Sunday, July 28, 2013

Urban Farms Help Create Healthy Communities


There has been a lot of recent buzz related to farming in metro areas. While there always are multiple aspects to consider, making the most of urban farms and gardens provides the opportunity to bring together a broad spectrum of fields — including health, urban planning, transportation, education, environment, food and sustainable agriculture, and economic development — in creating healthy communities.

As a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting locally based agriculture, Farm to Table’s programs strive for equity in our food system. As such, we consider city-based farms and gardens exceptional venues in reducing the disconnect that happens when the only food consumed is store-bought.

Regardless of income level, urban farms and gardens enhance our quality of life. They can improve community nutrition and physical activity, maintain cultural traditions and help enhance food security by providing opportunities for community-members from all income-levels to grow or purchase local fresh produce. Low-income communities, where fresh produce is often hard to find and expensive, greatly benefit by having nearby urban farms and gardens that provide access to healthy options, which otherwise are not available.

As an entrepreneurship venture, urban farming can be an economic development option that, while requiring regulation to ensure multi-zone neighborhoods work well together, has benefits that surpass a routine business transaction.

Beyond increasing the accessibility of local fresh produce, urban farms and gardens build local leadership, have the involvement of volunteers and community partners, and include skill-and-awareness-building opportunities for community members of all ages and interests.

Likewise, Farm to Table supports engaging children in gardens and agricultural-related activities that help develop the understanding of the interdependence of all living things. Many educational goals can be addressed through gardens, including personal and social responsibility, such as how to be a good neighbor and how to care for a livable environment. Gardens and agriculture integrate several subjects, such as science, math, art, health and physical education, with social studies, storytelling, creativity, visioning and play.

We hope Santa Feans share Farm to Table’s support of urban farming and gardens, and, as such, embrace livable spaces that add options and access to healthy foods in our community.
Visit us at to learn about all of our programs.

Nelsy Dominguez is the deputy director of Farm to Table.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Meeting with the City and the Future of Urban Farming

Early in the week, a meeting took place between City officials from the Department of Land Use, our attorney, an architect neighbor helping us resolve our building violations, and myself.

City officials were extremely helpful in guiding us through the various permit applications we need to fill out, and agreed to grant us ample time to correct all the building violations on the property. City officials walked us through the various options available to us in order to operate the farm within the existing framework of the City zoning codes and Home Occupation ordinance.

Our first step is to re-apply for a Home Occupation License (a business license to operate a business in residential neighborhood).  Given how the Home Occupation Ordinance is written (see ordinance here), we can only have 2 volunteers at all times working at the farm, in addition to Dominique and myself.

The Home Occupation Ordinance also states that the activities of the business shall not generate more traffic and parking that would normally be happening in a residential neighborhood.  In our Home Occupation License application, we will be requesting that we be allowed to host 2-3 groups per week of up to 12 people for up to 2 hours. 

This is our first step in getting back on track with operating with volunteers and hopefully be granted the right to welcome a few groups during the week.  The Home Occupation License process is subject to comments from residents residing within 150 feet of the Home Occupation.  They will be notified by certified mail.

We have been assured that agriculture use is permitted within residential zoning.  Whether we will be granted the right to welcome groups and whether neighbors will object, is yet to be determined.

Our next endeavor is to draft a petition to request that the City Council amend city codes to support and protect urban agriculture in residential zoning.  Once such a petition is drafted, we will notify you so that you can help us gather signatures.

All and all, I feel optimistic.  As difficult and uncertain as our situation has been, the support that we have been receiving has been heart-warming.  I want to express my deepest gratitude to our legal council, the numerous neighbors who have sent letters of support, and the organizations (Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute and the Santa Fe Farmers Market) who have offered to endorse a petition requesting an amendment to the City codes to support urban agriculture.  I also want to express my gratitude to my friend Jay Tallmon, the owner of the property where Gaia Gardens operates.  His support and faith in our project from the minute we met, has been undying.  Without his generosity, there would be no Gaia Gardens and certainly no conversation on the topic of urban agriculture in Santa Fe!

We still live in a relatively free country and people are entitled to disagree.  The neighbors who have driven the City to restrict our activities are simply exercising their right to ask the City to enforce its codes as they are currently written.  The City officials coming to inspect the property for potential violations of such codes and issuing Notices of Violations, are simply doing their duties as enforcers of the codes.

The question is whether the codes that the neighbors wish the City to enforce are relevant to suit the needs of the time we currently live in.  The concerns and outrage expressed in the newspaper articles, and the numerous editorials and letters to the editor, seem to indicate that a great majority of the public would like codes to be less restrictive to urban farming in residential zoning.

