Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Meeting with the Mayor and City Manager

On Sept. 3, 20156, my attorney and I met for one hour with:

  • Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales
  • City Manager Brian Snyder
  • Public Information Director Matt Ross
  • Land Use Director Lisa Martinez
  • Assistant City Attorney Zachary Shandler 
  • Renewable Energy Planner John Alejandro
The purpose of the meeting was for the Mayor and his senior staff to hear about what Gaia Gardens has been going through in the past 4 years and why we decided to quit.  I told them that they needed to educate their staff about how fragile an undertaking an urban farm is, and that before looking for what's "wrong" with a project like Gaia Gardens and slapping the property with a Notice of Violation amounting to a death sentence, they should look at what's "right" with a situation and help the project instead of trying to shut it down as they did.

I sent the meeting participants a "Chronology of Events" ahead of the meeting (see below).

The Mayor apologized for all of our troubles at the onset of the meeting.  I explained how, before we began breaking ground at the farm, the property owner and I met with five senior Land Use planners in early 2012 to present what we intended to do (farming, education, etc.) and to seek guidance.  We were given their blessings.

See below a history of our dealings with the City administration.  There are 23 referenced attachments that you can download at once here). 


Chronology of Events
Nov. 2011 through August 10, 2015
Nov. 2, 2011
Mr. Piottin places an ad on Craigslist seeking a parcel of land for urban farming
(See attachment 1 -Posted on Craigslist 11-02-2011)

November 15, 2011
Stuart Tallmon, owner of the Gaia Gardens property, offers his land for creating the urban farm project

Jan., 2012
Mr. Piottin emails Mayor Coss, informing him of his plan to start an urban farm and asks whom he should talk for land use information.  Mayor Coss refers Mr. Piottin to Heather Lamboy, a Land Use Senior Planner

Feb. 6, 2012

Ms. Lamboy sends Mr. Piottin an email and suggests that he meets with Land Use Staff for further exploration  (See  attachment 2- Heather Lamboy Letter)

Feb. 17, 2012  10:00am-11:00am
Mr. Tallmon and Mr. Piottin meet with five Land Use and Water Division staff (including Heather Lamboy and Tamara Baer) to present the farm project and request guidance (See attachment 3 - Presentation to Land Use Feb. 17, 2012).  Land Use staff doesn’t foresee any issues with our plan, states that the only thing to be aware of is the farm can’t sell off the premises.  Land Use staff never mentions that the farm needs to apply for a Home Occupation License.

June 11, 2012

Unable to get a booth at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, farm announces the opening of a farm stand on property with access from the bike trail (See attachment 4 - Farm Stand Blog announcement)

July 2, 2012
Farm Stand opens to the public Mon., Wed. and Fri.  7:00am-11:00am

August 8, 2012

New Mexican publishes article on the farm, describing the farm stand (See attachment 5 - New Mexican Article 8/8/12)

Sept. 5, 2012
Mr. Piottin, having been accepted as a Santa Fe Farmers’ Market vendor applies for a City of Santa Fe Business License.  Vince Daniels at the City Business License Office, after hearing from Mr. Piottin that Gaia Gardens is operating a farm in the City limit and needs a Business License, tells Mr. Piottin that a Farmers Market Vendor Business License is all that is required.  Mr. Daniels never mentions the need for Mr. Piottin to apply for a Home Occupation License.  Business License # 12-00116243 is issued on that date.  Mr. Piottin has renewed his Farmers’ Market Vendor Business License each year since then.

Jan. 18, 2013

Mr. Piottin emails Mayor Coss and informs him of the farm stand operating successfully in 2012 and requests help to obtain a variance to continue the farm stand (See attachment 6 - Letter to Mayor Coss).  Mayor Coss never responds to Mr. Piottin’s email.

