Chickens are on the other side of our coyote fence.  Since the ducks were moved to a better location, we have been happy and so are the ducks.  The garden itself is very well planned and looks great.  We have seen several groups of school children taking advantage of the educational opportunity offered by the people at Gaia Gardens.  Personally, we are looking forward to the variety of fresh vegetables offered soon by Gaia Gardens at the Santa Fe farmers market.  Tomatoes are our favorites.  Try it-you will love it. Don

Gaia Gardens, which in my opinion is one of the leading innovations in Santa Fe in recent years, has the potential to be a catalyst trend creator in sustainability for the local area in a country and world that increasingly needs sustainability. New Mexico was just named the worst state in the nation for a child to grow up, mostly due to poverty. It has unseated Mississippi. It has been shown that living sustainably and being able to grow one’s own food is a step towards prosperity, especially among children who are so keen on gardening and plants. It is a shame that your time has to be spent fighting non-sense laws instead of helping Santa Fe lead the state in living sustainably.   Joe

I live in the small housing complex next to Gaia Gardens.  When it was first being put in, I thought it was another set of houses and was upset; I liked the open land next to us.  When I realized that it was a community garden I was instead overjoyed!  Poki and his folks have been good neighbors, quiet and a great asset to my neighborhood, which I consider to be a small community unto itself.  The activities of the farm are of no nuisance whatsoever, and are instead beneficial to myself and to my neighbors around me.  I have not experienced any traffic or parking issues.  Kevin

My mother and I live across the street from the gardens at 2224 Paseo de los Chamisos.  We had been living at my Tierra de Zia condo on the other side of the bike path and that’s when I first discovered you on my morning walks.  I was so impressed with your gardening and composting projects along the bike path. I had spent 1 ½ year searching for a house to purchase for me and my mother, and found the townhouse across from you in the Los Chamisos subdivision.  The fact that Gaia Gardens was there was an extra added benefit to the location of the property. You are wonderful, friendly, community-oriented people.  Your use of the property, I am sure, has kept theft and the potential for derelicts to hang out in the neighborhood down.  You are certainly an asset to the whole neighborhood. Santa Fe should bring more gardening into both city and residential areas.  I think it is fantastic!  Laurrie

I have been taking my sons Spencer, 8, and Liam, 4, to Gaia Gardens for the past two years and have been extremely impressed with the gardens, the staff, the volunteers, and the centralized location.   Liam likes to feed the ducks and chickens, and Spencer likes to weed!  They have been extremely generous to the community educating children and parents alike about responsible gardening and responsible use of our precious water resources.   It seems that there has been a misinterpretation of the happenings at Gaia.  From a parent's perspective, and a professional gardener's perspective, they are a huge asset to this community and should be encouraged with every means possible to continue their excellent work.  Linda



I am a mother of 2 children, Rosa (4) and Rico (6 months).  We live in walking distance of Gaia Gardens.  Since summer of 2012, our weekly visits to the garden have been part of our family’s cherished routine.  Because of the ease and access to Gaia Gardens, my 4-year old daughter knows some of the ins-and-outs of farm life!  Gaia Gardens has provided us with fresh, nutritious food as well as real-life experience of community, sustainability and well being.  I ask you to support urban farming, including the allowance of volunteers and visitors, in accordance with the following 2008 Sustainable Santa Fe Plan action item: “Amend the Development Code to encourage locally grown food to both reduce GHG emissions and prepare for future rises in fuel costs to transport food into the area”.  Shanna

We have lived at 2215 Rancho Siringo Rd. for half a year. Gaia Gardens is a great asset to the community. We have children who need to have the opportunity to understand that food comes from a garden first, not a grocery store. When I have mentioned to people where we live they have said to me, “You live by the gardens? What a great thing for the community!” The gardens are beautifully maintained and there have been no problems with parking or traffic.  Michelle 

