Press and Radio

July 29, 2014


Free Farmin’
Can urban farming flourish in the high desert?

By Conor L Sanchez

Growing up in the Candlelight neighborhood of Santa Fe, I often felt like I lived in adobe suburbia. The homes in this wedge just west of the intersection of Zia Road and St. Francis Drive are pretty cookie-cutter, you have to drive everywhere and nearly every property has a perfectly manicured yard full of gravel. 

So when I visited Gaia Gardens for the first time this summer, I felt like I had been transported into another dimension. The whole setting, from the lush garden beds with over 30 different types of vegetables to the spacious chicken coop where fresh eggs are produced daily, breaks the mold of concrete driveways and xeriscaped landscapes. 

To get to the farm that’s off Yucca Road along the Arroyo Chamiso Trail, I park on Paseo de los Chamisos and walk through a set of wrought-iron gates adorned with Zia symbols. I am greeted by a long-haired 20-something guy on a bike, who turns out to be a volunteer with Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an organization that links volunteers with organic farms all over the planet.

We walk down the hill toward the gardens where Poki Piottin, the farm’s founder, is organizing deliveries for the day. As we stand under a tree chatting, Dominique Pozo, Piottin’s partner and the farm’s artistic director, walks outside and shouts at us to look up. We lift our heads in time to spot a large gray and white bird perched on a nearby branch. 

Despite growing up a mile away and attending high school just down the street, I had never seen a hawk here before. 

For Piottin, this is what it’s all about—getting the community to engage with the environment and its neighbors in a way that doesn’t happen in cities anymore. 

“I tend to look at this operation more from the intangible side of things,” he says. “They aren’t hard figures, so you may have to use your imagination for the benefits of nurturing well-oxygenated kids and happy moms who stop by here on a daily basis.” 

Proponents of urban farming are offering up a lot of hype, going so far as to tout its potential to rejuvenate depressed neighborhoods in cities like Detroit and Baltimore by developing unused land, addressing food insecurity and promoting healthier diets. 

I knew nothing about the concept until two years ago, when a friend in Washington DC said he was growing tomatoes on his roof. On Facebook, friends in New York City and San Francisco were posting photos of themselves in overalls with skylines in the background. 

When I moved back to Santa Fe in June, I was convinced I’d find a plethora of these progressive efforts to build a more sustainable future for food production. I didn’t. 

One way cities can promote urban farming is by addressing land use laws. Those ordinances are typically broken down into three categories: residential, commercial and industrial. And since urban farms often occur in someone’s backyard, cities are grappling with how to appropriately regulate these new operations given their tendency to blur the lines they’ve drawn over the past half-century. 

The city of Santa Fe, however, has yet to produce a policy that addresses urban farming. Last summer, the Public Works Committee considered a resolution that ordered city staff to look at ways for urban agriculture to be integrated into land use, but that didn’t get far. Now, the Santa Fe Food Policy Council is preparing what it calls “a comprehensive food plan,” part of which addresses urban agriculture. This fall, those formal recommendations are expected to land before city and county officials. 

Gaia Gardens is a perfect example of how bumpy the road can be. The farm started in February 2012 shortly after Piottin spent six months working on a farm in San Pancho, Mexico. 

Piottin has spent the last two years working to develop the farm despite complaints from some neighbors about the frequency of farm visitors. Last summer the city issued citations about code violations on the property and even said school kids could no longer take field trips to work on the farm and volunteers weren’t allowed to sleep in tents there. A farm stand had to be shuttered and the produce couldn’t legally be sold from the site, the city ordered. 

I knocked on the door of the neighbor who, according to Piottin, takes photos of the garden when too many volunteers are on the field. She told me she was “addressing the issue in other ways” and shut the door. 

Even if the city adopts a more farm-friendly policy in residential zones, I wonder what we can realistically expect from a region that averages 14.21 inches of rainfall per year and where the cost of water, not to mention land, is so high. 

Although Gaia Gardens has a permit application with the State Engineer that is under protest and could affect the water part of the equation, much of their overhead costs are uniquely low. Last year, they brought in just over $21,000 from sales. Their total expenses were $16,000, leaving the farm with about $5,000 in net revenue. 

The slim profit margin, Piottin says, is why it is so important that the city provide support for urban farmers. “There’s a lot of talent and potential here. We may be behind most cities, but we can forget that by creating something that help young urban farmers,” he says. 

Although Gaia remains the city’s largest commercial farm, there has been a local uptick in the number of residents interested in farming. 

“I would definitely say that in more recent years, urban farming has become a growing trend in Santa Fe, and not in the sense of large commercial farming, but rather a lot of folks just want to grow their own food,” says Patrick Torres, interim Northern District director for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension program. 

Gerard Martinez, who lives in Los Cedros neighborhood near Nava Elementary, began growing food in his backyard five years ago. Today, Martinez says he saves $300 on food costs each year by getting food from his backyard. 

The biggest challenge, he says, is water. He’s installed an irrigation system that reclaims water used by his dishwasher, but he says if the city is serious about helping urban farmers, it also needs to find residents more access to graywater. 

So what’s holding urban farming back? 

It’s impossible to argue that Santa Feans lack the interest or ingenuity to boost local food production and expand access to affordable produce on their own. But residents need clarity as to how the city plans to regulate farms, and they could really use greater access to safe reclaimed water. 

My childhood neighborhood needed something like Gaia. I’m waiting for the city government to catch up.
 Conor L Sanchez is a graduate of Santa Fe High and Occidental College who will leave for Nicaragua to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer next month.


 June 21, 2014

Reader View: Gaia Gardens - a remarkable treasure

As a first-time visitor to Santa Fe, where I’ve spent the week training 15 high school teachers for environmental science, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Gaia Gardens organic urban farm. For many years, I’ve heard so many good things about Santa Fe — a national leader in arts and sustainability — and thus was delighted to find this jewel in the heart of your lovely city.
During my visit, I learned not only is Gaia Gardens producing high-quality organic products but also has the mission of educating Santa Fe citizens, including students on all levels.

I also learned of your “Sustainable Santa Fe Plan,” yet another forward-thinking program that includes “making the community more resilient in the face of climate change” based on the three principles of environmental stewardship, economic health and social justice.


Gaia Gardens encompasses your commitment promoting all three of these principles. There is no greater human impact on our biosphere than agriculture, which consumes 40 percent of our planet’s fresh water, 40 percent of its arable land, more than 40 percent of the gross annual biological productivity and a toxic soup of agrichemicals while it emits 18 percent of global greenhouse gases. This is obviously an unsustainable food production system.


