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.

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