We completely understand that a residential neighborhood cannot accommodate certain businesses and as a result many businesses have been confined to commercial neighborhoods.  However,  shouldn’t a farm, respectfully operated, be embraced in a residential neighborhood as a source of well being, not just for the residents but the wildlife such as birds and bees as well?

Many cities around the country have passed ordinances to encourage and support urban agriculture. From the Sustainable Cities Institute website: "Local governments can use urban agriculture as a tool to address many financial, health, and environmental issues.  For example, agriculture in and close to major cities can help the environment by, among other things, reducing the distances food travels.  Community gardens keep people active, while providing them with natural, locally grown food.  Municipal policies can help community gardeners make money by allowing them to sell excess produce.  Moreover, community gardens can beautify neighborhoods and serve as a focal point that promotes resident interaction".

Santa Fe already has a very well crafted Sustainable Plan that addresses Urban Agriculture.  Because Gaia Gardens is the first urban farm in the City limit, we are bumping into outdated codes that ought to be updated following the recommendations outlined in the Santa Fe Sustainable Plan of 2008.  These issues must be addressed if urban agriculture is to ever flourish, as it has in many cities around the US.  We presently find ourselves and the farm in a position of simply maintaining/demonstrating, within legal parameters, that an urban farm can be a beneficial asset to a neighborhood by providing a hub for community building, neighborhood interaction, children education and the fostering of a healthy urban ecosystem.

It is now up to all of us to make sure such a thing happens.  We’ve done our work in raising awareness, setting a good example and educating the public and children on the importance of locally grown food.

This topic will certainly bring opposition from people not yet convinced that the possibility exists to collectively engage in an evolutionary process TOGETHER.  If we are to be resilient as a community in the face of an impeding food crisis precipitated by climate change, environmental degradation, as well as a collapse of conventional agriculture due to top soil depletion and chemical fertilizer overuse, we must join forces to create a truly sustainable Santa Fe.

The voice of the people opposing changes in residential zoning codes to accommodate urban farming should be heard.  Their need to feel protected against unruly, noisy or even smelly urban farming activities are valid and should be addressed, as they are, in all new ordinances around the country regarding urban agriculture.

My gut feeling is that the times are ripe for a healthy debate about what kind of city and culture we wish to now co-create and live in.  Has the model of suburbia truly been successful and is it nourishing to our selves and community to continue living in neighborhoods where there is no interactions between neighbors, and rules are so tight that life itself is squeezed out?

Or can we envision neighborhoods where children are once again safe and free to play/explore, neighbors have welcoming places to gather, while community gardens and urban farms are supported to exist and flourish?  As we consider the current paradigm shift, these elements are critical in generating a renewed wealth measured by friendship, shared resources, and a spirit of inclusion and collaboration.

I personally love what we have been able to create in a very short time-a community as diverse, colorful, multi-generational and multi-ethnic as this city is.

The work has just begun.

I believe we can use the good will we have created to invite City Councilors, mayoral candidates and the public at large to consider that the immense benefits that urban agriculture provide far outweigh the ungodly sight of a group of volunteers laughing while weeding the garden, a bunch of toddlers visiting the garden once a week to play with the chickens, and an abundant, lush garden filled with nutritious organic produce and flowers.

We are resuming our volunteer days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday 7:00am-12:00pm.  Because we can only accommodate 2 volunteers at a time, you need to call (808-280-5203) or email Dominique, to pick a slot on our volunteer schedule.  With the rain, goat heads have arrived so we need help with weeding...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Reader View: Gaia Gardens needs nurturing to thrive

In the New Mexican yesterday....

What a pathetic dichotomy! In the same week that city code and zoning inspectors visited Gaia Gardens, the state of New Mexico was graded dead last — not our usual rank of 49 or 48 — in general child welfare.

Gaia Gardens, an organic farm on the city’s south side, sprang into being last year from the vision and hard labor of Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo. When I first visited the garden last summer, I was astounded at the miraculous change that had occurred on that portion of Santa Fe’s arid landscape. Six-foot tall sunflowers swayed in the breeze above rows of green arugula and chard. A little farm stand provided a chance for local folk to purchase organic vegetables. Later on I learned about composting and soil preparation through workshops at the gardens, and met like-minded folks at potlucks. These activities were quietly conducted with no increased noise or traffic in my residential neighborhood.

It was disheartening, to put it mildly, to learn of the difficulties this year with city zoning and codes. These difficulties seemed antithetical to the sustainable Santa Fe guidelines adopted by our city in 2009. This plan listed initiatives such as, “Adopt and enforce land use codes and policies that promote sustainable, energy-efficient, carbon-neutral development. Provide for alternatives to the automobiles. Keep neighborhoods livable. Provide economic opportunity throughout the city.”
Personally, I never go to the Santa Fe Farmers Market. I don’t like the drive and don’t want to mess with parking downtown. However, last year it was possible to walk over and purchase vegetables from the farm stand. Economic opportunities? Alternatives to automobiles? Sustainable development? Livable neighborhoods? Gaia Gardens actualizes this vision, and much more.