Thank goodness for Gaia Gardens, which demonstrates another way — highly nutritional, local, organic produce with carbon-neutral input and insignificant water use. If you haven’t visited this remarkable operation, you’re missing a Santa Fe treasure.


Thanks to Santa Fe for its foresight in promoting such activities. I will be telling your story to many more as I travel across the nation for my teacher-training activities.


Jack Greene is a College Board Advanced Placement environmental science workshop consultant and resides in Logan, Utah.

 


June 28, 2014

Our View: Urban farming needs support, not more talk

Most city folk have no business wearing a pair of overalls or handling a scythe. But some are anxious to try. As the demand for locally grown food continues to rise nationwide, a few city dwellers are responding by tilling the soil in vacant lots, empty fields, rooftops and other innovative spaces. It’s called urban farming — the growing and harvesting of food in a city that is intended for sale — and it’s taking off, little by little.
 

Some cities have even implemented policies encouraging and subsidizing its growth, helping the movement to reach its full potential. For example, San Francisco is considering tax breaks for property owners who make empty lots available for farming. Detroit has enacted an urban agriculture ordinance law, specifying where farms can operate and under what conditions. Austin, Texas, has adopted a framework that helps farmers connect the dots between various stakeholders.

Cities are taking action because they recognize that urban agriculture does more than just produce locally grown, sustainable food. It builds community, improves the environment, beautifies empty lots, increases food security and encourages healthy diets. The verdict is still out on whether the concept has any substantial economic potential, but few can argue its ability to bring people together and to educate them about food production.

Despite all this, Santa Fe seems to be on the fence.

Gaia Gardens — located across from Santa Fe High along the Arroyo Chamiso Trail — remains one of the few commercial urban farms inside city limits. Since it started in 2012, the organization has repeatedly been cited for various city code violations. At one point last year, the Gaia controversy prompted the city’s Public Works Committee to consider a resolution ordering staff to look at ways urban agriculture can be integrated into land uses. Unfortunately, the resolution has not progressed.

Regardless of how the Gaia saga plays out, the city needs to let residents know where it stands. The absence of a concrete, citywide policy sends a message of indifference to would-be urban farmers and their would-be customers. The Santa Fe Food Policy Council has prepared a food plan that covers a range of issues, including urban agriculture. After taking comments from the public, the council will make a recommendation to city and county officials for what is most appropriate for our city, given its unique water needs. Irrigation water rights should be available on some vacant lots, making growing food possible and affordable. Their recommendations are expected to come in early fall.

There may not be a magic formula that leads to the successful implementation of urban agricultural initiatives. Cities inevitably have differing approaches, each according to their own needs, desires and politics. But the longer Santa Fe waits to figure out what works best for its population, the longer it postpones reaping the benefits of what is already serving to revitalize hundreds of communities throughout the United States. With food insecurity such a problem in New Mexico, making healthy, fresh food available close to home makes sense.

If Santa Fe wants to be a leader in the green economy, we have to dig deeper.



Feb. 1, 2014




Urban Farming-The School of the Future?
Wendell Berry, the legendary farmer and poet states: “Our Children no longer learn how to read the great book of Nature from their own direct experience, or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens."
When my mother took me to my first kindergarten class, I screamed and kicked; I had no desire to go to school. Already I sensed I would be confined and indoctrinated for many years, molded into a good tax-paying citizen. I survived my so-called “education” and became a creative entrepreneur for 25 years until the 1999 World Trade Organization events in Seattle. Profoundly affected by our government’s violent response to civil disobedience, I vowed to become an activist and steward of the Earth. For the past ten years, I have been involved in a variety of projects related to sustainability and, at 52 years of age, became a farmer.
I chose to farm within the City to interact with and inspire as many people as possible, believing that lasting ecological health and social well-being are fostered by rekindling our connection to the Earth and reclaiming our food sovereignty. For the past two years, with the help of countless volunteers and school children, we have built Gaia Gardens, a one-acre working farm, using imagination, elbow grease and a wealth of community resources.
A farm is much more than a place that grows vegetables.  It is a living organism, a sanctuary for wildlife, a business operation, and a micro-community.  In order to keep it alive, the people involved must understand not only the world of plants and soil health, but also plumbing, carpentry, electricity, animal husbandry, accounting, public relations, sales, marketing, grassroots community organizing, conflict resolution, and, as we’ve painfully discovered this year, politics.
Unlike the sustainable Santa Fe of 1919, when a survey found 1200 acres of farmland irrigated by 38 acequias, modern urban farms must negotiate a maze of city ordinances, building codes, land use and water issues, all in an effort to demonstrate compatibility with the neighboring residential community.
In addition to growing food, Gaia Garden’s activities have also included educating school children, working with groups of volunteers, hosting free workshops, and setting up a produce stand.  Such activities have conflicted with existing city ordinances regulating a business in a residential neighborhood. 
Although these activities fully align with the 2008 Sustainable Santa Fe Plan passed by the City Council, our current city ordinances do not accommodate the reality of urban farming.
When I look at Gaia Gardens, I see not only a modern version of a victory garden but a perfect school, all in harmony with a regenerative Santa Fe.  Math, physics, ecology, science, construction, economics, art and more are all present in a palpable and real-time form.  And best of all, the classroom is outdoors, so a child can BE with Nature, have fun, learn the skills of the future and build a strong and healthy body at the same time.
The mission of Gaia Gardens is to inspire a citywide movement of urban farming and permaculture education, while demonstrating the viability of urban farming in Santa Fe. Our project explores numerous revenue-generating elements that can be incorporated in such operation.  We sell produce at the Farmers Market and through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), along with plant starts, worms, compost tea, seeds and healing salves.  
Education and community building are probably the greatest benefits of an urban farm and are certainly compatible with residential zoning. Many Cities have already passed comprehensive urban farming ordinances because they understand that urban farms help build self-reliant communities and inspire positive local action around food access and interrelated social, economic, and racial justice issues.
How do we prepare ourselves and our children to live in a World desperate for restoration and care? Can we afford to wait for our school system and government to evolve and provide kids with the necessary tools to cope with the monumental task that they will inherit?
One practical way to prepare our children is to consider urban farms as partners-in-education with our local school system. This may require new city ordinances that allow urban farms to become sustainable education centers while also paving the way for them to attract capital, land and infrastructure so they can fulfill their purpose.
Children who learn to care for the Earth, belong to community, grow food, build and repair things, and heal themselves naturally are much more apt to become adults who will create rather than destroy the future. These adults will contribute to the regeneration of our ecosystem, fostering a healthy and resilient culture.
Poki Piottin, together with his partner Dominique Pozo, operates Gaia Gardens (www.thegaiagardens.org) a non-profit urban farm in Santa Fe. They are currently exploring ways to purchase the 3.5-acre property where the farm is located.  Poki can be reached at poki@nodilus.org  505-796-6006.  Donations to the farm are tax-deductible.

