Monday, June 30, 2014

In the Local Press last week

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.

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.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Purchasing the Gaia Gardens property

It’s been a while!  Spring time tends to keep farmers pretty busy…

I will get into more details in the next post about all the things that have been happening around the farm.  This year is going very well so far. 

What we want to publicly announce today is our intention to purchase the Gaia Gardens property.   

Dominique and I have grown very fond of this piece of land and our hearts are telling us to stay here.

Because the property is in danger of foreclosure, we have an opportunity to make an offer to the bank through a short sale.  The appraisal came in at a very reasonable price.

We’ve invested a lot of love and sweat equity in this property and it has become a very productive farm, as well as a hub for a diverse and dynamic community.

Our vision includes developing the place as an intentional community centered around farming and sustainability/permaculture education.

We are in the process of forming an LLC and will soon be seeking capital in the form of loans and equity in the LLC.

We already have $100K committed and need to raise another $300K to make a cash offer to the bank.

Should you be interested in helping us finance the purchase of this unique 3.5-acre property with 4 homes, a large commercial shop and a lovely farm, please contact me at