Feb 1, 2013
Mayor Coss sends email to Matt O’Reilly asking if Mr. O’Reilly can help with Mr. Piottin’s request  (See attachment 7 - Email from David Coss to Matt O'Reilly  Feb. 1, 2013)

Feb. 3, 2013
The New Mexico Community Foundation, Gaia Gardens’ fiscal sponsor, informs Mr. Piottin that his neighbor Susan Turner has called the Attorney General’s Office to complain that: 1) the farm non-profit is illegitimate 2) that the farm is trespassing on public land in its creation of a small shrine (made with sticks and stone).  The complaint is dismissed for being without merit (See attachment 8 - Dear Ms. Turner)

Feb. 11, 2013
Tom Watson, an elder and friend of the farm, takes it upon himself to visit Matt O’Reilly, then Director of Land Use.  Mr. Watson reports to Mr. Piottin the next day that he met with both Matt O’Reilly and Patti Bushee, and his assessment on the meeting is that “the City wants to shut down the farm” and that the farm in their view is "an inappropriate use in a residential zoning".
Feb. 18, 2013
Matt O’Reilly calls Mr. Piottin into his office.  On Feb. 12, Matt O’Reilly receives a complaint from Susan Turner, (one of our neighbors), about the farm being an illegal operation in residential zoning (See attachment 9 – Susan Turner’s Complaint)

Feb.-June 2013
Land Use Inspectors visit the farm on at least 5 occasions, looking at all areas of the farm operation.  Mr. Piottin cooperates and lets them on the property without dispute.  All inspectors are very courteous.

April 9, 2013

Gaia Gardens received the Santa Fe Sustainable Commission's Award for "Best Sustainable Food System". 

June 2013
Councilor Bushee introduces a draft for a Farm Stand Resolution.  Because of opposition from the Farmers’ Market, the Farm Stand Resolution draft is handed to the Food Policy Council for a rewrite (See attachment 10 - Councilor Patti Bushee Farm Stand Resolution 6/12/13)

June 6, 2013
Mr. Piottin applies for Home Occupation License.  When Mr. Piottin drops off his application at Land Use, he is told by inspector at the desk that “Matt O’Reilly said a Home Occupation License couldn’t be given because the farm is using volunteers”  (See attachment 11 - Home Occupation Permit Application 6/6/13)

July 11, 2013                                                                                          
Mr. Piottin sends email to Councilor Bushee and offers her to visit the farm to hear about the farm’s experience running a farm stand.  Councilor Bushee never replies to Mr. Piottin’s email (See attachment 12 - Letter to Councilor Bushee July 11, 2013)

June 11, 2013
Property owner Stuart Tallmon receives a Notice of Violation asking that the farm operation cease immediately (See attachment 13 - Notice of Violation Letter 6/11/13)

June 12, 2013
Poki Piottin, on behalf of Mr. Tallmon, requests an extension on the Violation Notice  (See attachment 14 - Letter to Matt O'Reilly 6-13-13)

June 27, 2013
After Matt O’Reilly requests complete access to all the property dwellings for inspection, a group of inspectors from water, grading, electrical and plumbing departments meticulously inspect the property for any building violation.

June 30, 2013
Matt O'Reilly having informed Mr. Piottin that he could not live in the trailer that was parked on the farm property, Mr. Piottin begins researching the issue, and posts an ad on Craigslist asking the public whether the City has enforced this against others (See attachment 15 - Posted on Craigslist 06-30-2013).  In the farm neighborhood alone, Mr. Piottin can easily point to several residents living in trailers.  Matt O’Reilly calls Kyle Harwood, an attorney helping us at the time, asking him if “we were planning to file a lawsuit against the City”.  Kyle Hardwood contacts Mr. Piottin to ask if he had posted the ad on Craigslist.  Mr. Piottin deletes the Craigslist ad that same day.
July 3, 2013
Property owner Stuart Tallmon receives another Notice of Violation  (See attachment 16 –Letter to Stuart Tallmon 7-3-13)

Sept. 4, 2013
The Los Chamisos Homeowners Association, bordering the farm property on two sides, passes a resolution supporting all the activities of the farm (See attachment 17 - Los Chamisos Homeowners Association Resolution)

Oct. 13, 2013
An email is sent to Matt O’Reilly regarding a progress update on the building violations  (See attachment 18 - Progress Update Oct 13, 2013)

Feb. 6, 2014
An email is sent to Matt O’Reilly regarding a progress update on the building violations  (See attachment 19 - Progress Update Feb. 6, 2014)

May 13, 2014
Mr. Piottin and Richard Welker, a volunteer doing research on urban agriculture ordinances around the US, present to the Santa Fe Food Policy Council a comprehensive document to assist the SFFPC in the drafting of an urban agricultural ordinance (See attachment 20 - Proposed Elements for Urban Agricultural Ordinance)

July 1, 2014
After Mayor Gonzales comes into office, Mr. Piottin sends Noah Berke, Planning and Policy Administrator for the Mayor, the Proposed Elements for Urban Agricultural Ordinance document.