Nov. 17, 2013



CLICK ON IMAGE TO READ ARTICLE   




Oct. 13, 2013

 

As a longtime ecology educator in town, I wondered what all the fuss is about Gaia Gardens, so I rode the bike trail right to the gardens and visited the only educational produce garden in the city.
As a gardener of four decades in Santa Fe’s challenging high desert environs, I was impressed by what I discovered. Even more so with the winds of climate change. Gaia Gardens is beautiful, productive and resilient, because its caretakers understand soil microbiology, are dedicated to building soil fertility and water wisely with state-of-the-art drip irrigation (four times a day for 10 minutes — brilliant!)


Only one neighbor out of a hundred in the neighborhood has complained about “the activities of the farm being beyond the scope of a home occupation business”; examples cited were using small groups of volunteers to run the farm operation and welcoming a few groups from the neighborhood schools. Why can’t the Gaia Gardens people, who are excellent youth mentors, and whose project is so needed in Santa Fe, work with groups of volunteers and school groups for free?

These are vegetable farmers who make $500 per week during the growing season, a far cry from the neighbor’s description of the farm being a “massive commercial operation.” So few people who attempt these types of community gardening projects succeed. The hurdles and challenges are too many. The restrictions imposed by the city already have badly damaged the farm financially.

But worse, neighbors, many of them elders and children, have been prevented from gathering and working together as they had done for the past year. It would be a shame to lose these gardens and see its operators relocate to a more urban farm-friendly town. I doubt that anybody will try again having a neighborhood farm school in Santa Fe after this experience.

The Gaia Gardens folks are exemplary teachers: kind, disciplined and generous. They did not deserve to be maligned. Their being called “bad neighbors” in the press is a shame when the neighborhood association of 43 homes bordering the farm on two sides has voted in favor of having the farm in the neighborhood.

Santa Fe needs to make this excellent educational gardening project possible, or the next generation will not learn this most vital human knowledge which we desperately need for each new generation. Each neighborhood needs a gardens and youth project. Perhaps this can be surmounted with “a little help from our friends” such as the Santa Fe youth and ecology supporting foundations? We are nominating the main gardeners, Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo, for the next New Mexican “10 Who Made a Difference” award and as Santa Fe Living Treasures.

I encourage all the city councilors to visit this unique urban farm, as Ron Trujillo and Peter Ives have already done. I hope the Gaia Gardens folks will be able to persevere and get past the hurdles, and that people realize the great gift this farm gives Santa Fe. These are the folks that we need involved in the new Arroyo de los Chamisos watershed enhancement the city is about to embark on.

If you read their blog at http://gaiagardens.blogspot.com I believe you will see the truth of the situation. Please, wise citizens of Santa Fe, help save Gaia Gardens. They need and deserve to be championed.


Chris Wells is director of the All Species Project’s “Healing human relationship to the Earth, elements and species through cultural arts and applied ecology.” He has been the recipient of The Santa Fe New Mexican “10 who made a Difference” award, as well as the Roger Tory Petersen Award for excellence in ecological education.
















AUGUST 25, 2013

Santa Fe drafting urban farming regulations



















AUGUST 25, 2013 

Article and Interviews on SeedBroadcast 

The struggle to hold the hope and dreams for a new urban agriculture in Santa Fe, New Mexico




August 13, 2013

City Council considers resolution to promote urban agriculture
By Julie Ann Grimm
 

 

 July 28, 2013

Urban Farms Help Create Communities 

 




















 

There has been a lot of recent buzz related to farming in metro areas. While there always are multiple aspects to consider, making the most of urban farms and gardens provides the opportunity to bring together a broad spectrum of fields — including health, urban planning, transportation, education, environment, food and sustainable agriculture, and economic development — in creating healthy communities.

As a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting locally based agriculture, Farm to Table’s programs strive for equity in our food system. As such, we consider city-based farms and gardens exceptional venues in reducing the disconnect that happens when the only food consumed is store-bought.


Regardless of income level, urban farms and gardens enhance our quality of life. They can improve community nutrition and physical activity, maintain cultural traditions and help enhance food security by providing opportunities for community-members from all income-levels to grow or purchase local fresh produce. Low-income communities, where fresh produce is often hard to find and expensive, greatly benefit by having nearby urban farms and gardens that provide access to healthy options, which otherwise are not available.
As an entrepreneurship venture, urban farming can be an economic development option that, while requiring regulation to ensure multi-zone neighborhoods work well together, has benefits that surpass a routine business transaction.
Beyond increasing the accessibility of local fresh produce, urban farms and gardens build local leadership, have the involvement of volunteers and community partners, and include skill-and-awareness-building opportunities for community members of all ages and interests.
Likewise, Farm to Table supports engaging children in gardens and agricultural-related activities that help develop the understanding of the interdependence of all living things. Many educational goals can be addressed through gardens, including personal and social responsibility, such as how to be a good neighbor and how to care for a livable environment. Gardens and agriculture integrate several subjects, such as science, math, art, health and physical education, with social studies, storytelling, creativity, visioning and play.
We hope Santa Feans share Farm to Table’s support of urban farming and gardens, and, as such, embrace livable spaces that add options and access to healthy foods in our community.
Visit us at www.farmtotablenm.org to learn about all of our programs.

Nelsy Dominguez is the deputy director of Farm to Table.



July 25, 2013

Gaia Gardens working on code issues

City inspectors found a host of violations at the property that hosts Gaia Gardens off the Arroyo de los Chamisos Trail, but progress is being made to correct every one, according to city Land Use Director Matthew O’Reilly.

But that doesn’t mean the urban farm is out of hot water. A water use complaint is pending with the Office of the State Engineer, and farm founder Poki Piottin said he still faces a series of obstacles before he can run the property in a way that would match his vision.

Two issues are at work here. One relates to structures and rental units on the property, which is owned by Stuart Jay Tallmon, who lives in Colorado. The other relates to the appropriate type of activity at a large garden there, created by Piottin, whose produce is sold at the Farmers Market and used to be sold at the garden.

The most recent violations stemmed from a June 27 inspection at the property, from which notices of violation were issued July 3. The most urgent issue, according to O’Reilly, was that water distribution lines from a private well had been connected to unpotable water in an underground cistern. “That was taken care of,” he said. “They tested and sanitized the lines.”