Last year I delighted in visiting the farm stand. The stand contributed to a sense of neighborhood and community as I chatted with other local homeowners while buying delicious vegetables. I was happy and proud to share in the opportunity to eat delicious locally grown vegetables without driving to the supermarket to buy vegetables shipped from far away.  I felt I contributed a bit to a better world and healthier society.  Susan

We live directly across the street in the La Serena Place cul-de-sac of the Los Chamisos Association.  In that position, we have ample opportunity to observe activities at Gaia Gardens across the street (Paseo de Los Chamisos).  You have enhanced the overall appearance of your property, which in prior years had gone through somewhat of a decline.  It's wonderful to walk the Arroyo Chamisos Trail and see your beautiful gardens and well-kept surrounding grounds.  Traffic on the street has not been a problem  Your friends park in a neat and orderly fashion and don't block other driveways.  Noise is never an issue and you have always been quickly responsive to any concerns our association has raised.  Vic & Joni

I write this note to express my gratitude to Gaia Gardens for the two flats of organic heirloom tomatoes that they gave me. This is increasingly helpful to a young/new farmer and a generous gesture.  Gaia Gardens has been a wonderful addition to our SF Farmers Market Community and makes an incredible contribution to the greater community by modeling and sharing sustainable practices.  Serafina, Lovely Day Farm

Press Coverage and Happy Ducklings

































(Click on image to see New Mexican article)







(Click on image to see video)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Witch Hunt is Under Way




















Someone forwarded our latest Facebook post to the editor of the New Mexican.  They will be running a story on the farm situation tomorrow Wed. 6/25.   The reporter only had a few hours to write the story so I am not sure how fair or accurate her article will be.

After being issued a Notice of Violation on the property, Gaia Gardens agreed with the City to comply (for now until we can either argue the violation points, ask for a variance or address the city council for a code amendment) with:
  • having no volunteers at the farm
  • no farm interns or wwoofers
  • no lodging in recreational vehicles
  • no visitors like school groups
  • no promotion of events on our website

The Notice of Violation addresses some "building not permitted" which we understood to be sheds built by one of the tenants on the property.

The City is now requesting access to all the buildings on the property (7 rental units + a shop) because "there have been reports of work being done without permits".

The City is sending several inspectors and have asked to look into every unit and get at least a couple hours for the visit.

It will be the 4th visit by various inspectors in 3 months.

The City cannot prevent us from growing food and selling it except by denying us a home occupation license because of building codes violations on the property.

They are obviously on a witch hunt and determined to prevent us from operating as a farm, the first certified organic farm in the City of Santa Fe.

I am not sure of their political agenda but all we've been doing is demonstrating a large urban garden, selling produce at the farmers market and inviting schools and other organizations for field trips.

We are a non-profit project of the NM Community Foundation and have operated with volunteers and support from a large community from the beginning.

The death of a successful urban farm may be under way.

The inspection will take place on Thursday and representatives from the neighborhood will be present in addition to one of the attorneys representing us.

Needless to say that we are overwhelmed by the workload that this situation represents.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Gaia Gardens needs your Help


 








