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