Thursday, August 20, 2015

In the New Mexican Today-Our View

Our view: Urban farming still a dream

Posted: Wednesday, August 19, 2015 
The New Mexican, Santa Fe

Gaia Gardens, a noble experiment in urban organic farming, is shutting down after one last harvest. What lessons can we learn from this failure, especially in a city that claims to be committed to supporting urban farming and healthy eating? 

The Santa Fe Food Policy Council has stated its commitment to healthy food being available in all parts of town, including a section in its comprehensive plan that discusses in detail ways the region can promote growing food. One big unmet goal: the development of a “commercial scale urban agricultural permit to protect both neighborhood and agricultural interests within the city.” That would set policies about water use, sales, number of employees and volunteers, among other things.

The city of Santa Fe’s Sustainable Santa Fe plan is ambitious enough to discuss the notion of setting a “target such as ‘30 percent of the food consumed in Santa Fe by residents will be from a 300-mile food shed by 2018.’ ”

Yet despite these lofty goals, an otherwise thriving urban farm likely will shut down this fall after five years.

Founders Poki Piottin and his partner, Dominque Pozo, are tired of fighting City Hall. Until it closes, they are donating produce to The Food Depot — 100 pounds of collard greens, Russian kale, curly kale, chard and summer squash were taken in the first installment. More will be dropped off three times a week until the end of the growing season.

To be clear, the masterminds behind Gaia Gardens were not always easy neighbors — perhaps for the community at large, but definitely not next door. Many initial changes to the land and buildings were done without proper permits or city permission. Shifting ground in a way that floods your neighbor’s property is no way to win friends. The situation is a tad more complicated than City Bureaucracy vs. the Little Garden that Could.

However, at the heart of the debate is whether Santa Fe is serious about promoting urban agriculture, something that Los Angeles and even New York City have been able to do. Santa Fe, despite its talk, is not finding ways to help farms thrive.

Whatever happens to Gaia Gardens, the city needs to write its urban agricultural ordinance — not after the next farm starts, but before.

Santa Fe needs to balance residential needs with the ability of a small farm to sell produce without trucking it off-property. A farm stand along a walking trail, as Gaia Gardens operated, should not reduce the residents’ quality of life. Goodness, the city of Santa Fe allows weekly garage sales at some houses — complete with car traffic — but couldn’t allow a stand to which people walk or bike.

Write an uncomplicated code. Why does it matter that Piottin was the not the property owner, so long as the property owner allowed the farm and the tenant could prove he had permission? Such overemphasis on rules, rather than results, just makes Santa Fe look ridiculous.

Gaia Gardens might soon become history, but its founders paved the way for smart urban agriculture.

Our Comment posted in the New Mexican

Thank you dear editorial staff for your ongoing support!
I am the co-founder of Gaia Gardens and wanted to clarify your statement about "Many initial changes to the land and buildings were done without proper permits or city permission. Shifting ground in a way that floods your neighbor’s property is no way to win friends".  THE FACTS: 1) None of the building violations on the property have to do with the farm and happened prior to our leasing the land for farming.  2) the flooding of our neighbor's basement happened the year before we started the farm and has nothing to do with the activities of the farm or the farm property for that matter.  Her house is on the flood plain and at the bottom of a hill. The heavy rains that year were responsible for the flooding.  I wanted to clarify this point because our neighbor has lied repeatedly about this.  If indeed "we" flooded her basement, why didn't she sue us?  Because it's a lie and she doesn't have a case. And a house built on a flood plain isn't allowed by code to have a basement anyway! 

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