July 14, 2014
Mr. Piottin meets with Mr. Berke to discuss the creation of an urban agriculture ordinance.  Mr. Berke mentions that Katherine Mortimer, Sustainable Santa Fe Programs Manager for the City of Santa Fe, is being considered to lead that effort.

Oct. 23, 2014
Mr. Piottin, Ms. Pozo, co-founder of Gaia Gardens, legal counsel Gretchen Elsner and three Gaia Gardens interns meet with Ms. Mortimer to begin a discussion on the details of an urban agriculture ordinance.

Oct. 2014 - May 2015
Mr. Piottin, Ms. Pozo, legal counsel Gretchen Elsner and several Gaia Gardens interns continue to work with Ms. Mortimer to further draft the details of an urban agriculture ordinance. (See attachment 21 - Sample of Communications with Katherine Mortimer).  The City appeared not to be making any progress toward having a public meeting or finishing a draft of the ordinance, but the proposed ordinance draft does make clear that farm stand will be allowed. 

May 28, 2015
John Alejandro, Renewable Energy Planner for the City of Santa Fe, invites Mr. Piottin to become a member of a newly created Urban Agriculture Committee. 
Mr. Alejandro is replacing Ms. Mortimer as the person in charge of creating an Urban Agriculture Ordinance.  Mr. Piottin participates in several meetings until his resignation from the committee on August 13, 2015.

May-August 2015 
On two occasions, during meetings of the Urban Agriculture Committee, Mr. Piottin asks Mr. Alejandro to help the farm find a way to get a permit for the farm stand that the farm plans to open in July 2015.  Mr. Alejandro states both times that he will work on Mr. Piottin’s request with the Land Use staff.

July 24, 2015 
After two years of contacting the City regarding how to offer fresh, locally grown vegetables to the neighborhood, the farm stand opens 8:00am-12:00pm.  Inspector Mike Purdy comes to the farm at 2:00pm and issues a Notice to Stop Work order on the property for “Commercial/Business in Residential Zoning”  (See attachment 22- Stop Work/Red Tag)

July 24, 2015  4:00pm
Mr. Piottin visits City Hall and meets with Lisa Martinez, Director of Land Use and Greg Smith, Division Planning Director of Land Use.  Ms. Martinez and Mr. Smith state that they are looking into a way to legalize the farm stand, maybe using a special “neighborhood grocery” license.

July 25, 2015
The documentary Bringing Food Home, centered on the Gaia Gardens’ story, premieres to a sold-out audience at the CCA. 

July 27, 2015
Ms. Martinez and Mr. Smith visit the farm to take a look at our operation.  Farm stand is open that morning and several neighbors, including architect and neighbor Wayne Lloyd, are present to greet Ms. Martinez and Mr. Smith, and praise the farm for being a good neighbor. At the end of the visit, Lisa Martinez states that they will try to get a “pilot project”-type permit for the farm stand.

July 27, 29, 31 and August 3, 5, 7, 10,  2015

Farm stand continues to operate  8:00am-12:00pm.  90% of farm stand customers are using the bike path, not creating traffic in the neighborhood, nor needing parking.

August 10, 2015

Lisa Martinez and several Land Use inspectors come to inspect the farm property, are being told and shown what building violations have and haven’t been remedied.  Ms. Martinez, at the end of the inspection, states that the farm needs to close its farm stand.  Mr. Piottin states, and also confirms via email, that he no longer represents Mr. Tallmon, the property owner, and that from now on, he only wishes to address the code violations related to the farm.  (See attachment 23 - Email to Lisa Martinez August 10, 2015)

August 10, 2015
Mr. Piottin issues a press release stating that Gaia Gardens has made a decision to stop farming in the City of Santa Fe.  Mr. Piottin submits his resignation from the Urban Agriculture Ordinance Committee to the Mayor and the Committee Chair John Alejandro.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tales from the road: Urban farm forced to close

By Mary-Kate Newton  
Metropolitan State University of Denver

When Santa Fe forced Gaia Gardens to close, owners Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo wanted their farm to die gracefully. 

The end of Poki and Pozo’s vision to teach holistic, self sustainable farming was punctuated by a liquidation sale September 12. 

“It’s time to put it to rest,” said Pozo. “We’re accepting the process of letting go of everything we’ve created.” 

