Hilario E. Romero

 

On the official Topographical Map of Santa Fe County, in 1904, the same year that the Court of Private Land Claims concluded its adjudications, the Rancho El Pino in Agua Fría was no longer shown. The area’s boundaries are not shown. The 1919 Hydrographic Map of Santa Fe shows acequias, including the Acequia de los Pinos, the San Antonio, Las Ojitos and Las Joyas. Families of original land grantees still live in Santa Fe, and many of them still live in the Southwest Santa Fe River Corridor. Since Agua Fría Village was contiguous with the southwest boundary at the Pacheco Grant to the Santa Fe League in the northeast, the Santa Fe County map, in 1938, shows connecting houses along the Camino Real—Agua Fría Road—to the area where Rancho El Pino was located. Oral accounts talk of the goat herds in this area and how the villagers bought or traded for “requezon,” cottage goat cheese. Keres Pueblo groups came and traded with Agua Fría Village. Rancho El Pino gradually split into family shares and later sold plots to new generations of families who wanted to live in the area.

 

Sotero Romero, an Agua Fría Farmer and Rancher

Sotero Romero was a landowner born in Agua Fría in 1866. He was farming and ranching in this area from the late 1800s until 1934. He owned several long strips of land—extending from today’s Cerrillos Road to the Santa Fe River—that are now the La Cieneguita del Camino Real, Maez Road, Harrison Road, Boylan neighborhood and the Ecoversity land.

 

Four acequias ran through Romero’s land, which was bounded on the southwest by the Camino de las Carretas (Cerrillos Road) and on the northeast by the Río Santa Fe. In the upper southwest area of the Camino Real was the Acequia de los Pinos (Acequia Madre), which is still in use today. In the lower area, northeast of the Camino Real and adjacent to the Río Santa Fe, was the Acequia de Los Ojitos, which was partially fed by several cold-water springs. It ran through the middle of this area (Ecoversity land) from the Río Santa Fe to near San Isidro Crossing on the Camino Real. (Hydrographic Map of Santa Fe, NM, including parts of Santa Fe County, State Engineer’s Office, 1914.) Also, the Acequia San Antonio ran from the gate of the Acequia Madre, on Santa Fe Indian School land, through the area now known as Casa Alegre, and down further into “el estanque” or “tanque” near the Camino Real. It then flowed to Sotero Romero’s lower lands (Ecoversity) and eventually back into the Río Santa Fe. These properties, from Las Joyas to Siler Road, were referred to “Las Cieneguitas,” according to David Baca of Las Joyas neighborhood. The El Pino Ranch had approximately 1,200 acres that ran from the western boundary of the Santa Fe Grant to today’s Siler Road.

 

Sotero Romero and his wife, Antonia “Tonita” Gonzales de Romero, ranched, farmed and irrigated with acequias that passed through his 40-acre strip of Agua Fría land. By 1900, they had two children: Alejandrino, 6, and Antonio, 2. The youngest, Francisquita, was born in 1906. They had a goat herd and traded and sold requezon. Romero pastured his goats in the lower portion of his land and grew alfalfa and corn on the upper portion. The Santa Fe County map of 1924 identifies both strips of that land as Sotero Romero’s, where today’s La Cieneguita neighborhood and Ecoversity land are located, on the Camino Real. Henry Culver, former owner/operator of Empire Builders lumberyard, would later buy the upper section of Sotero’s land, up to Cerrillos Road. Part of the lower land, running east of Romero’s land and northeast of the Camino Real to the Río Santa Fe, stayed with the Carrillo family. After the Hydrographic Survey Report of the Santa Fe River, in 1977, the map of the area shows these ditches clearly in the same locations as shown in the 1914 survey.

 

The Story of Tomás Maez and the Road of His Namesake

Tomás Maez, his wife, Libradita Brito, and his family moved from Cañada de los Alamos to Galisteo in 1918. By 1920, he worked for the railroad in Lamy, where the family lived in the old schoolhouse. In 1939 or 1940, they moved to Agua Fría and bought the strip of land now known as Maez Road. They had 11 children, and their daughter, Eloisa, married Abran Valencia in 1943, before he went off to World War II. In 1947, Tomás Maez and his son-in law, Abran Valencia, built an adobe store and an attached home on what is now the corner of Maez Road and Rosina Street. There, on the easternmost side of the Village of Agua Fría, they sold local cheese and groceries. By the 1950s, there were several houses along the east side of Maez Road, all belonging to the children of Tomás Maez, according to Lena Maez Valencia, Tomás Maez’s granddaughter. The 1977 Hydrographic Map of Santa Fe, #23, shows the houses.

 

Valencia recalls that her father and grandfather referred to the land below Maez Road, which became Ecoversity land, as “la otra banda.” She remembers her father buying cheese from the family in la otra banda. They had a goat herd that grazed there from the 1950s to the 1980s. For the majority of the 20th century until the 1990s, individual landowners were still maintaining their rural way of life in this corridor. The Britos, Valencias, Romeros, los Sánchez, Montoyas, Gallégoses, Carillos, Gonzáleses, Bacas, Jirons and Raels (on Camino Carlos Rael) continued to live, ranch and farm on parts of the land from Osage to Siler Road until the 1990s. Farm fields continued to grow alfalfa, oats, wheat, corn and other vegetable crops; goat herds were still in the area; and horses, mules and burros had space to graze. Eventually, developments made their way into this old land grant through land sales. Most years, the Acequia de los Pinos (Acequia Madre) ran and still runs through the entire area.

