By Kathleen McCloud
A new chapter in La Cienega’s agricultural history was launched in January, 2009 over breakfast burritos at the community center. Talk between neighbors and strangers leapt from green chile to gardening, and by the time we left, the first community garden meeting was scheduled.
La Cienega, 15 miles south of Santa Fe, is populated by a mix of multigeneration residents and recent migrants who come together periodically to defend our historic zoning and collaborate on shaping the future of the community. ‘Use it or lose it’ was a phrase we’d heard in regard to our water rights, which we defended over the years as development moved south. The community garden was an opportunity to walk our talk.
Charlie C’de Baca, whose ancestors had settled in La Cienega in the 1830’s, agreed to turn over part of his alfalfa field for the garden. “It’s a lotta work, man”. He was a bit skeptical that the 18 people seated around the table knew what they were getting into. Mary and Tom Dixon of Green Tractor Farm, the first certified organic commercial growers in the valley, guided us. Members from Los Gatos, a 4-family community garden, were on hand to share their experience as well. We took comfort knowing we’d be within shouting distance of these experienced growers along the El Guicu, one of the oldest acequias in New Mexico.
What distinguished the new La Cienega community garden was its broad definition of community—at least half of us lived 2+ miles from the garden. None of us had acequia access, which was a key attraction to the experience for me. A few had memories of vegetable gardens, and some asked ‘what’s kale?’ The communal benefit of working together interested us as much as growing vegetables.
Charlie confessed to not having a vegetable garden since 1969. He remembered the chiles and melons his father grew and had a desire to pass along what he knew about traditional farming. The garden would be flood irrigated, from seedling to harvest, as he had learned to farm. No row cover or sprinkling, just gravity fed water from the acequia.
We estimated growing food for 16-20 and determined what to plant by popular vote. In keeping with our community vision of one 150’x75’ garden, shared by all, we included an orphan plot for minority whims, like Sean and Anna’s rhubarb patch. We drew a map, broke into teams and ordered seeds online, staying clear of F1 (sterile seeds).
While the seedling ‘starts’ took root in sunny windows, Charlie turned over the field. The acequia was cleaned, as it had been every spring since its first run in 1710. Unlike some of the neighbors along the acequia, Charlie, mayordomo of the El Guicu, grew up planting in the furrows rather than on the elevated berms. On watering day he diverted the acequia water into one furrow at a time, each about 4 feet wide, separated by dirt berms about a foot wide.
We flooded the field and let it dry out for a couple of days before planting. Seeing the force of the water as it flowed down the furrow it was hard to believe that the seeds would not flush away, so we planted an inch deeper than usual on the advice of the experienced gardeners. Charlie assured us the water flow would be controlled and very gentle while the seeds were taking root. It worked!
The garden was on private land and required entry through an electric gate into a family compound. For their security, as well as our need to work together, we set up a schedule—Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and early Saturday morning to water and tend the garden. Working together was especially important, since some in the group had never gardened and couldn’t distinguish a weed from a vegetable. It was a reality-check that working in the garden once a week for a couple of hours was as much time as many of us could manage.
We weeded and thinned plants, discovering quickly that we overplanted exotic cooking greens and lettuces. Successive plantings were sporadic.
As the season progressed we spent more time harvesting, coming up with a system whereby we filled bags with whatever needed picking and set them near the driveway—our ‘distribution’ area. At the end of a work session we selected and bagged what we wanted in true communal fashion, often with plenty to freeze or can. Margaret took the rotting produce home for her chickens, whose eggs we all enjoyed immensely.
We were down to about a core group of eight. By July 4 everyone was on vacation except for two gardeners. It was over 90 degrees for a week and the greens were turning into trees. Squash bugs took up residence in the winter squash. Plants were lost, but since we overplanted there was enough to go around.
By August we lost a few more gardeners to school schedules. The greens, root crops and chiles thrived in the flooded furrows, but the vine crops tended to rot before they ripened due to sitting in the wet soil. We overplanted tomatoes and had no plan for caging them, especially important with the heavy heirloom varieties. The downside of our weekly work schedule was our long-distance from the garden. We couldn’t see the visual cues the plants were sending us.
Our experience convinced us that, indeed, many hands make light work. We are waiting to see if the community garden will re-seed this year. Perhaps last year’s seeds will blow all over the valley, sprouting neighborhood gardens, like Los Gatos. After a season of eating what we grew, most of us are now encouraged and committed gardeners—a successful harvest by any count.
OTHER COMMUNITY GARDENS
Community gardens are making their presence felt in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque, as well as in other parts of New Mexico. Here are some resources in both of those cities. We apologize in advance if we’ve left anybody out; these are the ones we know about. If you have a community garden anywhere in NM, would you please email us and let us know a little bit about yourselves and provide your public contact information—info@ediblesantafe, put ‘Community Gardens’ in the subject line.
Action Buzz Garden
505-242-6367 ext. 119
Rio Grande Community Farm
Erda Gardens Learning Center
For more info about community gardens in Albuquerque, call Nick Kuhn at Parks and Recreation Department, 505-768-5370
In Santa Fe:
Santa Fe Community Gardens
Frenchy’s Field Garden
Agua Fria and Osage
This year, the Santa Fe city council passed a resolution establishing a community garden program, to allow the creation of community gardens in city parks. The garden at Frenchy’s Field offers about 16 plots, ranging in size from 80 to 150 square feet. A $15 fee is required at the beginning of the season, with the cost of water being assessed to parciantes (a local term for those who share a resource) at the end of the season.
How to Get Involved: Contact Jessie Esparza in the city Parks Division at 955-2106
Maclovia Park Garden
Maclovia St. and Gallegos Dr.
How to Get Involved: Contact Jessie Esparza in the city Parks Division at 955-2106.
Milagro Community Garden
2481 Legacy Court (Lutheran Church of the Servant)
How to get involved: email Milagro_Garden@att.net to get on the mailing list, get on the waiting list, volunteer assistance or supplies, get a tour or for more information.
How to get involved: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org Tesuque Village Community Garden Project. Currently seeking land for a community garden in Tesuque Village.
Please call Rebekah at 424-9475.