Other violations concerned shed construction, plumbing and electrical installations, and other renovations that were done at several buildings, including rental units, on the property without required permits. Others involved things such as improper venting for a water heater and dryer, lack of safety railings on stairs, lack of ground fault circuit interruption on electrical receptacles, and more.

One issue affecting the garden concerned the need for erosion controls in an area that was graded.
“They are taking care of these items,” O’Reilly said. “We will give them more time to take care of some of these things … They’re being very responsible and we appreciate it.”

But Piottin, who said he was turned down the first time, is trying again to get a home occupation license that will allow him to operate the farm in a residential area. And even if his second try is successful, such a license “is very restrictive about how many people we can have visiting and have working” in the garden, he said.

His website tells volunteers that he can currently have only two people at a time helping out in the garden. It also shows photos of a July 1 community potluck with about three small tables of visitors.
“We want to have three groups of five kids each week, during certain hours,” Piottin said of approvals he’s seeking.

But Piottin, who said he wants to be able to serve an educational function, showing groups how to create such a garden in urban spaces, is wrestling with how to have such visitors allowed.
Applying for rezoning or a special use permit could be very costly, and likely would encounter some community opposition, he said.

Piottin said he is also faced with a complaint to the Office of the State Engineer about using a domestic well for commercial purposes and is also in the process of declaring water rights on a second well on the land.

“If we don’t get an extension from the Office of the State Engineer, or succeed at obtaining a declaration of agricultural water rights, we will have to stop selling our produce by August 12 (as per order from the Office of the State Engineer),” he wrote in an email.

Complaint to City
 
Susan Turner, who lists a Llano Street address and filed the initial complaint against the property with the city Land Use Department in February, as recently as June 19 had sent photos to O’Reilly of Piottin giving a garden tour to “fifteen people, mostly children.”  She also submitted a log of six days in June during which from four to nine people were working in the garden.

Turner did not return a call from the Journal on Wednesday.

In her February complaint, she requested “an immediate halt … of any further development of this large scale for profit agricultural production.”

She alleged Tallmon placed a manufactured dwelling on the property “several years ago” that was used as a school and later as a summer camp for more than 25 children. People in the community expressed their concerns about it at the time, she wrote in her complaint.

Grading done in 2011, she wrote, altered the watershed and led to flooding of the foundation and crawl space of an adjacent home.

With Gaia Gardens, produce selling from a stand on the property (since discontinued) and the size of the agricultural production are prohibited in residential zones, she wrote, adding that the scale of the work would exceed even a home occupation license.

She referred to people picking crops early in the morning and after dark, sometimes with car lights shining on the garden. She also referred to vehicles parked on both sides of the street; stacks of equipment, debris and lumber on the property; individuals camping on the property and portable toilets brought in; vegetables growing and “shrines” created outside the property lines.
“This property continues to be an ‘eye-sore,’ and a possible health hazard,” she wrote, complaining of a degradation of property values and quality of life for nearby residents. “We were subjected … to the noxious smell of twenty plus tons of manure being spread over the property, loud speakers playing music at high volume, an audibly engine running a manure tea machine in operation all night, debris from the stirring of dust and dirt” and more, she wrote.




July 22, 2013

City inspectors found a host of violations at the property that hosts Gaia Gardens off the Arroyo de los Chamisos Trail, but progress is being made to correct every one, according to city Land Use Director Matthew O’Reilly.
But that doesn’t mean the urban farm is out of hot water. A water use complaint is pending with the Office of the State Engineer, and farm founder Poki Piottin said he still faces a series of obstacles before he can run the property in a way that would match his vision.
Two issues are at work here. One relates to structures and rental units on the property, which is owned by Stuart Jay Tallmon, who lives in Colorado. The other relates to the appropriate type of activity at a large garden there, created by Piottin, whose produce is sold at the Farmers Market and used to be sold at the garden.
The most recent violations stemmed from a June 27 inspection at the property, from which notices of violation were issued July 3. The most urgent issue, according to O’Reilly, was that water distribution lines from a private well had been connected to unpotable water in an underground cistern. “That was taken care of,” he said. “They tested and sanitized the lines.”
Other violations concerned shed construction, plumbing and electrical installations, and other renovations that were done at several buildings, including rental units, on the property without required permits. Others involved things such as improper venting for a water heater and dryer, lack of safety railings on stairs, lack of ground fault circuit interruption on electrical receptacles, and more.
One issue affecting the garden concerned the need for erosion controls in an area that was graded.
“They are taking care of these items,” O’Reilly said. “We will give them more time to take care of some of these things … They’re being very responsible and we appreciate it.”
But Piottin, who said he was turned down the first time, is trying again to get a home occupation license that will allow him to operate the farm in a residential area. And even if his second try is successful, such a license “is very restrictive about how many people we can have visiting and have working” in the garden, he said.
His website tells volunteers that he can currently have only two people at a time helping out in the garden. It also shows photos of a July 1 community potluck with about three small tables of visitors.
“We want to have three groups of five kids each week, during certain hours,” Piottin said of approvals he’s seeking.
But Piottin, who said he wants to be able to serve an educational function, showing groups how to create such a garden in urban spaces, is wrestling with how to have such visitors allowed.
Applying for rezoning or a special use permit could be very costly, and likely would encounter some community opposition, he said.
Piottin said he is also faced with a complaint to the Office of the State Engineer about using a domestic well for commercial purposes and is also in the process of declaring water rights on a second well on the land.
“If we don’t get an extension from the Office of the State Engineer, or succeed at obtaining a declaration of agricultural water rights, we will have to stop selling our produce by August 12 (as per order from the Office of the State Engineer),” he wrote in an email.
Complaint to city
Susan Turner, who lists a Llano Street address and filed the initial complaint against the property with the city Land Use Department in February, as recently as June 19 had sent photos to O’Reilly of Piottin giving a garden tour to “fifteen people, mostly children.”
She also submitted a log of six days in June during which from four to nine people were working in the garden.
Turner did not return a call from the Journal on Wednesday.
In her February complaint, she requested “an immediate halt … of any further development of this large scale for profit agricultural production.”
She alleged Tallmon placed a manufactured dwelling on the property “several years ago” that was used as a school and later as a summer camp for more than 25 children. People in the community expressed their concerns about it at the time, she wrote in her complaint.
Grading done in 2011, she wrote, altered the watershed and led to flooding of the foundation and crawl space of an adjacent home.
With Gaia Gardens, produce selling from a stand on the property (since discontinued) and the size of the agricultural production are prohibited in residential zones, she wrote, adding that the scale of the work would exceed even a home occupation license.
She referred to people picking crops early in the morning and after dark, sometimes with car lights shining on the garden. She also referred to vehicles parked on both sides of the street; stacks of equipment, debris and lumber on the property; individuals camping on the property and portable toilets brought in; vegetables growing and “shrines” created outside the property lines.
“This property continues to be an ‘eye-sore,’ and a possible health hazard,” she wrote, complaining of a degradation of property values and quality of life for nearby residents. “We were subjected … to the noxious smell of twenty plus tons of manure being spread over the property, loud speakers playing music at high volume, an audibly engine running a manure tea machine in operation all night, debris from the stirring of dust and dirt” and more, she wrote.
 

