Reader View: Gaia Gardens represents possibility for urban farming

Eleanor Stevens

I am a young professional raised in Santa Fe but educated out of state, and, now that I have finished college, I am looking for a community in which to start a career. I care deeply about community and environmental sustainability, so an important factor in my choice of a home city will be the presence — or absence — of grass-roots community organizations focused on local, sustainable food.

I have experienced firsthand the benefits such organizations bring to communities. In Sacramento, Calif., where I lived last year, multiple farmers markets and urban farms provided affordable, nutritious food to my low-income neighborhood. In addition, volunteering at Sacramento’s urban farms helped me de-stress and connect with my neighborhood community.

Everyone in Sacramento was encouraged when the City Council approved an ordinance last March legalizing farm stands in residential neighborhoods, since the ability to sell produce on-site makes many more urban farms possible, especially in low-income areas where people badly need both fresh food and additional income.

This summer, I had the privilege of moving back home to Santa Fe and volunteering at Gaia Gardens, an urban farm on the Arroyo Chamiso Trail. Weeding, pruning and transplanting along with the other volunteers amid a wilderness of sunflowers and flowering herbs was invaluable for my mental health. Even more importantly, I could tell that my work was contributing to real, substantial community formation, similar to what I experienced in Sacramento.

Dozens of neighbors, friends, volunteers and customers — and their children — shared food at Gaia Gardens’ monthly potlucks. When Gaia Gardens opened its farm stand by the bike path on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, a steady stream of customers poured in to buy vegetables, drink tea and chat with the farm’s owners.

Even after the farm stand closed, not a morning went by without someone turning off the path and coming up to the farm to express disappointment that they could no longer buy fresh produce in their neighborhood. Now that the farm stand is shut down, it is not feasible for Gaia Gardens’ owner to continue farming in the same location, so the farm will close. This is a tremendous loss to me and my community.

To me, Gaia Gardens and its farm stand represent the possibility of a vibrant urban-farming scene in Santa Fe — the kind of farming scene that so attracted me in Sacramento. I want to encourage everyone in Santa Fe to support urban farming by pushing the City Council to legalize farm stands so that young professionals like me can come home to a community-centered, sustainable city.

Eleanor Stevens is a Spanish student and a recent AmeriCorps graduate. She will spend the next year working with nonprofits in Mexico; after that, she hopes to move back home to Santa Fe and start a career in education or social work. She was in the Santa Fe Waldorf Class of 2010.

(1) comment

Alasdair Lindsay

City Hall needs to get with the program, Eleanor. Neighborhood gardens are a fantastic way to eat healthier as well as grow neighborhood relationships. It is a loss to this neighborhood and a blot to the image of the City Different.

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