February 2014

GAIA GARDENS / Urban Farming

The School of the Future?


Poki Piottin



Wendell Berry, the legendary farmer and poet, states: “Our children no longer learn how to read the great book of Nature from their own direct experience, or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.”


When my mother took me to my first kindergarten class, I screamed and kicked; I had no desire to go to school. Already I sensed I would be confined and indoctrinated for many years, molded into a good tax-paying citizen. I survived my so-called “education” and became a creative entrepreneur for 25 years until the 1999 World Trade Organization events in Seattle. Profoundly affected by our government’s violent response to civil disobedience, I vowed to become an activist and steward of the Earth. For the past 10 years I have been involved in a variety of projects related to sustainability and, at 52 years of age, became a farmer.


I chose to farm within the city to interact with and inspire as many people as possible, believing that lasting ecological health and social well-being are fostered by rekindling our connection to the Earth and reclaiming our food sovereignty. For the past two years, with the help of countless volunteers and schoolchildren, we have built Gaia Gardens, a one-acre working farm, using imagination, elbow grease and a wealth of community resources.


A farm is much more than a place that grows vegetables. It is a living organism, a sanctuary for wildlife, a business operation and a micro-community. In order to keep it alive, the people involved must understand not only the world of plants and soil health, but also plumbing, carpentry, electricity, animal husbandry, accounting, public relations, sales, marketing, grassroots community organizing, conflict resolution, and, as we painfully discovered last year, politics.


Unlike the sustainable Santa Fe of 1919, when a survey found 1,200 acres of farmland irrigated by 38 acequias, modern urban farms must negotiate a maze of city ordinances, building codes, land use and water issues— all in an effort to demonstrate compatibility with the neighboring residential community.


In addition to growing food, Gaia Gardens’ activities have also included educating schoolchildren, hosting free workshops and setting up a produce stand.  Although these activities fully align with the 2008 Sustainable Santa Fe Plan passed by the city council, activities such as these have conflicted with city ordinances regulating a business in a residential neighborhood. These current ordinances do not accommodate the reality of urban farming.


When I look at Gaia Gardens, I see not only a modern version of a Victory Garden, but a perfect school, all in harmony with a regenerative Santa Fe. Math, physics, ecology, science, construction, economics, art and more are all present in a palpable and real-time form. And best of all, the classroom is outdoors, so a child can be with nature, have fun, learn the skills of the future and build a strong and healthy body at the same time.


The mission of Gaia Gardens is to inspire a citywide movement of urban farming and permaculture education, while demonstrating the viability of urban farming in Santa Fe. Our project explores numerous revenue-generating elements that can be incorporated in such operation. We sell produce at the farmers’ market and through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), along with plant starts, worms, compost tea, seeds and healing salves. Education and community building are probably the greatest benefits of an urban farm and are certainly compatible with residential zoning. Many cities have already passed comprehensive urban farming ordinances because they understand that urban farms help build self-reliant communities and inspire positive local action around food access and interrelated social, economic and racial justice issues.


How do we prepare our children (and ourselves) to live in a world desperate for restoration and care? Can we afford to wait for our school system and government to evolve and provide kids with the necessary tools to cope with the monumental task that they will inherit? One practical way to prepare our children is to consider urban farms as partners-in-education with our local school system. This may require new city ordinances that allow urban farms to become sustainable education centers while also paving the way for them to attract capital, land and infrastructure so they can fulfill their purpose.


Children who learn to care for the Earth belong to community, grow food, build and repair things and heal themselves naturally. These children are much more apt to become adults who will create rather than destroy the future. These adults will contribute to the regeneration of our ecosystem, fostering a healthy and resilient culture.



Poki Piottin and his partner, Dominique Pozo, operate Gaia Gardens, a nonprofit urban farm in Santa Fe. They are currently exploring ways to purchase the 3.5-acre property. Donations to the farm are tax-deductible.505.796.6006, poki@nodilus.org, www.thegaiagardens.org




Caring about Compost

Compost is a great way to reduce the volume of your weekly trash and improve your garden. By collecting non-repurposable food scraps from its 30 commercial clients, Reunite Resources’ pilot program will divert up to 2 million pounds from the landfill in its first year of operation. That is enough organic material to create a pile as high as Mount Everest.

In landfills, food scraps are buried and the opportunity is lost to make compost, which replaces the need for chemical fertilizers, retains moisture and provides nutrients for healthy plant growth. Furthermore, when left in landfills, this organic matter creates methane, a greenhouse gas that traps 21 times more heat than CO2. Less than 30 percent of what ends up in landfills actually belongs there. Of the 70 percent that does not, at least a quarter is compostable.

Reunity Resources is taking the steps toward a zero-waste reality. The systems it is creating and data it will collect through its pilot program could be the basis for citywide composting in Santa Fe. Reunity is raising seed funds, spreading the word, designing educational materials, creating logistical systems and contracting with clients. Contact the organization if you’d like to support this initiative or be a part of this ground-saving program: 505.629.0836, tejinder@reunityresources.com or juliana@reunityresources.com

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