Friday, September 18, 2015

Tales from the road: Urban farm forced to close

By Mary-Kate Newton  
Metropolitan State University of Denver

When Santa Fe forced Gaia Gardens to close, owners Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo wanted their farm to die gracefully. 

The end of Poki and Pozo’s vision to teach holistic, self sustainable farming was punctuated by a liquidation sale September 12. 

“It’s time to put it to rest,” said Pozo. “We’re accepting the process of letting go of everything we’ve created.” 

Rather than abandoning their creation immediately, the owners and their intern Rachel Brylawksi will stay with the final harvest until their last corn stalk is cut. 

“The garden is a living thing. It would be like abandoning a child hungry in the desert,” Pozo said.

Before farming, Piottin was a businessman in Seattle. He worked for building contractors, an Internet company and owned his own dance and music club. 

“I quit,” Piottin said. “I got my eyes opened and became sensitized to corporate domination over government. I just decided to become an activist.” 

Piottin pursued various other projects including teaching sacred dance and an urban farm in Washington. In 2012, he decided to start a similar agricultural project in Santa Fe after a vision. “I had a vision of farming again and working with young people,” he said. 

Alongside Pozo, he rented property along Arroyo Chamiso and they began to teach Santa Fe about sustainable, Biodynamic farming. 

“We wanted to do education of the ins-and-outs of community gardening,” Piottin said, “Bootstrapping a project, and just making something out of nothing. We wanted to expose them to the magic of nature and creating an ecosystem in your backyard.” 

Piottin said Biodynamic farming is a holistic understanding of agriculture that relies on the energy rather than solely the chemistry of plants.  “Plants, trees; they have properties that are beyond the chemistry. Even the soil,” he said.  Gaia Gardens teaches seven preparations for manure that cater to energy and health of their plants which include adding materials like chamomile and horsetail.

Piottin’s business partner, Pozo, is a Doula, body worker and art therapist. She works with people suffering from eating disorders, and the farm has become a rewarding part of teaching her clients.
“It’s looking at food through a different lens, as a miracle and a way to nourish your body,” she said.

Pozo brings to the garden her knowledge of plants’ holistic and healing properties and used it to teach and help others. 

“The farm has been a labor of love. It was short lived but worth it,” Pozo said.

The bulk of the farm’s legal hurdles began two years ago when a neighbor of Gaia Gardens overwhelmed the city Attorney’s office with complaints about the farm. Piottin and Pozo have worked endlessly to appease zoning ordinances, water rights and licensing, but finally gave up warring with the city.

“It’s just plain meanness,” Piottin said. “She knew the codes were on her side, and forced the city to enforce their codes. It was about winning a game.”

In 2013, Gaia Gardens was denied a business license, making
 it impossible to operate as a business and school on residential property. In order to sustain, Gaia Gardens began selling their vegetables at the local Farmer’s Market. This business model proved too straining on Gaia Gardens’ 3.5 acres, volunteer operated farm, and so they stopped growing food for commercial use.
“So that we’re not giving in to the commercial side, we give to four charities,” he said. “Right now [the complaining neighbors] are the most hated people in the neighborhood because we do so much for the community like this.”

At the farm’s sale, Leonard Gomez, who lives around the corner from Gaia Gardens, expressed frustration at the closure of the beloved farm.  “It’s bullshit, picking on someone that is trying to do so much good,” Gomez said. “If codes don’t work in favor of a place like this, then it’s time for the laws to change.” 

During the somber liquidation sale, Pozo, Piottin and Brylawski were gracious hosts. Pozo greeted visitors and gave away wildflower seeds. Piottin offered glasses of apple juice as people browsed the yard sale, and Brylawski offered some of the lunch she made from fresh garden veggies. 

“He’s generous to a fault,” Brylawski said about Piottin. “ He’s a businessman but he gives everything away.” 

At the sale, Piottin spoke with a family of five. The youngest boy picked out an old bike tire and Piottin offered him a free helmet, concerned he might be riding without one. He sold the family a few armfuls of trinkets for one quarter. 

Piottin said helping people is his primary motivation. 

“Life is about finding a way to be of service in whatever way you want to do it,” he said. “Whatever is next, I’ll do what I can to have an impact on the community, whatever that city is.” 

The Gaia Gardens trio will live on the property in foreclosure until their crops live out their natural life cycles, which could be until early December. 

Pozo will concentrate on her other jobs, Brylawski will move to a homestead in California and Piottin will keep looking for his next way to be of service. 

“Life is a complex tapestry,” Piottin said. “I don’t worry about what’s next. I’m a citizen of the world, and I will go where it takes me.” 

Photos by Alyson McClaran

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