Reader View: Gaia Gardens needs nurturing to thrive



What a pathetic dichotomy! In the same week that city code and zoning inspectors visited Gaia Gardens, the state of New Mexico was graded dead last — not our usual rank of 49 or 48 — in general child welfare.

Gaia Gardens, an organic farm on the city’s south side, sprang into being last year from the vision and hard labor of Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo. When I first visited the garden last summer, I was astounded at the miraculous change that had occurred on that portion of Santa Fe’s arid landscape. Six-foot tall sunflowers swayed in the breeze above rows of green arugula and chard. A little farm stand provided a chance for local folk to purchase organic vegetables. Later on I learned about composting and soil preparation through workshops at the gardens, and met like-minded folks at potlucks. These activities were quietly conducted with no increased noise or traffic in my residential neighborhood.


It was disheartening, to put it mildly, to learn of the difficulties this year with city zoning and codes. These difficulties seemed antithetical to the sustainable Santa Fe guidelines adopted by our city in 2009. This plan listed initiatives such as, “Adopt and enforce land use codes and policies that promote sustainable, energy-efficient, carbon-neutral development. Provide for alternatives to the automobiles. Keep neighborhoods livable. Provide economic opportunity throughout the city.”
Personally, I never go to the Santa Fe Farmers Market. I don’t like the drive and don’t want to mess with parking downtown. However, last year it was possible to walk over and purchase vegetables from the farm stand. Economic opportunities? Alternatives to automobiles? Sustainable development? Livable neighborhoods? Gaia Gardens actualizes this vision, and much more.

Gaia Gardens fosters educational opportunity and a true sense of community. Visiting classes from small schools and students from nearby Santa Fe High School, as well as adult volunteers, have had the opportunity to get their hands dirty, shovel compost, watch baby ducklings and eat carrots fresh from Mother Earth. I worked in the Santa Fe Schools for 25 years. Sadly, many children I worked with thought food only came from MacDonald’s — not Old MacDonald’s farm.

The Sustainable Santa Fe Plan has a large section devoted to food systems. Stated goals include creating multiple food growing, processing, storing and selling opportunities. Other goals include identifying and reducing barriers to urban agriculture, developing neighborhood centers for home economics, sustainability, food-related processes and providing educational resources for organic food production. Both the vision and the actuality of Gaia Gardens support these goals.

Communities spring up organically, but they need nurturing. It was my experience working in the schools that well meaning attempts to implement a sense of community from the top down were rarely successful. Yet other schools had a strong sense of shared vision and were wonderful learning communities. What made the difference — what really worked — was a magical coming together of opportunity, leadership, and willing participation.

Like the tender shoot of a plant, an emerging community can grow and bloom under favorable conditions or can die from lack of nourishment. I urge the City Council to do whatever necessary to allow Gaia Gardens to thrive.

Susan McDuffie retired from the Santa Fe Schools in 2007. She now writes historical mysteries and enjoys growing a few vegetables at home.


 

 June 30, 2013

Find a way for the farm to stay  

Posts by Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board

Some days, you just don’t know whether to laugh or cry. On the glad side, Santa Fe’s city land use department appears to be taking enforcement of the zoning code seriously. The bad side? The department has all but shut down a thriving urban farm in the process.
Gaia Gardens got started at the back of a lot on Santa Fe’s southside last year. The little farm operates with volunteer labor, and with a sideline produce stand patronized by neighbors and walkers along the neighboring Arroyo Chamiso Trail. Movie nights, educational sojourns for kids, a monthly neighborhood potluck – Gaia Gardens was a happening place.
Then, in January, one of the neighbors complained. In four visits over the ensuing months, city inspectors found all sorts of violations of the city code, ranging from unpermitted structures to an RV that was being used as living space. More problematically, the little farm drew crowds – or, as the city put it, more visitors were coming to the property than would normally be expected at a residence. And that produce stand was not an approved land use in a residential district.
So, Poki Piottin’s vision of a sustainable communal garden plot is on hold, at least until city inspectors issue a written report next week.
Clearly at least one of his neighbors hasn’t appreciated his efforts. But other neighbors point out that Piottin has cleaned up a property that was otherwise something of an eyesore. Plus, his garden with its rows of green growing food crops is a pleasure to behold.
The city shouldn’t be criticized for cracking down on unpermitted structures, people living in RVs, or other significant violations of the residential zoning code. On the other hand, Piottin seems to be doing more good than harm with his little farm. And surely some of his infractions are easy to correct – he could stop selling produce on site, for example, and just take the veggies to the farmers market. Better coordination among his volunteers might eliminate the traffic problem.
In short, there’s room for maneuver here. Both the city and Piottin should get together and work out a way for the little farm to stay.


 




June 28, 2013

Trouble in Paradise as zoning laws are broken

By




Tomas MontaƱo, chief electrical inspector for the city of Santa Fe, right, works with other city inspectors as they check structures on the same property as Gaia Gardens for any code violations. (Greg Sorber/Journal)







Poki Piottin’s dream of creating community and spreading the gospel of home-grown veggies on urban plots has run smack into Santa Fe’s building and land use codes.
Five inspectors toured the property Thursday, taking pictures and notes, leaving the future of Piottin’s Gaia Gardens along the Arroyo de los Chamisos Trail up in the air.  “Basically, we are being prevented from operating as a nonprofit. We grossed $12,000 last year and spent $10,000 (on improving the property),” said Piottin, who explained that ongoing city inspections, which began in February or March, resulted in six citations. This was his fourth inspection, he said.
But Mike Purdy, director of inspections and enforcement in the Land Use Division, told Piottin and some of his supporters Thursday that the city was responding to a complaint and was trying to apply the codes equally to everyone.

Piottin, an advocate of urban farming, developed and tends the gardens, and began selling its produce to the public last summer.

