Thursday, August 13, 2015

Letter to Santa Fe Mayor and Urban Agriculture Committee

Dear Mayor and dear Members of the Urban Ag. Committee

When I got invited to participate on the Urban Agriculture Committee in May of this year, I clearly remember stating to the Committee Chair that our urban farm needed help to “legalize” its farm stand that we wanted to open in July.  The Committee Chair responded that he would work on that with Land Use.

A month later, I made the same request to the Committee Chair and stated that unless a special permit was issued, we would find ourselves out of compliance.  The Committee Chair stated again that he would look into that with Land Use.

A week before we opened the farm stand, I went to City Hall and spoke to Greg Smith and Noah Berke at Land Use about the same request.

The day we opened the farm stand, on July 24, the farm property was red tagged.  I went to talk to Lisa Martinez and Greg Smith at Land Use that same day and was told they would look into finding a solution or special permit for our farm stand.

Lisa Martinez and Greg Smith came to tour the farm the next Monday and stated again that they would be looking at a special pilot permit for the farm stand.

A week and a half later, Lisa Martinez and several inspectors came to the farm to question what building violations from a Notice of Violations issued on the property in 2013 had been remedied.  I answered truthfully and asked them to separate the property issues from the farm issues.  I am but a tenant on the property.

At the end of the meeting Lisa Martinez stated that we needed to close the farm stand.

So why would we open the farm stand knowing that we would get in trouble?

In 2012, at the end of our first season, I wrote to Mayor Coss asking for his help in finding a way to make our farm stand legal.  He had just awarded us the Santa Fe Sustainable Commission Award for Best Sustainable Food System. I sent several emails and never heard back from him. 

A month later, former Director of Land Use Matt O’Reilly sent waves after waves of inspectors to the farm, using building violations on work dating as far back as 1999 to try to prevent the farm from operating. 

Unfortunately, due to public outrage, he had to back off a bit!

The farm has been left to operate freely for the past couple years, even though if I followed Mr. O’Reilly’s interpretation of the quite vague and bias Home Occupation Ordinance, I would not have worked with more than 2 volunteers at a time and would not have allowed school visits at the farm.

In 2013, I attended several meetings of the Santa Fe Food Policy Council, the body at the time in charge of drafting an urban ag. policy, and presented a well-researched document outlining the best practices from cities having already passed urban ag. ordinances.

When you came into office Mr. Mayor, a new staff person was put in charge of drafting an urban ag. policy.   Our staff and attorney worked diligently with that person to help draft the content of the ordinance.

After not hearing back from that person about the status of the ordinance, I contacted the Mayor Office several time by email and phone and never got an answer.  Only after paying a visit to City Hall was I told that yet a new committee had been handed the responsibility of drafting the Urban Ag. Ordinance, committee on which I was later invited.

In the first couple committee meetings, I remember that we agreed to step back and look at a broad vision of a sustainable Santa Fe, clarifying why urban farms are important, what purpose do they serve, what benefits do they bring to a neighborhood, a community and the wildlife, how do they relate to schools, poverty and food security.

Shortly after that, we were presented with a draft that is but a photocopy of the Boston Ordinance, one of the most comprehensive, ambitious and progressive ordinances in the country.

The draft that was created by the previous person in charge of the Urban Ag. Ordinance, however simple and with a couple minor variations, could have worked given that there is but one farm in Santa Fe!  One farm having waited for that ordinance for 3 years in order to operate freely like every urban farm is able to do in most cities in the United States!

Starting a whole new process, using as complicated as an ordinance as Boston’s for a template, did not give me much hope that an ordinance would be passed in the foreseeable future, especially since Noah Burke, and understandably so, stated that even the simple ordinance drafted last year would present a difficult enforcement challenge for City Staff! 

In looking at Boston’s ordinance, I can only imagine the raised eyebrows of City Staff having to enforce roof top greenhouses.  I can easily predict Santa Fe residents’ (like my neighbor) reactions at City Council in hearing about shipping container farming and roof top greenhouses!

For the past 2 years, I have worked diligently to help the City create an urban agriculture policy.  I have given the City the fruits of weeks of research on the best urban ag. ordinances from half a dozen cities with successful urban agriculture movements.

During these two years, I have been prevented to sell off the premises, welcome schools, host workshops and advertise any event that our non-profit offered.

I grew impatient because I showed good will and cooperation when your administration and the previous one never once attempted to help our farm.

I invited Mayor Coss numerous times to visit the farm.  Same with you Mayor Gonzales, you’ve been invited numerous times (through your cousin and friends of ours Sonia).  I also invited all the members of the Urban Ag. Committee to visit the farm.  How many of you did visit the farm?  One, as far as I can remember. 

Let me ask you all a very simple question.

How can you pretend to be qualified to draft an Urban Ag. Policy and understand its true ramifications in a community unless you visit an existing urban farm, talk to the people and volunteer who work there, its neighbors and customers?

And why, through two administrations, not a single gesture was made to assist a jewel of a project, deeply cherished and admired by many in this City who understand how difficult and important what we do is? 

Why did you not understand something I explained at length in countless meetings I attended, that an incubator farm is critical to the establishment of an urban farm movement?  As a non-profit, we have documented every step of our creation and evolution.  We have offered to share this documentation with anyone wishing to start an urban farm.

Now, discouraged and disillusioned, our farm has decided to stop operating in the City and you’ve just lost your one successful incubator farm that could have inspired and supported an urban agriculture movement.

It is sad and truly a shame.

Poki Piottin

Gaia Gardens

1 comment:

  1. This discrimination against constructive and environmentally sound use of former wasteland in Santa Fe is a sad reflection on the awareness of those in "control" of the need for local healthy food production.