Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy Holidays from all of me at Mil Abrazos!

What a year it’s been!  Last December, I moved to Dilia, 1.5hr from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the Mil Abrazos Community Land Trust purchased 32-acres of ancient agricultural land along the Pecos River.

The mission of the Trust, a nonprofit operating under the fiscal sponsorship of the New Mexico Community Foundation, includes affordable housing, agriculture and other cottage industries, permaculture education and land restoration.

Located south of Las Vegas on the lower Pecos watershed, the area has deeply captured my soul. The landscape, nourished by an Acequia tradition dating back to 1820, is a place of great beauty, serenity and abundance of wild life.

I hit the ground running as soon as we took possession of the property, and while sleeping in my truck through most of the winter, proceeded to develop the basic camp infrastructure for the incubation, design and creation of a new agrarian settlement for the benefit of future generations.

Way before I arrived here, I knew that in order to begin a design process with the broader community, I had to build enough infrastructure to comfortably accommodate the people and organizations with whom I have interacted with during my time in Santa Fe and elsewhere. 

Much has been accomplished in a year to prepare the place for visitors and group activities next spring:

  • A 400 sq ft caretaker’s cabin was completely remodeled
  • A full bathroom and laundry room was built
  • A bunkhouse with 4 beds was created for visitors and interns
  • 450 tree seedlings were planted and irrigation installed for the trees
  • The bridge over the acequia was rebuilt to accommodate large trucks
  • The electrical wiring has been upgraded
  • Fiber optic Internet has been brought to the property
  • Property was registered with the USDA Farm Bureau
  • 32 acre-feet of water rights were legally documented with the Office of the State Engineer
  • A 640 sq ft shop was set up for carpentry, welding, craft and repairs of all kinds
  • A 2,000 square-feet steel structure addition, which will accommodate a handicap bathroom, mudroom, camp kitchen and dining hall for 30 people, is currently being erected

Check here for a detailed picture report of our 2018 infrastructure accomplishments

I can say that time has gone fast and has also been very healing for me. 

There’s something profound about living and working alone on a quiet piece of land, dreaming and building a stage for the emergence of a new community. Being pregnant in a way, listening deeply, creating a nest, preparing to give birth. 

When you are here, there’s nowhere to go. For an entire year I was able to work 4-5 days a week at the property, undistracted and uninterrupted.  My home life being yoga, reading, writing, eating well and baking cookies for my friends. My social life consisting of going to mass on Sunday to meet my neighbors, and participating in the governance and maintenance of our complex 12-mile long communal irrigation system. 

While being here, I’ve been reflecting on how to respectfully and beneficially integrate a small multi-family settlement, with various associated cottage industries, within an old land grant that’s exquisitely quiet and slow, a fertile and well-irrigated traditional bread basket that ought to be preserved and revitalized.


I purposefully chose to begin the project by myself for that and many other reasons, including wishing to do a year-long permaculture observation of the land, trees, patterns, wildlife, plants, weather, people and local customs.

Mesmerized all day by the dance of the many birds calling this watershed their home or wintering ground, bathed in the freshest air and unpolluted skies, surrounded by pastures interspaced with large deciduous trees, ponds and all the beautiful biota that lives by the water, something else has been unfolding.

My mind seems to have accelerated its pace of decolonization.  As if a new way of thinking, feeling and looking at things has slowly but noticeably been emerging.  As if the mysterious strands of our DNA contain the useful wisdom of the past, becoming accessible to us when the times call for it.

It seems to me as though the times are now calling!  And my heart tells me that it’s from that mind that I wish to create, and co-create from.


What I have begun is setting the stage for the development of a small human settlement that will be designed around principles of land trust, where land is held in the commons and cannot be speculated on. I have been thinking long term, for the benefit of future generations.

My heart is into creating spaces where we learn and share skills, and develop resilience for what could possibly be a chaotic and difficult future.  Some of these skills will be old technologies of decision-making that many people sense we must bring back into our governing structures if we are going to survive, as well as skills of self-care, communication, parenting, healing, eldercare, cooperation, resource sharing, homeschooling, food production and more.