Purdy said his crew on Thursday was checking for building code violations or work on buildings that might have been done without the proper city permits, and that a report of their findings should be ready by Monday.
The biggest obstacle for Piottin is that he is operating in a residential neighborhood, with activities that don’t fit that land use.

Poki Piottin stands in front of rows of vegetables at Gaia Gardens at 2255 Paseo de los Chamisos, a site that was visited by five city inspectors Thursday. Piottin, an advocate of urban farming, developed and tends the gardens, and began selling its produce to the public last summer.

Poki Piottin stands in front of rows of vegetables at Gaia Gardens at 2255 Paseo de los Chamisos, a site that was visited by five city inspectors Thursday. Piottin, an advocate of urban farming, developed and tends the gardens, and began selling its produce to the public last summer.

He developed a farm on sandy scrubland on the arroyo, started selling vegetables both at the site and at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, used both local volunteers and wwoofers (interns from around the country who spend the summer as “willing workers on organic farms”) to help grow the crops, held potlucks and movie nights for the neighborhood, hosted schoolchildren to visit the garden and learn about growing food, and held some classes on related topics.
“My intention never was to just grow food,” he said. In the past, he has described his role as providing a model, education site, community gathering place and inspiration for other people to grow organic food in a sustainable way in town.
But a lot of those activities don’t fit in with what is allowed in a residential area, according to the city. The Gardens are located at 2255 Paseo de los Chamisos, just north of the Arroyo de los Chamisos between Yucca Road and Camino Carlos Rey.
The property, which is owned by Stuart Tallmon of Boulder, Colo., has been cited already for a number of issues:
• Structures were built without a permit.
• An RV was being used for lodging (Piottin, who said he sometimes slept in it, said he is having it taken away).
• Land was graded without a permit (Piottin said he will comply with requirements to build a barrier to keep pumice from that project out of the arroyo).
• Piottin did not get a business license (Piottin said city workers told him a permit he got to sell produce and plants at the Farmers Market constituted his business license, but now is told he needs a license for a home occupation business).
Neighborhood support
City Councilor Patti Bushee, contacted later for a telephone interview, said she has talked with some of the garden’s advocates, but said that some of its activities simply don’t fit in a residential neighborhood.
Stressing that she supports urban agriculture, especially in public spaces, such as city parks that have adequate parking and some buffer from nearby homes, Bushee said of Piottin, “I am definitely certain he can correct quite a few of the concerns that the Land Use director has, but a few (of the activities) may not be appropriate, period … . That’s a lot of activity going on in a residential area.”
She said Piottin or the landowner could apply for a variance from the zoning requirements, but O’Reilly said that isn’t true. Variances from a zoned use for a property are not allowed, he said.
Piottin said he’s going to wait and see what the results of the latest inspection are, and decide how to proceed from there.


   
 
June 28, 2013

See editorial page A7




June 27, 2013



Urban farm cited for land-use violations trying to get up to code, thrive again


























An urban farm that abuts an arroyo in a residential neighborhood near Santa Fe High School recently stopped using volunteer labor and allowing visits by schoolchildren and other groups after being notified that the farm is in violation of city ordinances.

Gaia Gardens was started last year by Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo on land leased from a Colorado resident. With help from numerous volunteers from area schools and a national group that places volunteers on organic farms, the couple grows chard, arugula, corn, beans, tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic and other “market” vegetables on about a third of an acre on the edge of a 3.5-acre property that also includes seven residential units.

Until recently, the pair have had help with weeding, watering, transplanting and other garden work from dozens of volunteers, including students from Monte del Sol Charter School, Santa Fe High School and Wee Spirits (a nursery school whose young charges walked across the arroyo every Thursday morning to help in the garden). The couple sold their produce at the farmers market, to local restaurants (including Joe’s Diner and Counter Culture) and from a stand located along their back fence, which was accessed mostly by pedestrians using trails in the adjacent arroyo.

Piottin said their mission has been to develop a farm that could serve as a demonstration project, modeling the potential for high-desert gardens, permaculture and biodynamic practices. The garden operates as a nonprofit under the auspices of the New Mexico Community Foundation, Poki said, and has hosted a series of classes over the past year on water harvesting, medicinal plants and fermentation. The farm also donates free food boxes to six families who are part of a group aimed at addressing health problems. Gaia is certified as an organic farm by the USDA and the state of New Mexico.

In essence, Piottin said, the idea is to create the type of sustainable, urban agriculture encouraged, at least in theory, by the city’s own planning documents. Piottin — who has worked on several other community farms in the past — said he reached out to city planners before starting the project to make sure it would be feasible in the residential area.

“I wrote the mayor and requested some guidance to find out what I need to do to start an urban farm,” Piottin said. He said he was referred to a city planner and later met with her and five or six other city employees, including staff from the water division. The farm draws irrigation water from a well.
“I told them what I wanted to do to see what was permissible within our zoning,” Piottin said. “They said farming is completely allowed. The only thing you can’t do is sell on the premises. So I left the meeting with their blessing.”
Piottin acknowledges, however, that he didn’t discuss the volunteer labor with city planners because it didn’t occur to him that it would be a problem.




But Piottin did begin selling on the premises to about 20 or 30 customers a week who used nearby walking and biking trails. That and the increase in activity on the property, including the construction of sheds, moving of earth, etc., raised concerns for at least one neighbor whose home faces the project’s largest growing plot.

That neighbor, Susan Turner, wrote the city in February, stating that she represented “individuals of the residential community” that surrounds the garden and complained about a number of issues, including the fact that the size and scope of the project seemed to be larger than allowed by zoning rules and that the number of volunteers — some of whom were placed by a national agency and camped on the farm while working there — also seemed out of keeping with what should be allowed in a residential area.

Turner’s letter also stated that the barrels, wood scraps, building materials and various equipment stored on the property had become an eyesore. She noted in her letter that she had discussed these issues with city staff on six prior occasions and asked that the city investigate.

Piottin said he believes Turner is acting on her personal views regarding the garden and doesn’t represent many other neighbors. To the contrary, he said, most of the neighbors support the farm. He presented letters of support from about a dozen neighbors, including a couple who wrote that they moved into the neighborhood earlier this year partially because of the garden because they “wanted to be able to feel close to gardens and community within town.”
Turner could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

On June 7, city Land Use Department Director Matthew O’Reilly sent a letter to Stuart Tallmon, who owns the property but currently lives in Boulder, advising him that the city had determined that activity on his property violated six different city laws.


























