Friday, September 22, 2017

Back in New Mexico. Still looking for Land

A year ago, after not finding a suitable property for the land trust, I decided to move to Colorado in the hope of finding land to fulfill the mission of the Mil Abrazos Community Land Trust (MACLT).
 

In May of 2016, I posted an announcement on this blog about a promising property in Paonia, where I moved to last November. That post has since been deleted (as to not create confusion) because my assessment of that property, and the town’s culture and politics, prompted me to return to New Mexico to continue my land search.

On my first foray in New Mexico looking for land, I stumbled upon White Oaks, a ghost town from the 1890’s (population 20), located 12 miles NE of Carrizozo (population 1,000) and 40 miles from Ruidoso (population 10,000). The town is at the feet of the Jicarilla Mountains at 6,200 feet of elevation, adjacent to the million-acre Lincoln National Forest. It is located in SE New Mexico, 2 hours from Albuquerque and 3 hours from Santa Fe.



White Oaks

I originally went to White Oaks to look at a 40-acre parcel that unfortunately sold 6 days before I got there.  I have now visited White Oaks six times since June 2017, meeting more of the town’s folks each time.  Each visit to White Oaks has been inspiring and nourishing.  I find its residents authentic, intelligent, open-minded, quirky, sweet and fun.  Although it is far from the city, I think both the town and its surroundings make an attractive destination for people in search of unusual, quiet and restful.  The drive on U.S. Routes 285 and 54 is easy and beautiful.  

I have been in conversation with 4 long-term residents of White Oaks about MACLT:

Jaimee has lived in White Oaks for 15 years.  She owns 20 acres and runs a small tree nursery that specializes in desert-adapted fruit trees.  She also trains horses, and was a competitive rider in her younger days.

Anne has lived in White Oaks for 16 years and is the real estate agent for the area.  She has 3 donkeys with French names and lives in an 1892 Victorian house that she occasionally rents out for movie productions.  

Karen is a psychologist working for the State of New Mexico who specializes in autistic children.  She owns the only remaining sandstone building in town (called the Brown building from the original owner’s name), as well as two larger parcels (35 and 27 acres) adjacent to town.  She has 8 acre-feet of irrigation water rights attached to one of her wells.  Karen offered part of one of her parcels (7 acres) but it is too steep for development.

Don is a fourth generation resident (his grandma left him a one-acre lot in town), and a genius-of-all-mechanical-trades.  He has experience in Earthship and adobe construction.  He has a well-organized boneyard full of construction material, welding equipment, sawmill, backhoe, and dump truck (all the tools a homesteader dreams of!), and is excited about teaching practical skills to young people.


School House


The presentations that I have made about MACLT in White Oaks were well received.  I have felt very welcome, as well as appreciated for who I am and what I propose to bring to the town.

White Oaks could benefit from an influx of younger folks, the establishment of a small farm, and over time -the creation of small cottage industries. The town has only one sandstone building still standing, a brick schoolhouse that is on the historical registry, two Victorian houses, a fire station, a bar open on the weekend, and remnants from mine operations, as well as a few houses and old mining shacks.  There is good ground water and some natural springs in the hills.  Karen  is exploring the possibility of buying or leasing  land to build a tiny house park.  A cafĂ© is also in the long-term plans, and Karen and Don have already purchased the needed restaurant equipment.  The intellectual, artistic and skills capital are all present for the rejuvenation of a tiny town, and its residents seem excited and ready for some new blood (Don said: “bring it on!”).

Anne's House

There are only a few properties currently for sale in White Oaks, none of them suited to the needs of MACLT development.  The town is still legally platted with tiny lots from the mining days, which are not buildable as they are too small for a well permit or septic system.  I am now visiting White Oaks every Wednesday and Thursday to meet more of the town’s resident and see if one of them would be willing to sell some of their land. Because the population is aging, the prospect of a caring house on the MACLT property may appeal to town residents who would like to finish their days in White Oaks.  

During my visit last week, I met some new folks:  

An elderly couple has 20 acres at the entrance of town.  He used to work for LANL and she is a great gardener.

An elderly woman with 80 acres at the edge of town.  She has horses and is a writer. She showed me her pistol grip shotgun that she welcomes hunters with when they trespass on her property (she must be 70 and barely 5’)

A biologist, his partner and their 6 year-old daughter, who are  interested in putting their property in conservation in a few years.

Ivy is a successful potter who lives a few miles up in the hills above town.

If a property manifests in White Oaks or elsewhere in New Mexico, my plan is to first build a rustic but comfortable camp (platforms with army-type tents, composting toilets, outdoor kitchen and showers) and start welcoming individuals and groups interested in helping design the permaculture master plan for the property.

Some of these individuals may be interested in becoming resident members of the land trust, interns wanting to learn all aspects of homesteading in the hi-desert, young farmers looking for a place to farm and raise a family, organizations in NM interested in using the land trust for educational retreats, or individuals simply interested in being connected to a rural farm community that they can visit and enjoy.


The Brown Building

Even though my focus is on White Oaks for the moment, I am also keeping my eyes on other areas closer to Santa Fe.  Should you be aware of any property suited for MACLT, please feel free to contact me here.

MACLT could purchase a property and keep its former owner(s) on the property (they maintain ownership of their house).  Easements could be created on the property to add benefits to the seller in the form of tax credits.  For more details please see here.

And finally… the New Mexico Community Foundation, our fiscal-sponsor who has held the funds ($38,000) that we raised for MACLT in 2014-15, has notified us that we have to use the funds by the end of the year or risk losing them (they would be distributed to other nonprofit projects with a similar goal).

It has been a long journey since Gaia Gardens closed in 2015.  I have driven 50,000 miles since then, crisscrossing the country during the elections, attending permaculture gatherings, lending a hand at Standing Rock, and looking for property in New Mexico and Colorado. I even spent a week in Utah looking for land as I have good permaculture friends in Salt Lake.

Lots has happened on the world stage and consequently I am more inspired and committed than ever to experimenting with the creation of sustainable rural community focused on permaculture education, affordable housing, food production, and life skills sharing.

More than ever, my heart looks forward to creating an oasis in the desert and welcoming people from all walks of life to experience sanity, beauty, community, in a setting that’s multi-generational, inspiring, accessible and fun.

I look forward to hearing from anyone with ideas, resources or just a little hello.

To be continued….

Poki