Sunday, August 23, 2015

In the New Mexican Today



A garden that could have changed lives

Every day I strive to spark changes in my patients’ diets. I’m not very successful and neither are my pediatric colleagues. We need help. Just look at all the trends of increasing childhood obesity and diabetes.

Bucking these trends takes a collaborative effort from many sectors of our communities. Gaia Gardens, Santa Fe’s premier urban farming initiative, has been a shining example of one such effort. Started in 2012 by Poki Piottin in a neighborhood near Santa Fe High School, this 3.5-acre dirt lot soon blossomed into an oasis of organic vegetables and free-range chickens and ducks.

Poki and his partner, Dominique Pozo, love children. They have welcomed school groups to Gaia Gardens to learn firsthand not only how sustainable organic urban farming benefits our town but how we can live healthier, happier and more fit lives through forging a connection with the outdoor world and becoming aware of the benefits of freshly grown food. This kind of experience inspires children and their families to make the kinds of lifestyle changes that I encourage in my practice.

This summer, Gaia Gardens was selling vegetables from a small farm stand on their property, which borders the bike trail. When people see a beautiful garden with fresh vegetables for sale in their neighborhood, some of them are bound to at least ponder bringing more healthy produce into their kitchens. Moreover, Poki and Dominique have been training others in their farming techniques and have considered starting a more formal school for urban farming. They are offering a “ripple of hope” that could spread throughout our city and beyond.

What has been the response from the governing members of our City Different? Instead of embracing such a winning program the way many other cities have — some more outwardly stodgy than ours — the city quickly enforced petty restrictions and has yet to pass an ordinance that would provide a legal framework for urban agriculture here. I understand that government works slowly, yet one would think that this is the kind of win-win program that any progressive politician would go out of his/her way to promote, pronto.

Poki and Dominique announced recently that they were quitting their urban-renewal undertaking in protest of all of the red tape they have had to battle in order to stay afloat. They have been working patiently with City Hall for years; they alerted the City Council of their intentions to operate from their small, part-time farm stand two months prior to its opening; they have tirelessly worked to comply with all city codes and to be good neighbors.

There may still be time for our city to rally behind what so many other cities have already embraced — one proven solution to the epidemic of obesity and outsourcing. Let’s not make this a lost opportunity.

I moved back to New Mexico with my young family 10 years ago and chose to live in Santa Fe because I expected that the common values under which it operated would champion grassroots efforts like Gaia Gardens, and that my ideals as a pediatrician for improved public health would be bolstered by a caring electorate. Why does the city make way for fancy art shows and high-end restaurants while failing to support a beacon for a healthy future?

I’m with Poki and Dominique — maybe it’s time to move on.

Dr. Daniel Coles lives in Santa Fe with his wife, two sons, dogs, cats and horses. He is a pediatrician at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital. Dr. Coles loves playing outside, the color orange and collaborating with others to change dysfunctional social paradigms.

Gaia Gardens represents possibility for urban farming

I am a young professional raised in Santa Fe but educated out of state, and, now that I have finished college, I am looking for a community in which to start a career. I care deeply about community and environmental sustainability, so an important factor in my choice of a home city will be the presence — or absence — of grass-roots community organizations focused on local, sustainable food.

I have experienced firsthand the benefits such organizations bring to communities. In Sacramento, Calif., where I lived last year, multiple farmers markets and urban farms provided affordable, nutritious food to my low-income neighborhood. In addition, volunteering at Sacramento’s urban farms helped me de-stress and connect with my neighborhood community.

Everyone in Sacramento was encouraged when the City Council approved an ordinance last March legalizing farm stands in residential neighborhoods, since the ability to sell produce on-site makes many more urban farms possible, especially in low-income areas where people badly need both fresh food and additional income.