The violations cited in the notice include: grading without a permit, erecting structures without permit, using the property in ways not permitted by the residential zoning, failure to obtain a business license, attracting a greater number of visitors than would normally be expected in a residential neighborhood and the use of a recreational vehicle as a dwelling.
The notice gave Tallmon — who agreed to allow Piottin to act as his representative in the matter — up to 14 days to rectify the problems to avoid having criminal charges that include penalties of up to $500 a day filed against him in Municipal Court.

On June 18, Piottin requested a 30-day extension to remedy the violations. All volunteers and visits by school groups were also canceled, Piottin said, and the trail-side food stand was taken down.

O’Reilly responded June 21, granting him the extension but noting that while some of the violations could be remedied by obtaining after-the-fact permits and licenses, certain others — including the use of volunteer labor on the land, the excessive number visitors and the residential use of a recreation vehicle as a dwelling unit — could only be corrected “by their immediate cessation.”

Piottin said he and Lozo have taken the steps they can to address some of the issues immediately — he said he works long days to make up for the loss of volunteer labor — and is waiting for another city inspection scheduled for Thursday, to find out the total extent of violations that still must be addressed.

If the list is too long — Piottin said he feels city inspectors are on a “witch hunt” and determined to find fault with anything they can on the property, which includes some structures that date back to the 1950s — he and Lozo may have to abandon the farm.

If material deficiencies can be cleared up without too much cost, he said, the couple may decide to pursue other options — such as petitioning for a change to the city code or a special-use permit — which he said, city staff other than O’Reilly told him might be options.

O’Reilly’s letter gives Gaia Garden’s until July 21 to address the alleged violations.

 Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or phaywood@sfnewmexican.com.




Dec 1, 2012








(click on image to read full article)
Jul 19, 2012



--> A year or more ago, the patch of land that is now Gaia Gardens was sandy scrubland overlooking the goatheads and other weeds along Santa Fe’s Arroyo Chamiso.

Now, after 20 to 30 tons of horse manure and 100 gallons of compost tea, the 7,500-square-foot garden flourishes with sturdy green vegetable plants fronted by colorful flowers.

Well, it also took some digging, hauling out of rocks and construction waste that had been dumped there over the years, and some serious irrigating, according to Poki (Hugo) Piottin.

But now he’s got a farm stand set up selling the fruits – and vegetables – of his and many others’ labors. Unlike many roadside stands, though, this one fronts the Arroyo Chamiso Trail that hosts people on foot and non-motorized wheels.

After being open six times, Piottin said the record take was $84.  “We get bigger sales each time,” he said. “Neighbors are starting to come down. … We’re trying to encourage foot and bicycle traffic,” so vehicle traffic won’t disturb the residential neighborhood.

The goal isn’t so much to make money off produce – Gaia Gardens is nonprofit – as it is to spread the gospel about permaculture and urban farming, and to integrate into and create community, Piottin said.

Workshops are scheduled next month for horno building and medicinal salves; another is upcoming on water harvesting. A class in qigong, a Chinese exercise routine, is offered on Monday mornings, and Wednesday evenings feature kid-centered activities, such as art, puppets and gardening.

A community meeting and potlucks are held on the first Monday of each month.  And on Saturdays, sometimes there’s singing and guitar-playing around a wood fireplace, he said.

Wwoofers (willing workers on organic farms) camp on the property and offer their labor during the summer in exchange for a place to stay, along with some pretty healthy food.

It all started in February when the owner of the land said he was willing for Piottin to set up his project there.  “I’ve been fascinated with compost and urban farming for three years,” Piottin said.  He participated in a project in Mexico, at a coastal town called San Pancho, he said.  Last summer, he set up Dandelion Ranch, a community garden off Don Gaspar. And this year has been devoted to Gaia Gardens.



“It’s more than doing a garden,” Piottin said. “It’s putting elements in place to create sustainable culture.”  “The greater vision,” he said, “is to create a pocket of inspiration for the community.”

Zigzag journey
Like many people in the City Different, Piottin arrived here via a peripatetic pursuit of his various passions. “It’s been a long journey for me,” he said.

Born in Lyon, France, Piottin said he was a downhill ski racer and instructor in Europe, but spent his summers working as a commercial fisherman in Alaska. That brought him to Seattle, where he opened a punk nightclub, Metropolis, that’s been coined the "birthplace of grunge,” Piottin said.

Then he opened a vegetarian restaurant, getting interested in nutrition and farmers markets, and then taught nutrition and physical fitness, along with team-building, in seminars for corporate clients.

Then he got into corporate consulting and formed a company called Contractor Referrals Inc. that marketed construction companies in the Seattle area.  “That was my big money venture,” he said, adding that it was bought out by an Internet company.

From there?  Permaculture and then sacred dance, which brought him to Taos. “The desert grabbed me,” Piottin said.  But not enough to immediately keep him here. He went on a walkabout through Africa, and then along the Continental Divide Trail in the Gila Wilderness.

In 2009-11, he launched The Nodilus Project, described in his online biography as “designed to harness collective intelligence in order to inspire and foster sustainable and regenerative culture.” He dove into sustainable community gardening in Mexico in the first six months of 2011, and then came back to see what he could make work in Santa Fe.

“I’m really trying to foster a practice space for a new form of community to emerge,” he said. He’s planning to form a board to oversee the organization – “I’m waiting to see who shows up here regularly. Some people are starting to stand out,” Piottin said.


The property hosts one trailer and three tents, along with an outdoor kitchen; he also is planning to build outdoor showers. He has a vision for a no-energy greenhouse that could grow crops throughout the winter. Goats are also on the horizon. Besides the vegetable garden, workers have planted 50 trees, including 20 fruit trees, he said.

“The big picture is to purchase this land,” Piottin said. “I’m just starting to get connections to people who can help us out. … The idea is to really secure the land, to put it in trust so it stays farmland and an education center.”


August 3, 2012



A Garden for Green Thumbs, Innovative Ideas
By Galen Hecht
Special for Generation Next




























I have always been intrigued by gardening. From a young age I enjoyed seeing things grow.  It feels like magic to me. 

It is what drew me to Gaia Gardens while searching for volunteering opportunities in Santa Fe.  Some blog entries on their website captured my interest.  Gaia Gardens looked like a nice place where I could invest some time over the summer.

I contacted them and was impressed by the fast e-mail reply from Poki the garden coordinator.  I soon went to investigate the place to make sure it was where I wanted to invest time during my short school break. 
 
Upon arrival I met Poki who appeared to have been working hard.  He was wearing a tattered pink straw hat. He gave me a tour of the facilities. I was impressed.

