Friday, June 28, 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.


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