Monday, August 19, 2013

URGENT! City Council Finance Committee votes TONIGHT on URBAN FARMING RESOLUTION

is being voted on by the City Council Finance Committee
TONIGHT Monday August 19 @ 5PM
Councilors Chamber
City Hall
200 Lincoln
Downtown Santa Fe

This resolution is a rushed job and could be killed tonight for lack of support. 
Very few people were included in the drafting of the resolution, and Gaia Gardens was never invited to participate (strange as we are the only urban farm in Santa Fe!).

I called Patti Bushee yesterday to arrange a meeting and haven't heard back from her.  If the resolution gets killed tonight, it would be a set back for urban agriculture in our city.  If it passes, it could still be killed later on the floor of the full City Council if there's not enough support.

Unfortunately, because no one was notified, the only people who have voiced their opinion are folks like our dear neighbor who do not want to see farms in the City.

I am going to attend tonight, and invite you to do the same, because if there's pressure to kill the resolution tonight, our presence could help the resolution survive and go to the full vote of the City Council at a later date.

We'll have then time to mobilize plenty of people in support of the resolution.

I will have sticky badges (Yes to Urban Ag/Friends of Gaia Gardens) so come get your badge from me when you arrive.

See you tonight!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Operating Without a Business License and Guilty of Doing Good Deeds

The August 13 article in the New Mexican stated that Gaia Gardens has been operating without a business license.

For your information, let me clarify...

When Jay Tallmon (the owner of the property) and I met for an hour with five senior City Land Use planners in early 2012, we were inquiring whether creating a farm in residential zoning was permitted.  We were assured that it was, and that the only restriction was that we couldn't sell produce on the premises.

We were never told of restrictions such as the use of volunteers or welcoming school groups. Were we also never told that we needed to get a Home Occupation license.

When Gaia Gardens joined the Santa Fe Farmers Market a few months later, the Santa Fe Farmers Market asked us to get a business license.

I went to get a business license at City Hall and I stated that I grew the food in the City and asked if I needed any other license.

The clerk at the Business License desk told me that a Farmers Market Business License was all I needed.

In 2013 I went to get my new business license, and because by then we had received a visit from two city inspectors, I went to the Home Occupation desk downstairs at City Hall and talked to one of the inspectors who had visited the property a few weeks earlier.

I told him the Business License clerk upstairs said that my Farmers Market business license was all I needed to operate the farm and sell our produce.

The inspector went upstairs to talk to the clerk, whose business card I still have, and the inspector came back with a confirmation that the Farmers Market business license was indeed all I needed.

Several weeks later, when I heard through Matt O'Reilly, Director of Land Use, that I needed a Home Occupation License, I applied for one and it was denied because (quote from the inspector at the desk), "we were using volunteers".

I have shared this chain of events with Matt O'Reilly, and even gave him the name of the Business License clerk (whose business card I had kept) who had told me my Farmers Market business license was all I needed.

The interesting thing is that if the Land Use planners had told us I needed a Home Occupation license when I met with them in 2012, after reading the home occupation ordinance, I would have realized that I would not be able to operate a farm as I intended given the limitations that the ordinance presented.

I would probably never have started the farm.

When I started Gaia Gardens, I got my NM State Tax #, I had the farm registered with the US Department of Agriculture and applied (and was accepted) for organic certification with the State of New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

I went through all the paper work I though I needed and would appreciate if City employees took some degree of responsibility for creating a situation where Gaia Gardens was operating without the proper business license.

Now that I have finally found the Home Occupation ordinance on the City website (no City employee ever bothered to give me a copy), I realize that indeed I have operated the farm outside of the scope of the law.

Therefore, the main "crimes" that Gaia Gardens is guilty of are:

1) having operated a farm stand 3 days a week in 2012 (with 99% of our customers coming on foot/bike via the bike trail, thus generating no traffic/parking issues). 

2) having operated with numerous volunteers when the home occupation ordinance only allows a Home Occupation business to have 2 employees

3) having lodged farm interns and myself in an Airstream trailer

4) having hosted workshops, and a free movie night once a month in the winter

5) having hosted schools and other groups for field trips

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Heart share - Time to get Involved

In a world dominated by destructive multinational corporations and corrupt government officials, what is one to do to help rebuild a just, equitable and regenerative society?  At fifty-four, I personally chose to start a farm in the heart of Santa Fe.

My years of experience as a creative entrepreneur showed me that healthy community emerges from a space delineated by clear intent and basic structure, where multi-generations share in collective work and reap the benefits, where a warm and spirited group of people serves the community through effort and education.

For myself and the many folks involved in Gaia Gardens, tending to a large garden and encouraging visitors such as school children, proves the best antidote to war, depression, oppression, disempowerment and isolation.  
Nature works through biodiversity, cooperation, symbiosis and adaptation. Human beings, when in a natural state, thrive through identical principles. Creativity is our birthright--cooperation with Nature helps her grow more beautiful and abundant.

