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

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