The garden was clearly well cared for; there were chickens, a greenhouse, many small gardens, a large garden and a camp for the farm interns.  Not only was I discovering a place where I could do some good work, but also an environment where I felt comfortable to sit down and relax.

I was back the next morning at six.
         
After this first visit in mid June, I have gone back to Gaia Gardens on a fairly regular basis.  Whether I go to lend a hand picking apricots, or enjoy food at a potluck with interesting people from the community, I’ve only had good experiences.
            
To me, Gaia Gardens is a place where I am welcome and encouraged to do things that would typically feel very difficult to do in Santa Fe.  Simply picking fresh food right out of the ground and eating it is not an everyday occurrence for me, nor most of my friends, but let me tell you, it is very satisfying.
             
Metaphorically, that is how I feel about many of my peers and myself.  We are hungry for a comfortable place to achieve something cool and interesting but are lacking the garden from which to ‘pick’ or find that interesting thing. To me, Gaia Gardens is that sort of place.
             
For example I have recently been interested in building a traditional wood fired oven, and just days ago I was introduced to a man at Gaia Gardens who holds a wealth of knowledge on the topic.
             
I find that I can take initiative at Gaia Gardens, and contribute to its growing vision, while being supported by the folks running the project.  Their aim is to create a place where innovative ideas and activities are birthed, contributing to the emergence of a dynamic new local culture.  This feels good.  In fact, it gives me a lot of faith in the power of a supportive community, something that we are very lucky to have right in our backyard in Santa Fe. 

I encourage you to visit their blog (and sign up to receive notices!) at http://gaiagardens.blogspot.com.  Many events are scheduled for the summer from cob-building to medicinal salves and tinctures workshops.

Galen Hecht grew up in Santa Fe.  He attends Pearson College, part of the United World College, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  


August 8, 2012















Duo turn stretch of land along Arroyo Chamiso Trail into an urban farm

People biking, walking or running along the Arroyo Chamiso Trail this summer have been craning their necks at a new sight. Just a few feet off the paved recreational pathway through southeast Santa Fe, an urban farm called Gaia Gardens has sprung to life.

Earth-moving equipment created clouds of dust there in February as the work got under way. Piles of dark manure and compost soon replaced stones. By July, sunflowers rose from the center of a cultivated plot, and thousands of vegetable plants began spreading their green leaves and colorful blooms along deep rows.
Gaia Gardens opened its trail-side produce stand four weeks ago, and word has spread around the community. At times, a trickle of customers at the stand turns into a stream. Many shoppers arrive on foot or bicycle.

This week, three kinds of beans are ready to harvest (scarlet runners, purple dove and blue lake) along with beets, carrots, chard, broccoli, squash, potatoes and herbs.

Garden “instigator” Poki Piottin wore a floppy pink hat atop his braided pigtails as he maneuvered around the plot with a wheelbarrow one morning this week. Across the rows of plants, his partner, Dominique Pozo, a massage therapist and Qigong teacher, flashed a beaming smile.

In between helping shoppers select produce and chatting about the neighborhood, Pozo leaned into rows of squash, balancing several yellow vegetables in each hand as she headed for a rinsing sink.

Each calls the other “the pillar” of the farm. While growing and selling produce is their outward goal, they share a vision of using the garden as a place for gathering. Already, workshops on herbs and outdoor oven construction have been held, and another is in the works on fermenting and preserving. Parents are welcome to bring children at any time, but 5 p.m. Wednesday is designated “kids time.”

Their basic idea is that all are welcome.

“It’s so fun to have people in the garden,” Pozo said. “I wave a lot. It’s nice to have the trail so close so that people can come see what is happening. It’s definitely a part of what we want. It’s not some private thing. It’s for everybody.”

After Piottin and master gardener Juaquin Lawrence Hershman started a biodynamic garden in Mexico, Piottin, who was born in France, spent the last year setting up a shared family garden off Don Gaspar Avenue called the Dandelion Ranch. But he left that endeavor to do something more public that had the promise of community involvement, he said.

“I started with a bare piece of land and zero money. We made compost with donations from The Food Depot. We started from scratch,” he said. “All of these conditions are perfect for demonstrating that, yes, it can be done. For not a lot of money. All you need is determination, skills and a little bit of water.”

Gaia Gardens is supplied by a private well and uses about 300 gallons per day. The irrigation system alone costs about $1,500, and so far, the farm has earned $1,300 from vegetable sales, he said. Seeds and plants were donated, as was the earthwork and the parts for a rebuilt greenhouse. Already, groups from Community Options, Boys to Men and the Little Earth School have come to Gaia to work and learn. Piottin said he’s also invited teachers from nearby Santa Fe High School and permaculture experts to take on projects on the land.
“Ideally, we want to evolve toward an educational center,” he said, “not just a production farm that sells vegetables.”

The farm is located on a 3-acre parcel at the edge of the Bellemah subdivision owned by Jay Tallmon, who bought the property in 1999. The land had been part of a 19-plot owned by a church for a summer retreat. About 14 people live in rental units at the site now, and another three to five camp out and work as farmhands.

“It’s kind of like an oasis, almost,” Tallmon said. “Travelers may be on the trail, and they see this, and it’s a little inspiration for them and maybe they feel good about what they’re doing. Everything else is brown everywhere, and then you see this.”

Andromeda, who lives about a mile and a half west via the trail and who does not use a last name, has been walking by regularly since work began at the site. The timing was perfect, she said, because this summer she had to give up her own backyard garden due to the high water bills.  “This is something, a vision of what I’ve seen for a long time, that there would be some kind of store along this walking trail,” she said Monday morning. “So, this is cool.”

The future of the garden is uncertain, however, because of a dispute between the landowner and the bank that could result in the sale of the land. Piottin said he is hopeful that won’t happen and that the farm will continue with community participation.

“Sustainability is not a spectator sport. It’s not clicking ‘like’ on Facebook. It’s being on the ground, taking care of business, taking care of the kids and taking care of pollution and taking care of the trees,” he said. “We are inviting people to really be co-creators.”

Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or jgrimm@sfnewmexican.com2




RADIO INTERVIEWS



September 22, 2012
KSFR Santa Fe
Interview by Bob Ross



February 13, 2013
On the Brighter Side (Kansa City)
Interview with Troy Karlin



May 4, 2013
KTRC Santa Fe
Climate Change, with Richard Eeds
(Show is in 2 parts.  Gaia Gardens starts at 56min)

 






June 29, 2013
KSFR Santa Fe
Interview by Bob Ross