When such creativity is stifled by outdated city codes it is truly a tragedy, a crime against humanity.  This is especially so in the present when life on Earth as we know it is so deeply threatened. 
My heart is troubled by the actions of one neighbor objecting to a farm in the City, and by a City more inclined to appease complaints and enforce outdated codes than to seek solutions to a situation that many view as a true jewel.

I decided to initiate Gaia Gardens after working on three different community farm projects.  I wanted to experiment with a model of urban farming that was based on community support, education and neighborhood building.  We started the farm with no money, with the owner of the property giving us start-up funds, a truck and free access to his land (thank you Jay for your vision and generosity!). 

The project quickly garnered support from gardeners, carpenters, organizations and friends. Our first harvest was abundant. We practiced working with volunteers and farm interns (wwoofers), build many farm structures and received two awards from the City.

We started our second season with great confidence, with interns scheduled for the entire year.  Our volunteer base grew to a large family, happily lending many hands and hours to the tedious work of preparing soil, compost and seedlings for a newly expanded garden.

After the City ordered us to stop using volunteers and farm interns as labor, as well as welcoming school groups, the energy of our project dropped and my heart started aching.  Not having our regular team of volunteers and interns  zapped the spirit of our community.  Not having little kids show up every Thursday and sing songs was a huge loss for us (and the kids).

With a City coming down on the property with tons of building violations, and negotiations with City officials adding to my workload, tending the garden with care has proven very difficult.  We’ve had to abandon selling at the Friday afternoon Eldorado Farmers Market and the Tuesday Santa Fe Farmers Market.

What I want to share with you today is what’s on my heart.  I am concerned that the farm may not be able to continue existing.  It only exists because of the community that supports it.  Unless we manage to get many volunteers’ commitment to come on a regular basis (as for now we can only have two volunteers at a time and must schedule them each week), I fear that I will not be able to carry the burden required by the type of high quality farming that we practice. 

I work 7 days/week from 6:00am to 10:00pm and it is beginning to take a toll on me.  Dominique works and goes to school and helps as much as she can.  I have to allocate a lot of time for meetings, lobbying, letter writing and building repairs because of the code violations (Jay now lives in Colorado so I manage the property in his absence).  I am pretty tough, organized and experienced but what I am doing now is NOT SUSTAINABLE!

I started this project to experiment with, and hopefully develop and showcase, a viable model of urban farming.  I have kept meticulous books to see what the economics can be.  Why?  Because in order for urban farming to work, whomever runs/works the farm has to be able to derive a livelihood from it.  Half an acre of intensive cultivation is a full-time job.  This cannot be a hobby.

If I did not have the resilience I have, if I were a young man with maybe a wife and kid(s), what happened with the City could have killed me and my family.  The loss of community energy, the constant fear of city inspectors showing up, or a neighbor finding fault to everything we do, would have been so nerve wrecking that I would have most likely packed up and gone to a more hospitable place. 

Being called a “bad example” (City Councilor and mayoral candidate Patti Bushee) with “bad behavior” (City Councilor Chris Calvert) in yesterday’s article in the New Mexican is so sad and despicable that I don’t even have the stomach to respond to these people who dare talking about our project without having ever set foot on the farm!

I would love to offer City officials our experience to help craft a new ordinance to allow farms to operate in residential neighborhoods.  Because what’s at stake is our fresh food supply, the education of children and the health of community.  I am appalled by the pre-election posturing of certain mayoral candidates, who haven’t even bothered to respond to my invitation to visit the farm, or acknowledged reception of dozens of letters of support from our neighbors.

They talk about sustainability as if it was as spectator sport.  What do they mean by Gaia Gardens being a “bad example”?  Because we educate people and kids for free on the craft of growing food and medicinal herbs?  Because we gather as a joyful and supportive community?  Maybe because we don’t generate tax revenues for the City but instead create a wealth of goodwill?

I am sad, angry and sometimes discouraged.  How do these people dare speak in such derogatory terms without knowing anything about the realities of running a small farm with hand tools?  Would they take my job making very little money, living in an unfinished basement (I was denied the right to use my Airstream trailer as a home) and relying on the generosity of donors, volunteers and business sponsors to carry out the most noble task I can think of-growing the best possible food and selling it at the most reasonable price for the well-being of a large community?

I don’t know if I can continue because the restriction imposed by the City make it totally unsustainable for me to carry on the mission that I started.  Without doing educational work, it is very difficult to write grants.  Even though we haven’t yet received any grant money, a couple years of successfully operating a farm with educational programs would have increased our chances to get grant funding.  Now, we are just another farm, selling produce at the Farmers Market and through a CSA.