Being well aware of climate change upheavals, and of the fragility of our food system, I envision an agrarian project that also actively participates in the preservation and restoration of farmland for regenerative food production.  A community with its resources and programs engaged in supporting the economic revitalization of a neighboring 3,000-acre traditional bread basket with a rich and colorful farming and ranching tradition, while also assuring that the 200 year-old irrigation infrastructure is well maintained for the optimum flow and distribution of water.

Having experienced community living and land trust environments, I have learned that going slow is paramount.  Moving a bunch of people on a property and hoping that things will work has shown to often be unsustainable, unstable or even quite dysfunctional!

I am also painfully aware of the “founder’s syndrome” and do not wish to create a project that solely relies on my energy and ideas to function. So beyond initiating the project, raising the initial capital, loaning all the money I have to bootstrap the birthing phase, and doing 95% of the construction by myself in building the initial camp, it is my intention to have the next steps of this adventure be designed, financed and built with and by the larger community.

My 4-year experiment with Gaia Gardens, has put me in touch with a broad network of people and organizations, all working towards the creation of a better world. Many of them, and lots of new ones, will be invited to contribute to various aspects of the design process.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who supported Gaia Gardens and helped launch the Mil Abrazos Community Land Trust project.

The owner of the Gaia Gardens property, wwoofers and volunteers, our neighbors at Los Chamisos, the Will Atkinson Estate, EarthCare, the New Mexico Community Foundation, the Santa Fe Community Foundation, the McCune Foundation, our CSA members and customers at the Farmers’ Market, LaMontanita Coop, The Food Depot, Monte del Sol Charter School, Payne’s Nursery, Santa Fe Greenhouses, Aromaland, all the people who generously donated to our "Let's buy the Farm" Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, the many seed companies that donated organic seeds, and all the strangers who visited our politically controversial farm stand, and became friends and supporters.

As much as many of us dream of living in the country, raising and homeschooling children in a farm setting, making a livelihood through a successful cottage industry or cooperative, or aging in a village setting where elders are loved, useful and respected, there are not that many communities out there doing that. 

If it were easy, there would be many happy, thriving intentional rural communities…

For me, creating rural community must be coordinated and designed to also serve other functions like preserving farmland from
real estate speculation and development, and destructive monoculture. Our new agrarian settlements ought to be sanctuaries for people and wildlife, learning centers, and dynamic nodes in the evolution of culture.

In addition, our project will help give land access to aspiring farmers who otherwise couldn’t afford property, as farmland prices are exorbitant and it is no longer feasible to repay a mortgage from the revenues of a small farm. 

I am currently writing a grant ($25,000) to help pay for a comprehensive Permaculture Master Plan process that will draw upon the rich pool of talents in our region and beyond, on all the topics that ought to be weaved in the creation of a community farm school sanctuary-type.  This process will begin as soon as the dining hall and camp kitchen are ready.  Elders, Farmers, Builders and Engineers, Herbalists and Healers, Parents, Artists and Musicians, Activists, Permaculturists and all the organizations dealing with youth, recovery, poverty, food justice and economic development in rural Northern New Mexico will be invited to participate in the design process.

My intention is to proceed in a deliberate and wise way to define a vision and master plan, engaging a broad community to help design, finance and build a creative outpost for learning in nature and in community.

My hunch, and hope, is that a qualified group of potential residents will emerge from the many sessions of the design process and other group activities at the property.

It could be a couple years, while a vision is clarified and governing documents put in place, before residents settle here.  I’m currently the caretaker of the property and the project manager.  The process of designing the community will reveal whether it’s appropriate for me to be part of the community, or if my calling takes me elsewhere. 

What’s most important for me right now is to secure and restore traditional farmland, and plant the seed for a small sustainable agrarian settlement to take root, for the benefit of future generations.

I have been inspired to weave eldercare in the vision of the project, all the way to a dying house by the river.  Embedded in the governing agreements of the community will be clauses to address the caring of elders by the community and residents rights to finish their life on the land if they choose to.  There is support from hospice care organizations in our network to help us with this essential topic.

A friend of mine, who died a couple years ago, left behind a bunch of useful earth-moving equipment (Bobcat with many attachments, trucks, trailers) that we are looking at purchasing from his wife and create a land restoration collective run by women, an idea that I have pitched to several organizations in Santa Fe that have shown interest in supporting such a project, which could become one of our cottage industries.