 

Ecoversity and the Struggle for the Future

In 2001, Frances “Fiz” Harwood had a vision to develop an educational institution dedicated to teaching sustainable agriculture on the Agua Fría land of Sotero Romero. She honored Romero and his family when she purchased the land and founded the Ecoversity. Along with Ecoversity, she created a nonprofit organization called the Prajna Foundation to provide funding for projects like hers. Ecoversity’s 11 acres were to serve as an example of how agriculture could be developed in a sustainable manner. As our neighbor, she brought in experts in the fields of sustainable agriculture and permaculture, wind- and solar energy, mini-greenhouses, and other state-of-the-art appropriate technologies that respected the land and honored the traditional cultures of the area. Ecoversity’s students benefited from the hands-on experiences that many of the instructors offered. Harwood’s vision for a sustainable future was shared by many residents of Agua Fría and Santa Fe. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with cancer, and on July 5, 2003, she passed away. From that time forward, evidence of her vision slowly diminished and then disappeared. Ecoversity began to lose enrollment and by 2008 became an online institution, a website offering information on ecological practices.

 

By 2010, Ecoversity and the Prajna Foundation were involved in a legal challenge by former employees and students, alleging mismanagement and fraud regarding how the Trust of Frances Harwood was being managed. A petition seeking an indictment went before the 1st Judicial District Court, where it was rejected. The case then went before the U.S. District Court of Appeals, where the petition was validated. Finally, it went before the Supreme Court of  New Mexico, where it was rejected. (Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, March 31, 2008, Feb. 25, 2010, and Aug. 15, 2013).

 

The Developers and the Southwest Santa Fe River Corridor Residents

In 2013, the city of Santa Fe, through the Extraterritorial Zoning Commission, completed Phase II of its annexation (from the county) of properties abutting the Santa Fe River. The easternmost part of Agua Fría Village was annexed with little awareness or involvement of the local community. Without Early Neighborhood Notification (ENN) public notice or city of Santa Fe sign notices, proposed rezoning began moving forward but did not go before the  city Planning Commission. The Ecoversity land was zoned into the city of Santa Fe as C-2 PUD. The east side of this land is R-1 Rural Mountain (one dwelling unit per acre) and most of the area near the river to the west on the Agua Fría/Camino Real is the same.

 

On Nov. 23, 2014, the city notified neighbors within 300 feet of the edge of Ecoversity property that an ENN meeting with the developers, Blue Buffalo/Tierra Concepts, was to be held. Most of the affected neighborhood was unaware of this meeting. Only a few residents attended and commented. Two months later, on Feb.19, 2015, it went before the Planning Commission. With a vote of 4-2, the commission denied the rezoning and plan amendment. The majority of the commissioners felt the project was out of character for that part of the Santa Fe River Corridor and its proximity to the historic Agua Fría Village on the Camino Real. They said that the criteria set forth in 14-3.2(E) for all General Plan amendments had not been met and that the proposal seemed to benefit a few landowners at the expense of the surrounding landowners. Further, they said that it is not an appropriate location in terms of its context and density and therefore not consistent with the Santa Fe General Plan, as noted in the report by the Long-Range Planning staff (city of Santa Fe, Planning Commission minutes for Feb. 19, 2015). The next hearing, before the City Council, will be on June 24.

 

The Future

Agritourism! Ecotourism! These are concepts of combining sustainable agriculture with tourism. Tourists visit working farms that produce vegetables, fruit, eggs, beef and pork and ranches that produce tack for horses, mules and donkeys and offer horseback riding and wagon rides. The tourists visit vineyards and wineries and dairies that produce milk and byproducts like yogurt, cream and cheese, and they participate in everyday activities, shop in local country stores, enjoy entertainment, eat meals and pay for overnight stays. Agritourism/ecotourism is more than just an experience of the great outdoors.

 

The Ecoversity land is well suited for this type of tourism because it is rural, has the historical character to create a cultural center for ranching and farming, and is on the El Camino Real National Historic Trail. It also has the continuity of history that can carry it into the future as a great example of sustainability, the green economy and cultural integrity. A living museum would educate young people to the long history of survival by the original inhabitants and their descendants, who trace their ancestry to the present day. Programs in permaculture and new innovative farming and ranching methods could be taught onsite. A new sense of community in our neighborhood would stimulate the corridor and, with a long-range plan, would generate economic stimulus. These sorts of attractions would also help the artist and entrepreneurial community that is being developed nearby, south of Siler Road.

 

Last month, Mayor Javier Gonzales interviewed Robert Redford at the Lensic Theater. Redford reflected on his childhood in a working-class neighborhood of Los Angeles and how high-density development shattered neighborhood living. He talked about “indiscriminate development, the come-one come-all, like the gold rush” that occurred there. He said that New Mexico has “rich possibilities for the future but a balance must be struck that saves some of the land that would be lost to development.”

 

Santa Fe is still the “City Different.” Redford spoke of the need for a different approach to sustain ourselves in this ancient community. At a time of decreased city budgets and without adequate studies looking at how growth can be best addressed in this area, the Southwest Santa Fe River Corridor will not grow economically and will become a burden for the city. Communities that fail to plan wisely in this time of climate change and unreliable water supplies will not grow and prosper. With the drought continuing in most of the Southwest for the last 20 years—most recently in California, where most of our produce comes from—the city of Santa Fe needs to set aside and preserve agricultural lands and begin to support local farming and ranching.

 

 

Hilario E. Romero, a New Mexican mestizo (Spanish/Basque/Jicarilla Apache/Ute), is a former New Mexico state historian. He has spent the past 40 years in higher education, as an administrator and professor of history, education and Spanish at the University of New Mexico, Highlands University and Northern New Mexico College.

 

 

 

 

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