The City Council is currently moving with a resolution (see attached below) to amend city codes to allow farming and the sell of produce at farm stands in the City.  How fast will it take for such resolution to get passed into an ordinance?  I am told not to expect anything to pass during an election year. Will the ordinance allow urban farms to use (more than 2 at a time!) volunteers and farm interns as a stable work force, as well as protect urban farms from harassment from neighbors more inclined to protect their property rights than participate in the healthy evolution of their city?

I am sure the debate resulting from our situation with the City will include questions of property and water rights, and residential neighborhoods vs. community gardens and farms.  Russia and Cuba have survived major droughts and economic crisis thanks to extensive urban agriculture.  Private and community gardens fed people when commercial agriculture failed in its vulnerability to droughts, floods and pests.  Is our commercial agriculture not as vulnerable as Russia’s or Cuba’s?  Will we sit like lame ducks while climate change and the over exploitation of farmland wreak havoc?  Will we eat property rights when our food supply becomes scarce?   Or will we choose to educate our children on the basics of food production and sustainable living?

I urge you to get involved if urban farming or the future of Gaia Gardens matter to you.  Write letters to your City Councilors (see voting districts map here).  Include your address and phone number in your letters as your councilors only take into account letters from voters from their district (send us a copy of your letter).  Get together with a few people from your voting district and make an appointment with your City Councilors to speak with them face-to-face.

We are creating a small documentary with interviews from neighbors, patrons, volunteers and other farmers.  A 10-minute video will be given to each City Councilor and City officials from Land Use and other departments.  The intention is to enlighten them on the heart of the Gaia Gardens community and the impact that the farm has created in the City.  Video will be posted on this blog as soon as it is ready.

PLEASE GET INVOLVED!  The many people who have created this project with joy, ingenuity and care have done all they could to bring the topic of urban farming to the front of the newspapers and to the floor of the City Council.  Much is left to be done to make sure this resolution (see latest draft below) passes and gets translated into a solid urban farm ordinance.  We have attorneys helping us; we are collaborating with the Santa Fe Food Policy Council to refine the language of the resolution.   

And we also run a beautiful farm with a greatly reduced crew...

As a citizen and a voter, you have a lot of leverage to help this all-important cause.  You may feel powerless to fight Monsanto but you can help create a vibrant City with farms in every neighborhood, where kids can spend afternoons learning about Life, being in community and caring for the land that cares for them.

Thanks for all your support!  We love you.


Councilor Patti Bushee


    WHEREAS, the Governing Body adopted Resolution No. 2009-53 on May 13, 2009 for the purpose of establishing a City of Santa Fe Community Garden Program with related policies and procedures; and
    WHEREAS, the Governing Body adopted Resolution No. 2008-93 adopting the Sustainable Santa Fe Plan which includes actions to set a target for local food and to design and implement a City Harvest program; and
    WHEREAS, the Governing Body adopted Resolution No. 2008-05 establishing the City and County Advisory Council on Food Policy including a statement that the Governing Body and the Board of County Commissioners wish to ensure that the region maintains the natural resources, land base, infrastructure and skill sets that are necessary to produce food; and
    WHEREAS, currently, the Santa Fe City Code does not allow for the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables from stands that would offer for sale fresh harvested produce that is grown at community gardens, community orchards or at farms within the city of Santa Fe, with an emphasis on sustainable practices; and
    WHEREAS, fresh grown fruits and vegetables are a nutritious and healthful addition to any diets and having the ability to purchase freshly grown produce from a local farm stand would be beneficial to our residents as well as promote our local economy.
1.    Draft amendments to the city code and the established policies and procedures related to community gardens to include provisions related to the establishment of a permitted use in certain zoning districts for urban food production and farm stands, which shall include provisions that local farmers will have the ability to sell their produce at the farm stands and clarify that the produce does not have to be grown at a community garden or orchard but can be grown at local farms;
2.    Collaborate with local organizations such as Earth Care and YouthWorks; the Food Policy Council, Sustainable Santa Fe Commission and neighborhood associations to develop a local urban agriculture and farm stand plan so the residents of Santa Fe will have the ability to grow and purchase fresh produce from community garden and orchard sites and organic farms;
3.    Examine the possibilities for establishing large community gardens, i.e. at SWAN Park;
4.    Explore barriers and impacts of urban agriculture and propose recommendations that support local food
    PASSED, APPROVED and ADOPTED this ____ day of _________________, 2013.

                            DAVID COSS, MAYOR



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Latest New Mexican Newspaper Article

It may be time for you to write to your City Councilors and let them know what you think...
If you do, please send us a copy here and indicate your voting district number  (the farm is in District #4 )









City Council considers resolution to promote urban agriculture

See article here or click on the Press and Radio tab above