Now here comes the fun money part…

The launch of this project was partially financed by the $38,000 we raised in 2015 through an Indiegogo campaign, while running Gaia Gardens.

I personally loaned $30,000 to the project to help secure the property, which is owner-financed.  The nonprofit still owes $120,000 on the land.

I also loaned the non-profit another $50,000 to finance the first 18 months of loan payments ($800/month), utilities ($130/month), property and non-profit insurance ($2,000/year) and material and hired labor to build the first layer of infrastructure. 

The latest push to build the 2,000sq’ steel addition, wrapped around the existing shipping containers, is costing a lot more money than anticipated as I have hired a team of experienced welders, and metal isn’t cheap.  A lot of structural metal having been donated to the project, and the existing structure being steel, it made sense to invest in building the addition with metal to withstand the potential destructive force of climate change. 

The money I had saved, and knew I would loan to the project to bootstrap its coming into existence, has been well used.  I have built houses, created homesteads and farms before, and know all aspects of construction. I have learned how to efficiently build, source and stage material, get things donated, find stuff and make things out of nothing.  

I am very pleased with all that has been accomplished.

And...the money that has birthed and propelled this project forward will soon run out.

I knew I would eventually have to remove my hardhat and start raising capital. Well, this time has come a little sooner than expected…

I have begun contacting some of our largest donors from our 2015 capital campaign, soliciting year-end donations.

I am now reaching out to our larger network here to ask for your support and generosity.

Things we need:

  • Money
  • Building Material 
  • Legal Counsel
  • Grant writing
  • Fundraising
  • Bookkeeping
  • Land restoration expertise related to flood irrigation
  • Hemp production expertise (it is now legal in New Mexico)
See our wish list for more details

I look forward to welcoming many of you soon for some good food, stargazing, bird watching, playing by the river, building mud huts and composting toilets, tending animals, gardens and fields, and mingling with an interesting and diverse group of people.

Like all the creation I have been part of, for me they are simply environments to help mix ideas, people, styles, practices, talents, visions and resources.

Helping to create a feeling of community.  A sense of belonging.  A place to be oneself, heal and feel useful, supported and appreciated. 

Thank you again for your support, ideas, inspiration, encouragements and love!

And Happy New Year to all of you,


Check the Photo Gallery for a visual tour of our first year on the land

Mil Abrazos Community Land Trust is a non-profit project fiscally-sponsored by the
New Mexico Community Foundation, a 501(c)3
Donations are tax-deductible

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Acequia Cleanup days

Sat. Feb. 24
Sat. March 3

@ 8:00am

In Dilia, NM  (1.5 hr from Santa Fe)

An opportunity to immerse ourselves in the ancient New Mexico Acequia culture, meet our neighbors and support a 200 year-old tradition.
Each year, irrigation ditches get shutdown for cleanup.  

Trees, willows, boulders and sand/silt get removed from the ditch. Flumes, gates, spillways and bridges get repaired at this time.
Guadalupe County workers will be helping with a backhoe and the parsiantes (farmers and ranchers using the ditch) show up for the annual cleanup.
Come with family and bring clothes to get dirty, rubber boots, shovel, handsaw or chainsaw if you have, and gloves if you plan to join the work crew.

As you may know, the Mil Abrazos Community Land Trust, which sprung out of the Gaia Gardens experiment, has purchased farmland in Dilia, an hour and a half from Santa Fe. The property is located in the Anton Chico Land Grant, dating back to 1822. The Vado de Jaun Paiz acequia, built by hand in the 1800’s, is 13 miles long and serves 1,800 acres of irrigated land in the Anton Chico Land Grant.
It has been a yearly tradition throughout New Mexico for farming communities to clean and repair their acequias before the farming season.
The Anton Chico Land Grant population is aging and from what I have been told, fewer than half the parciantes (one who shares the water) show up on acequia cleanup days, even though everyone who draws water from the acequia is obligated to participate, or send someone to help (that helper is called a peon!).

You are all invited to come help or witness the cleanup.
Please RSVP if you plan to attend (I will be sending directions to those coming). Limited indoor accommodations and camping available for those wishing to spend the night at the property Friday night.

I look forward to meeting more of my neighbors and introducing you to this beautiful area.