Gaia Gardens fosters educational opportunity and a true sense of community. Visiting classes from small schools and students from nearby Santa Fe High School, as well as adult volunteers, have had the opportunity to get their hands dirty, shovel compost, watch baby ducklings and eat carrots fresh from Mother Earth. I worked in the Santa Fe Schools for 25 years. Sadly, many children I worked with thought food only came from MacDonald’s — not Old MacDonald’s farm.

The Sustainable Santa Fe Plan has a large section devoted to food systems. Stated goals include creating multiple food growing, processing, storing and selling opportunities. Other goals include identifying and reducing barriers to urban agriculture, developing neighborhood centers for home economics, sustainability, food-related processes and providing educational resources for organic food production. Both the vision and the actuality of Gaia Gardens support these goals.

Communities spring up organically, but they need nurturing. It was my experience working in the schools that well meaning attempts to implement a sense of community from the top down were rarely successful. Yet other schools had a strong sense of shared vision and were wonderful learning communities. What made the difference — what really worked — was a magical coming together of opportunity, leadership, and willing participation.

Like the tender shoot of a plant, an emerging community can grow and bloom under favorable conditions or can die from lack of nourishment. I urge the City Council to do whatever necessary to allow Gaia Gardens to thrive.

Susan McDuffie retired from the Santa Fe Schools in 2007. She now writes historical mysteries and enjoys growing a few vegetables at home.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Volunteering at the Farm

Until we get a written clarification from the City about how many hours of volunteers we can legally have, our attorney tells us it is safe to have two volunteers at a time in addition to myself and Dominique.

Please let us know when you plan to come so we can schedule up to 2 volunteers at a time.

Looking forward to tending to the garden in community again....

I part the out thrusting branches and come in beneath the blessed and the blessing trees 
Though I am silent there is singing around me 
Though I am dark there is vision around me 
Though I am heavy there is flight around me


Sunday, July 21, 2013

July 1 Community Potluck at the farm

July 1 Community Potluck at the farm

Next potluck is Monday August 5 @ 6PM

The following article was submitted to the LaMontanita Coop for their newsletter.  Should you be inspired to write about Gaia Gardens and the many issues raised by our current situation, please be our guest.  Your words can be published on this blog or you can post them yourself on our Facebook group.

On June 7th, Gaia Gardens, Santa Fe’s only (certified organic) urban farm received a notice of violations from the City’s Department of Land Use for using volunteers in its (non-profit) operation, for hosting farm interns in a trailer, for supposedly having too many visitors (how many is too many the City hasn’t yet said!) and for building violations.  Since its inception two years ago, the farm has successfully been welcoming small groups of school children during the school year, as well as younger children from summer camps-all free of charge.

As if such a move by the City wasn’t enough to nearly collapse the farm, (losing over 100 hours of weekly volunteer time), the City decided to inspect all of the buildings (on the 100-year old property) where Gaia Gardens leases one acre of land, and slapped the owner with a long list of building violations.  Should the City inspect any other old properties in Santa Fe, the likelihood of finding work done without the proper permits is very high.

Whatever the City’s motive for coming down so heavily on a tiny farm along the Arroyo Chamisos, whether it is in response to a neighbor complaining about the “scope of the farm” (1/3 of an-acre beautifully designed garden!), or whether a farm in a residential zoning doesn’t fit in some City official’s plan for a well groomed Santa Fe, the timing of the City couldn’t be more perfect.

A garden, especially in the desert, is very much like a newborn child.  It requires constant attention.  The success of Gaia Gardens is founded on an entire community loving and caring for the land.  Denying the farm the use of this community has been very damaging to a garden that many view as a sanctuary.  An oasis of plants, birds, bees, insects, and kind people.

After receiving the Notice of Violations, the volunteers and four summer interns were told that the farm was under order from the City to cease using their labor immediately, or risk incurring fines of $500 a day and 90 days in jail per day of non-compliance.  The ripples of grief were immense and one of our elder volunteers offered to chain herself to our fence in protest!

For many of the farm’s volunteers, from a 19-year old neighbor to a 72-year-old grandmother, Gaia Gardens is a place of refuge.  Three mornings a week, they find a second home to come to, make friends and nourish on-going relationships.  It is a place to give and receive, a haven away from the noise and madness of the world.  It is a place to experience sustainable/regenerative community in action, and learn from a creative experiment in hi-desert urban farming.