This summer, I had the privilege of moving back home to Santa Fe and volunteering at Gaia Gardens, an urban farm on the Arroyo Chamiso Trail. Weeding, pruning and transplanting along with the other volunteers amid a wilderness of sunflowers and flowering herbs was invaluable for my mental health. Even more importantly, I could tell that my work was contributing to real, substantial community formation, similar to what I experienced in Sacramento.

Dozens of neighbors, friends, volunteers and customers — and their children — shared food at Gaia Gardens’ monthly potlucks. When Gaia Gardens opened its farm stand by the bike path on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, a steady stream of customers poured in to buy vegetables, drink tea and chat with the farm’s owners.

Even after the farm stand closed, not a morning went by without someone turning off the path and coming up to the farm to express disappointment that they could no longer buy fresh produce in their neighborhood. Now that the farm stand is shut down, it is not feasible for Gaia Gardens’ owner to continue farming in the same location, so the farm will close. This is a tremendous loss to me and my community.

To me, Gaia Gardens and its farm stand represent the possibility of a vibrant urban-farming scene in Santa Fe — the kind of farming scene that so attracted me in Sacramento. I want to encourage everyone in Santa Fe to support urban farming by pushing the City Council to legalize farm stands so that young professionals like me can come home to a community-centered, sustainable city.

Eleanor Stevens is a Spanish student and a recent AmeriCorps graduate. She will spend the next year working with nonprofits in Mexico; after that, she hopes to move back home to Santa Fe and start a career in education or social work. She was in the Santa Fe Waldorf Class of 2010.

Letters to the Editor

August 23, 2015

City Ripe

Mayor Javier Gonzales says, “Urban agriculture has a great future in Santa Fe,” just as the city makes it impossible for the only farm in Santa Fe to continue. This is unconscious politically and unnecessarily cruel.

If the city does not make Gaia Gardens possible now, nobody will ever try farming in Santa Fe again (“Grower says community garden facing its last harvest,” Aug. 12). We will not find a more appropriate place, nor a couple who will put in the kind of work and devotion that Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo have mustered.

Wake up, Santa Fe City Council. We are losing some of our most valuable resources; namely, people who can teach our children how to actually live in this place. To grow food in Santa Fe is a high art. It’s a devotion, not for the meek or money-oriented.

These generous citizens of inspired vocation are worth more than gold. I’d like to see them get a Living Treasure award. Let them sell vegetables on the Arroyo Chamiso Trail — a lovely use of the public path — the most beautiful food stand in town. 
Chris Wells 
Santa Fe

Realized Revenge

Poki Piottin (“Grower says community garden facing its last harvest,” Aug. 12) should clutter the land with dead cars, camping trailers, heavy equipment and maybe tie up a few dogs for the rest of their lives. There are laws and ordinances about these, too, but no one enforces them even when numerous people complain. It is only fair that his neighborhood have what many of us have to endure instead of a beautiful garden. 
Susan Macdonell
Santa Fe

August 19

One voice
No wonder Santa Feans are leaving for places like Portland and Austin. These cities thrive on innovation and enterprises that benefit a broad and curious population. Allowing one neighbor to close down a charming and thriving urban farm is absurd (“Grower says community garden facing its last harvest,” Aug. 12). Once again, a single individual has overwhelmed the collective good. 

Susan Munroe
Santa Fe

August 18, 2015

Keep Gaia Gardens
I read with sadness about the closure of Gaia Gardens (“Grower says community garden facing its last harvest,” August 12). The growth of individual and community organic vegetable gardens is a growing phenomenon in the United States. The sale of vegetable seeds has increased by double digits. There is a global effort to create more such wonderful gardens as exemplified by Gaia Gardens — and it is being forced to close here in Santa Fe?
Organic food, caring for the soil and eating healthier food (more vegetables) to attack our national health issues, including obesity, will ultimately have to include and encourage home gardens in urban environments as a cost-saving measure to provide sustainable food for the U.S. and the planet. Now is a good time to consider and create new zoning laws and small- business license regulations to support Poki Piottin’s efforts with open arms. Let’s get this one right.
Judith Haden

Santa Fe

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