Dear Friends and Readers,
After two weeks of dealing with the harsh reality of our farm being prevented to use volunteers and interns in its operation, as well as welcome visitors such as schools and other organizations, it is becoming clearer that what Gaia Gardens is facing is reminiscent of what our World is facing.
On one hand, we have a deep ecological, climate, political and economic crisis, on the other a system of codes, policies, politics, regulations and mindsets that prevent people from gathering in community, and do what their heart tells them is the right thing to do.
Gaia Gardens is much more than an urban farm.  It has been built with community and has provided a place for people to gather, learn, share, make friends, exchange ideas and feel part of something sane in a world gone insane.
Upon order from the City, we’ve had to operate with a skeleton (I’ve been losing much weight!) crew and deal with building violations (shed built without permits by another tenant), in addition to dealing with breakdowns in our well water system (when it rains it pours!).
Besides a few conversations with lawyers, a meeting with City Councilman Peter Yves, and an effort to let people know what’s happening around the farm, we haven’t had much time to deal with anything else beside farm work and farmers markets.
Because the issues are so critical, we need to organize in order to work with politicians and organizations to evolve the City codes so food production, the sale of food on urban farms and using volunteers/interns in urban farm operations, are allowed.
Most Cities around the country have already passed ordinances to support urban agriculture.  They’ve all come to see it as a way to build resilient and healthy community.
Dominique and I are working around the clock to keep this beautiful farm together and need your help.
We need to draft the text for both a paper and online petition. We are looking for experienced people in these matters.
They will be used for our argument to the City Council.
All we’ve done in the past 16 months of tending this garden is set the stage for a much larger body of work.  The timing of the Violation Notice from the City couldn’t be more perfect.  It is literally a death sentence on a farm that has been built with the sweat and support from a large community, has inspired many people and neighbors, delighted many children, and fed countless pollinators and migrating birds.
Gaia Gardens is a community project.  Its current stand off with the City is a community project.
Please let us know if you have, or know people who have the skills, resources and connections to help not only Gaia Gardens survive, but create the conditions for future urban farm projects to flourish in Santa Fe.
With deep gratitude, and faith that we are all engaged in a deep process of transforming and healing our World.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Flower and Herb Starts for Sale

 



























We'll be at the Santa Fe and Eldorado farmers market selling flower and herb starts for one or maybe two more weeks.


After that, we'll only be selling produce from the garden as it is becoming abundant.



If you are interested in flower and herb starts (most of the plants listed below are excellent food for pollinators), please visit us at the Farmers Market or place your order here and we can deliver (we can't sell at the farm because we are in a residential neighborhood).



Please spread the word about our sale. 
Help us raise funds for our legal defense.


Plant starts are $2.00 each.  20% discount for orders over $50



Thanks for your support!



Alyssum

Bells of Ireland

Broadleaf Sage

Cardinal Climber

Celosia

Chamomile

Dark Orange Calendula

Gaillardia/Portulaca Mix (4 pack)

Golden Marguerite

Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate

Lemonbalm

Lobelia Trainling

Love in a Mist

Oregano

Parsley

Perfect Mix

Polka Dot Bachelor Button

Portulaca

Red Rubin Basil

Scarlet Flax Linum

Sensational Cosmos

Snapdragon

St. John's Wort

Sunflower (Autumn Beauty )

Sunflower (Italian White )

Sunflower (Teddy Bear)

Tobacco (Cigar Wrapper~pink flower)

Tobacco (Santo Domingo Pueblo)

Tobacco (Smoking~yellow flower)

Thyme

White Swan Echinacea

Zinnia (Cali. Giant)

Zinnia (Shades of Pink )

Zinnia (Thumbelina)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Our Last Event (for now!)

Hosted last Monday (see below), in partnership with Del Norte Credit Union.  

Gaia Gardens is providing 6 free CSA shares weekly to low income families dealing with diabetes.

The neighbor(s) complaints and the City's enforcement of its home occupation code are now preventing all our educational programs from taking place.

A sad thing when the State of New Mexico is currently ranked #1 in children malnutrition!











(Click on image for a larger view)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Coming Soon to a Farmers Market Near You!
















Add caption











No more Volunteers and Visitors allowed at the Farm

Two days ago, we received a Notice of Violation letter from the City (see excerpt below), asking us to “cease operations immediately” because attracting numerous visitors (how many is too many the City doesn’t have it written in its codes!) and working with volunteers in a residential neighborhood is against City codes.  

A Home Occupation License only permits two employees maximum to work on a Home Business.  The citation also addresses some building issues and the use of a recreational vehicle for lodging (my home!).