It is difficult to comprehend why the City, claiming to be “different” and “sustainable” would use such aggressive tactics on a project that has not only received many praises from the press, but has also been the recipient of two awards delivered by the Mayor-one, for Best Recycler and another, for Best Food System.  It is even more difficult to comprehend why a neighbor, or City officials, would have an issue with a project that could be looked at as a model of urban gardening, one based on community cooperation, sustainable education, efficient irrigation practice, and time-proven agricultural techniques.

Has our world gone mad?  Is subsistence farming a threat?  Is free sustainability education a subversive act?  I am not sure I live on the same planet as the City officials whom I though were meant to serve us, protect us and help us make this City safe, beautiful and prosperous.  I am deeply troubled and concerned as I, and many of my friends and colleagues, are acutely aware of how fragile and threatened life on earth currently is. 

The hail that came crashing down on the garden a couple weeks ago is yet one more indication of how vulnerable our environment, and in particular our crops, are.  The intensity of the hail devastated most of the garden.  Will the plants bounce back?  Or will the farm be yet another victim of a climate gone amuck and of City officials whose main concern is to respond to a neighbor’s complaint with force, creating problems where a large community (including many neighbors) was engaged in a creative, well-organized, multi-generational and joyous regenerative farming experience.

Positive things have already arisen from Gaia Gardens’ predicament and stand off with the City.  Many neighbors have sent heart-warming letters of support, all stating that the farm has never created any nuisance, parking, or traffic issues.  They have all expressed their support of having a farm in their neighborhood.  Many organizations and individuals have offered their assistance, including a team of talented attorneys.  A coalition has been formed to tackle many of the issues the farm is facing. 

      Negotiating with the City on how many visitors and volunteers the farm can have. 

      Reaching out to the greater neighborhood to introduce the many benefits of an urban farm in anticipation of applying for a special use permit (subject to review by the neighborhood).

      Preparing a petition for the City Council to request zoning codes amendments to support and protect urban farming.

      Develop a neighborhood process to support the creation of urban farm in the City (farm stand, etc.).

It is undeniable that since June 7th, the farm has suffered.  It had to cancel its presence at the Eldorado Farmers Market due to its shortage of workers. Many fall crops did not get started for the same reason.  Two of ducks died for lack of care.  And the burden of running a farm with only two people, when a whole community had been tending to the farm for two years, has taken a toll on its operators.

Many people have written to us, urging us to carry on, because if we give up, they believe that no one will ever attempt to start an urban farm within the City limit. 

Yes, the world has indeed gone mad and we believe that hope resides in a community and neighborhood being able to gather, co-create and educate its children on the all important topics of food production, herbal medicine and sustainable/regenerative practices.  

Changing a City, State, or Federal government corrupt by corporate interests is a daunting task.  We have gone way off track and must rebuild our culture from where we are-our backyard, our neighborhood and City.  We must remind City officials to remember their oath to serve us, learn from our successful grassroots experiments, and make sustainable education their highest priority, if they truly wish, as we do, to live in a City that could (if it wants) be enlightened, and a model for the rest of the country.

We are still a small town populated by many brilliant minds, creative spirits and good-hearted citizens of many ethnic origins.  We still live in relative peace compared to many troubled places in the world like Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Palestine and countless other countries were having food is a daily struggle, and keeping one’s children fed, or safe from rape or war, is a daily mission.

We precariously remain fortunate to have all the opportunities we have.  We must reassert our sovereignty and rebuild our culture from the most fundamental foundations-the individual, the family and the neighborhood.

Should we elect a visionary Mayor next year, and collectively decide to make this city the thriving and sustainable place it can be (read Santa Fe Sustainable Plan), we could inspire the City, State, the country and the world to remember that people have the power to choose their destiny, rid themselves of tyrannical governments, and gather in peace to do what seems regenerative for their children and their neighborhood.

Poki Piottin is the founder with co-visionary Dominique Pozo, and a large community of friends, of Gaia Gardens, a non-profit urban farm in Santa Fe fiscally-sponsored by the New Mexico Community Foundation. He can be reached at  or 505-796-6006

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hail Storm and Free Fat Duck




This afternoon, the hail storm that passed through town devastated the garden.  At first glance, we lost 80% of our crop.  Our basil and tomato plants are gone, summer and winter squash, as well as beets and chard, are shredded.  The kale plants seem to have survived.

Osha, our male duck is being given away for adoption.  If you want to cook him for dinner, you are most welcome.  He doesn't have much paternal or community instinct (or brains!).  Not only did he kill our beautiful male mallard a few months ago, yesterday he drowned Sophie, a miracle one week old duckling who was hatched in my hand, and had imprinted on the teen-aged ducks and was running with them the minute she was born.  

Life is beautiful and fragile.