Rather than abandoning their creation immediately, the owners and their intern Rachel Brylawksi will stay with the final harvest until their last corn stalk is cut. 

“The garden is a living thing. It would be like abandoning a child hungry in the desert,” Pozo said.

Before farming, Piottin was a businessman in Seattle. He worked for building contractors, an Internet company and owned his own dance and music club. 

“I quit,” Piottin said. “I got my eyes opened and became sensitized to corporate domination over government. I just decided to become an activist.” 

Piottin pursued various other projects including teaching sacred dance and an urban farm in Washington. In 2012, he decided to start a similar agricultural project in Santa Fe after a vision. “I had a vision of farming again and working with young people,” he said. 

Alongside Pozo, he rented property along Arroyo Chamiso and they began to teach Santa Fe about sustainable, Biodynamic farming. 

“We wanted to do education of the ins-and-outs of community gardening,” Piottin said, “Bootstrapping a project, and just making something out of nothing. We wanted to expose them to the magic of nature and creating an ecosystem in your backyard.” 

Piottin said Biodynamic farming is a holistic understanding of agriculture that relies on the energy rather than solely the chemistry of plants.  “Plants, trees; they have properties that are beyond the chemistry. Even the soil,” he said.  Gaia Gardens teaches seven preparations for manure that cater to energy and health of their plants which include adding materials like chamomile and horsetail.

Piottin’s business partner, Pozo, is a Doula, body worker and art therapist. She works with people suffering from eating disorders, and the farm has become a rewarding part of teaching her clients.
“It’s looking at food through a different lens, as a miracle and a way to nourish your body,” she said.

Pozo brings to the garden her knowledge of plants’ holistic and healing properties and used it to teach and help others. 

“The farm has been a labor of love. It was short lived but worth it,” Pozo said.

The bulk of the farm’s legal hurdles began two years ago when a neighbor of Gaia Gardens overwhelmed the city Attorney’s office with complaints about the farm. Piottin and Pozo have worked endlessly to appease zoning ordinances, water rights and licensing, but finally gave up warring with the city.

“It’s just plain meanness,” Piottin said. “She knew the codes were on her side, and forced the city to enforce their codes. It was about winning a game.”

In 2013, Gaia Gardens was denied a business license, making
 it impossible to operate as a business and school on residential property. In order to sustain, Gaia Gardens began selling their vegetables at the local Farmer’s Market. This business model proved too straining on Gaia Gardens’ 3.5 acres, volunteer operated farm, and so they stopped growing food for commercial use.
“So that we’re not giving in to the commercial side, we give to four charities,” he said. “Right now [the complaining neighbors] are the most hated people in the neighborhood because we do so much for the community like this.”

At the farm’s sale, Leonard Gomez, who lives around the corner from Gaia Gardens, expressed frustration at the closure of the beloved farm.  “It’s bullshit, picking on someone that is trying to do so much good,” Gomez said. “If codes don’t work in favor of a place like this, then it’s time for the laws to change.” 

During the somber liquidation sale, Pozo, Piottin and Brylawski were gracious hosts. Pozo greeted visitors and gave away wildflower seeds. Piottin offered glasses of apple juice as people browsed the yard sale, and Brylawski offered some of the lunch she made from fresh garden veggies. 

“He’s generous to a fault,” Brylawski said about Piottin. “ He’s a businessman but he gives everything away.” 

At the sale, Piottin spoke with a family of five. The youngest boy picked out an old bike tire and Piottin offered him a free helmet, concerned he might be riding without one. He sold the family a few armfuls of trinkets for one quarter. 

Piottin said helping people is his primary motivation. 

“Life is about finding a way to be of service in whatever way you want to do it,” he said. “Whatever is next, I’ll do what I can to have an impact on the community, whatever that city is.” 

The Gaia Gardens trio will live on the property in foreclosure until their crops live out their natural life cycles, which could be until early December. 

Pozo will concentrate on her other jobs, Brylawski will move to a homestead in California and Piottin will keep looking for his next way to be of service. 

“Life is a complex tapestry,” Piottin said. “I don’t worry about what’s next. I’m a citizen of the world, and I will go where it takes me.” 

Photos by Alyson McClaran

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Last Dance

 Our last potluck was magnificent. 

Thank you to all who attended, especially the musicians.

Here are five music samples from the evening.

Click on each image to listen.