After visiting a small farm on the south side of Santa Fe recently, I felt as if I had been to the ocean. I say this because there, amid oscillating stands of healthy spinach, chard and kale, my senses were saturated with the effervescent sights, sounds and scents of a place teeming with life. Standing beside a kaleidoscopic garden of medicinal plants on a gentle rise in the land while listening to the clatter of ducks and watching many birds fly overhead, I was aware that my being was being suffused by a benevolent and undeniably tangible cosmic force like the tides of the sea.
Gaia Gardens is a varied and lush one-acre project on a three-acre plot on the edge of the Arroyo Chamisos, between Siringo and Zia roads. The spirit behind this wonderful gift to a mostly residential, arroyo-side neighborhood is Poki Piottin, a Frenchman with a resolute, piercing gaze and possessed of the fervent warrior spirit of his Gallic ancestors. That spirit, luckily for us, is directed toward amicable life-engendering gardening. Beside Poki is the gentle, marvelously happy spirit of Dominique Pozo, who lavishes care on the once-unremarkable, dry and rocky piece of ground they planted with the help of volunteers.
The three-year-old nonprofit initiative is only partially about providing affordable, wholesome food to the community. It is just as much about the nourishment that such a place can provide to the minds and souls of people who may not in their day-to-day lives otherwise find such calm and soothing healing effects.
“Even though, within the rigidly conceived constructs of our present culture and society, people are not supposed to wander into another person’s ‘private property’ and recharge their spirits courting ducks or running their hands over velvety plants, it is precisely my wish for them to do so,” said Poki, as we sat at a table beneath a tree in the garden’s informal open-air kitchen and enjoyed a glass of fruit juice, fresh radishes and hummus on toasted bread.
“Sometimes, in the midst of a particularly toilsome afternoon, a mother and her children will show up, and, while the mom is sitting beneath a tree taking an obvious break from the arduous task of raising children, the children are responding to all the stimulating biological phenomena at their fingertips.”
With only the slightest French accent, he continued. “There are just too few alternatives for experiencing the culturally and historically significant life forms that once inhabited the spaces between the sheer wilderness of, say, Hyde Park and the controlled environment of shopping malls. At its boldest, our society may try to fill these spaces necessary to human well-being with a recreation center, a carefully manicured park or bicycle trails. In fact, this property is bounded by a bicycle trail and many of the bikers are compelled to stop, get down from their bikes and intently study the gardens. Why not create any number of food-, flower- and herb-producing gardens throughout this town?
“I believe that the common person inwardly yearns to experience the elemental sources of life that were germane to the evolution of all of human culture and which can still be accessed on a small-scale, intensive organic farm such as this. Here, nothing is wasted, and the bounteous yields serve to nourish our bodies, oui, but, together with the rich processes inherent in growing food, they supply us with inspiration and energy for things of transcendental importance.”
The fact that this garden is embedded in the midst of a thriving neighborhood, where people can come together around one of the most creative things on Earth, should be seen as one of the neighborhood’s most important assets. A garden such as this can function as the perfect catalyst for creating healthier, more integrated and sustainable relationships between people, to say nothing of the relationship between people and the earth, which is also of vital importance, lest we all float away into cyberspace. By its very nature, the garden integrates plant, mineral and animal life, but it also integrates the elderly, children, youth, adults, mothers, fathers and entire families into a seamless caring community of vibrant, creative and happy human beings. What more do we want?
Such spaces are at the very root of Santa Fe’s soul, history and way of doing things. The old Chicano-Mexicano people of this town are quick to tell you that, until the 1940s and ‘50s, gardens and cornfields permeated all of their family compounds that comprised the entirety of García, Canyon, and many other residential enclaves. Archival photos from that period clearly show that the grounds of the plaza—the very heart of this world-bedazzling town—was set aside for productive gardening and was tended to by locals. In fact, the religious, cultural and economic underpinnings of the Pueblo world, as well as of much of the native Nuevo Mexicano villages that constitute the foundations of our state, arise from the very same or similar set of values and practices being carried out at Gaia Gardens.
You can support Gaia Gardens by:
Volunteering at the farm
Contributing to their fundraising campaign (see sidebar)
Purchasing Gaia Gardens’ produce at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market
Alejandro López is a northern New Mexico based writer, photographer and educator.
Gardens’ Community Land Trust Seeks Funding
Threatened with foreclosure on the property that the urban farm leases, the operators and supporters of Gaia Gardens have formed the nonprofit Mil Abrazos Community Land Trust and launched an Indiegogo (international crowdfunding site) campaign to raise $250,000 to buy the land and its buildings. The estimated amount needed for the purchase and improvements is $400,000, of which $150,000 has already been raised. The New Mexico Community Foundation is the project’s fiscal sponsor.
The garden has not been without obstacles and controversy. Last year, the property was cited for building-code violations and the garden was forced to close its on-site, fresh vegetable stand. The city of Santa Fe prevented schoolchildren from making field trips there and told the directors that farm interns couldn’t sleep in tents on the property. There were also some complaints that the garden created too much traffic for the neighborhood, although many people who live around it have supported it. The city is now working to provide more cooperation. Mayor Javier Gonzales even appears in a promotional video posted on the fundraising site. “I think that Santa Fe can be a leader in the green economy,” he says, “and one of the ways is to have a very robust urban farming policy.” To help, visit igg.me/at/MilAbrazos