Sunday, August 25, 2013

Gaia Gardens: the struggle to hold the hope and dreams for a new urban agriculture in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

On August 19th SeedBroadcast spent the morning with Poki and Dominique at Gaia Gardens. They graciously took time out from weeding and collecting seeds to share their dream, hopes and the recent struggle to hold on to their unique urban farm.

Gaia Gardens is the first organic, educational farm within the city limits of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The 3.7 acres of land conveniently slopes towards the Arroyo Chamiso, making it efficient for water harvesting. A well-used bike and walking trail meanders along the bank of the arroyo at the edge of this abundant garden, making this a prime location for a community driven urban farm.
Sunflowers, beans and the tomato hoop house

This small farm is the vision of Poki Piottin and Dominque Pozo, who for the past two years have dedicated their hard labor and passion into creating a place of magic potential.  Poki is the vegetable grower and Dominique tends the flowers and is the farms’ seed-saver. The 15,000 feet of gardens are producing an abundance of organic vegetables, squash, beans, corn (the three sisters) seven-foot high sunflowers shade the marigolds and kale, ripening tomatoes grow protected in a small hoop house and basil forms  semi circles around the purple-flowered potato patch.

Poki was fifty-four when he started this farm in the heart of Santa Fe, it was his dream and he says that he could not have done it without the help and dedication of the community.  They started with no financing, not an easy prospect. However this lack of funds became an opportunity rather than a hindrance as they had to find a larger community to help form this venture, and this they did. Many community members came forward with donations of equipment, seeds, plants and materials. They formed a successful recycling project, which expanded to being a clearinghouse for other organizations, which eventually lead Gaia Gardens to receive an award for best recycler from the 
City of Santa Fe. 

All was moving along successfully, with their dedicated hard work and with the help of many volunteers the gardens started producing and they were able to sell their excess of vegetables, seeds and compost tea at the local farmers markets. 

Hubbard Squash

Gaia chard

Then about three months ago the city came down hard on them with a litany of violations, including having too many volunteers, holding educational movie nights, allowing wwoofers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms to stay in tents, parking issues from visiting groups and having a farm stand. Now the farm can only have two volunteers at a time, they had to close down the farm stand which had become the neighborhood gathering spot three time a week and also  they had to postpone their educational programs.

“The farm has suffered tremendously by being deprived of its work force and its ability to continue to carry out its mission to educate people and build community. We are accepting the fact that we did not know that we were going to be in the center of a storm and drawn into politics. With a little bit of reflection it makes sense as we are the first urban farm in Santa Fe and it has pretty much happened to every first farm in every city.  I am not sure we can keep going, this is not sustainable any more, I have a huge grief,” Poki uttered as he looked down towards the earth. “The farm is suffering as we do not have enough labor and I am spending most of my time thinking about creative ways to get through this storm of city codes.”

Poki looking at his squash plants
Around the nation there is a growing network of urban farming
City gardens have become models for new farming practices from truck bed farms to guerrilla gardening, urbanites have found a way to bring small -scale farming into the city. According to the Untied States Department of Agriculture, around 15 percent of the wrolds food is now grown in urban areas.

" A lot of things have come together to make urban farming so popular,'' said Adrian Benepe, a senior Vice President for the Trust for Public Land, a land conservation non-profit in San Francisco.
"The advent of the community gardening movement coincided with the interest for fresh food and even more recently, the interest and necessity to allow people to eat better. But despite all the benefits - from reducing urban blight to teaching kids about where their food comes from - farming in some cities is easier than others."
The idea of supplemental food production beyond rural farming operations is not new and has been used during war times and the Great Depression when food shortage issues arose. There are many social benefits that have emerged from urban agricultural practices, such as improved over all social and emotional well-being, improved health and nutrition, increased income, employment, food security and community social life.
The Sustainable Cities Institute cites "Local governments can use urban agriculture as a tool to address many financial, health, and environmental issues. For example, agriculture in and close to major cities can help the environment by, among other things reducing the distances food travels. Community gardens can keep people active while providing them with  natural, locally grown food. Municipal policies can help community gardeners make money by allowing them to sell excess produce.  More over community gardens can beautify neighborhoods and serve as a focal point that promotes resident interaction".

Around the nation many cities have changed or are looking at adapting their city codes and restrictions to accommodate the benefits of urban farms, as the "City Different" Santa Fe is lagging way behind this national growing trend. It is time and essential for the well being of this city to take some big bold strides in order not to be left behind. Lets take a look at these city codes and find a way to support and encourage urban farms. They are the way to a sustainable and healthier future. Lets designate Gaia Gardens, as the first urban Santa Fe farm, a city treasure and not a city problem.

Please wake up Santa Fe, it is time.

As SeedBroadcast was about to leave the farm Poki gathered together a bag full of fresh vegetables and duck eggs, as he handed these to me he looked me in the eye and smiled. On leaving with this abundance of food and compassion I held tight to Poki's parting words:

"I find it really sad that in these times when we so need cooperation and understanding and kindness and to reach out to those that are different, that a city can just impose their might and create such  damage on something so delicate. It's painful, it's interesting, it's insane and it is perfect all at once. There are wars everywhere, there is allot of conflict and a need to reinvent the way we deal with legal systems and city codes that are hindering creativity from doing its work, or people from doing creative work. How can we do this without having to fight and without having to justify ourselves but do it in a way that is resting in the beauty of growing food, taking care of our ecosystems and taking care of our kids and elders? This is a big challenge for me".

Listen to Poki and Dominique tell their stories:

Lets find a way to support Gaia Gardens, lets be creative, lets really be the “City different”  time is running out!

Basil garden

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gathering 4 Mother Earth

Gathering 4 Mother Earth at Pojoaque Pueblo!

Gathering 4 Mother Earth
"A Gathering For All Cultures Of All Ages"
September 21 - 22, 2013
Pojoaque (gathering site), New Mexico
Organized by Tewa Women United
For more information:
Call - 505-747-3259

Join us for a day of SeedBroadcasting.
We will be at Gathering 4 Mother Earth from 9am - 4pm on Saturday, September 21st with seed resources, stories, and creative events. Bring your personal stories of seeds, growing food, and cultivating community with Mother Earth.
AND - bring some seeds to share!