Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In the Press Sunday Oct. 13

As a longtime ecology educator in town, I wondered what all the fuss is about Gaia Gardens, so I rode the bike trail right to the gardens and visited the only educational produce garden in the city.
As a gardener of four decades in Santa Fe’s challenging high desert environs, I was impressed by what I discovered. Even more so with the winds of climate change. Gaia Gardens is beautiful, productive and resilient, because its caretakers understand soil microbiology, are dedicated to building soil fertility and water wisely with state-of-the-art drip irrigation (four times a day for 10 minutes — brilliant!)

Only one neighbor out of a hundred in the neighborhood has complained about “the activities of the farm being beyond the scope of a home occupation business”; examples cited were using small groups of volunteers to run the farm operation and welcoming a few groups from the neighborhood schools. Why can’t the Gaia Gardens people, who are excellent youth mentors, and whose project is so needed in Santa Fe, work with groups of volunteers and school groups for free?

These are vegetable farmers who make $500 per week during the growing season, a far cry from the neighbor’s description of the farm being a “massive commercial operation.” So few people who attempt these types of community gardening projects succeed. The hurdles and challenges are too many. The restrictions imposed by the city already have badly damaged the farm financially.

But worse, neighbors, many of them elders and children, have been prevented from gathering and working together as they had done for the past year. It would be a shame to lose these gardens and see its operators relocate to a more urban farm-friendly town. I doubt that anybody will try again having a neighborhood farm school in Santa Fe after this experience.

The Gaia Gardens folks are exemplary teachers: kind, disciplined and generous. They did not deserve to be maligned. Their being called “bad neighbors” in the press is a shame when the neighborhood association of 43 homes bordering the farm on two sides has voted in favor of having the farm in the neighborhood.

Santa Fe needs to make this excellent educational gardening project possible, or the next generation will not learn this most vital human knowledge which we desperately need for each new generation. Each neighborhood needs a gardens and youth project. Perhaps this can be surmounted with “a little help from our friends” such as the Santa Fe youth and ecology supporting foundations? We are nominating the main gardeners, Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo, for the next New Mexican “10 Who Made a Difference” award and as Santa Fe Living Treasures.

I encourage all the city councilors to visit this unique urban farm, as Ron Trujillo and Peter Ives have already done. I hope the Gaia Gardens folks will be able to persevere and get past the hurdles, and that people realize the great gift this farm gives Santa Fe. These are the folks that we need involved in the new Arroyo de los Chamisos watershed enhancement the city is about to embark on.

If you read their blog at http://gaiagardens.blogspot.com I believe you will see the truth of the situation. Please, wise citizens of Santa Fe, help save Gaia Gardens. They need and deserve to be championed.

Chris Wells is director of the All Species Project’s “Healing human relationship to the Earth, elements and species through cultural arts and applied ecology.” He has been the recipient of The Santa Fe New Mexican “10 who made a Difference” award, as well as the Roger Tory Petersen Award for excellence in ecological education.

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