I have agreed verbally with the City, and will follow with a requested written statement, that Gaia Gardens will:

  • no longer have volunteers work on the farm operation
  • no longer have Wwoofer (farm interns) work on the farm operation
  • host no events of any kind
  • no longer welcome schools or other organizations to visit the farm.
  • have no more trailer on the land (I’m now officially homeless!)
The City is enforcing its code after some neighbors complained about the activities at the farm.  The vast majority of our neighbors love the farm and have sent letters of support, but one neighbor’s complaint on a code violation is enough to force the City to enforce its codes.  That’s the way our system unfortunately functions.  Sometimes for the good, sometimes at the expense of community, health and education.

We are therefore forced to comply with the City codes and scale down our operation or risk to: 

1)    incur fines of $500/day for non-compliance and 90 days of jail time for each day of non-compliance.
2) risk to irritate the City Administration and jeopardize our ability to gain political support and get the City to amend its codes as every other major city in the US has done, or is in the process of doing, to allow urban farming to flourish in inner cities.

Dominique and I will carry on the season by ourselves and will creatively attempt to garner community support to address the City Council with a request to amend the codes to allow urban farming and the sale of produce on urban farms in residential neighborhoods.  

Several organizations, including the New Mexico Community Foundation, our fiscal sponsor, the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute and others are looking at ways to assist us in our effort to amend City codes.

We regret to announce that we can no longer accept volunteers nor welcome visitors to the farm.  

It is a very sad turn of event for us, and also an opportunity to form a broad coalition of concerned citizens and organizations to assist the City to evolve its codes to foster a healthy and resilient culture.

Should you have any questions or a willingness to help organize to address the City Council, please email us.

We want to express our deepest gratitude to the many volunteers, supporters and donors who have contributed to make Gaia Gardens such a success.  In the word of a top City official, “we are victims of our own success!”

Thank you for your support and please come visit us on Saturdays at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, or on Fridays at the Eldorado Farmers Market.

Please stay tuned to this channel for further news about our brand new ducklings (click on video for 34 seconds of sheer delight!)



 

 (click on image to watch video)










With Love and Gratitude (and a healthy dose of bitterness, anger and grief).

Poki





The Pearl

Said one oyster to a neighboring oyster, “I have a very great pain within me. It is heavy and round and I am in distress.

And the other oyster replied with haughty complacence, “Praise be to the heavens and to the sea, I have no pain within me. I am well and whole both within and without.”

At that moment a crab was passing by and heard the two oysters, and he said to the one who was well and whole both within and without, “Yes you are well and whole; but the pain that your neighbor bears is a pearl of exceeding beauty.”

-From “The Wanderer” By Kahlil Gibran


  
Aware of the deep disappointment I feel this evening, I hope to share some essence of beauty as well. Our recent demand from the city to cease all farm related operations “immediately,” has not only greatly affected Poki and I, but many devoted friends and supporters. As we sat in circle sharing this afternoon I was mostly speechless, allowing the reality of this unfolding to sink in. No more children laughing and running in freedom and delight, no more groups of elders sharing their wisdom and inspiration, no more shared meals after a morning of sifting compost or delicately transplanting vegetable starts, NO MORE, NO, NO, NO. This experience of denial and in a sense oppression, has opened my heart to the experience of so many humans across the globe, in situations far worse than ours.


This land has magnetized great kindness, amazing willingness, and selfless service. After countless hours of shared toil we have undoubtedly grown a precious family of volunteers and interns. To think of my brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles no longer being, “allowed,” to come share in living with us, breaks my heart.    I think of all the elders in the world who spend most of their day alone and isolated, the many urbanized children hungry to have their hands in the soil, while learning the priceless art of listening well, and simply the brave and lonely individuals who show up with a willingness to risk connecting with others. Gaia Gardens has been a sanctuary and inspiration to many, and for this I am forever grateful. Countless seeds of regeneration have been cast and I trust that however this story unfolds, we have all been gifted the freedom to share in big love, upon and for the land.

Dominique