Making New Choices, Planting New Seeds

Posted on June 7, 2007 by

Author: Lynn Farquhar
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #135

At Lama Foundation, a spiritual community in the mountains of northern New Mexico, the choices we make in buying food are based on a combination of budgetary constraints, the limited purchasing choices in our mountain region, our short growing season at 8600 feet, and our earnest desire to free ourselves as much as possible from the fossil-fuel-driven food system we’ve all grown up with.
How is our community facing the daunting learning curve ahead of us in this time of Peak Oil? As gas prices have climbed, we’ve gotten better at distinguishing between real needs and wants, as well as at recognizing and utilizing more of our local talent and resources. One is Daniel Carmona, our local CSA farmer. Each summer we purchase a larger share of our produce from his farm as we wean ourselves off of truckedin staples from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. Fortunately we’re located close to the Taos Pueblo and a number of small communities where interest in farming and the “old ways” is being rekindled.
Estevan Arellano, an arborist who lives about an hour south of us, has taught us about Querencia—a sense of great care for and rootedness to place; a sense of safety, of home, of a place not so much inherited from one’s ancestors but on loan from one’s children and grandchildren. Estevan, Daniel, and others have taught at Lama on topics from seedsaving to our bioregion’s cultural context to the fine points of growing quinoa and greenhouse construction. At various regional agriculture meetings the excitement and hopefulness in the room is palpable. “I feel a huge quickening happening in the collective desire to save the Earth and its inhabitants by shopping locally, using alternative energies, and relocalizing our economies,” Daniel observes.
We’ve also shifted to a more local and regional focus in our programs. Instead of hosting summer programs with well-known spiritual teachers who draw participants from all over the country (who jet into the Albuquerque airport and then drive to our rustic community), we’re hosting more youth leadership programs and summer programs designed for local appeal. After a devastating fire destroyed many of our buildings ten years ago, we’ve increasingly applied the permaculture principle of “stacking functions” as we’ve worked to rebuild our housing and infrastructure and simultaneously offered natural building and permaculture courses, integrating such teachings with an exploration of the world’s great spiritual traditions.
One of our biggest challenges has been the transience of our residents. Often in our history people haven’t remained long enough to have much understanding of the nuances of our growing season. Even today, we can only boast one resident who’s lived here for over four years. We are finally recognizing how having an ever-shifting population runs counter to a primary permaculture principle: that of prolonged observation of one’s land over time before making decisions about everything from siting buildings and water catchment tanks to growing food. This is of course a challenge our entire culture faces: because of our oil-fueled, internal-combustion- engine-based society, over generations we have shifted from an agrarian society to one of both tremendous mobility and learned helplessness around food production.
I’d like to offer some humble advice, if I may, about what I’ve learned about increasing food production as well as communication skills (and I’m still not certain which is a by-product of which) in an intentional community setting during times of increasing fuel costs.
1. Be curious and ask questions. Learn the skills and expertise of neighbors in your immediate and surrounding area in terms of reading the landscape, maintaining good soil, and growing food. You may be surprised at the passion and welcome reception you get when you acknowledge that you don’t already know it all and truly welcome the gifts of other people’s wisdom and experience.
2. Read up on permaculture principles and ethics, Peak Oil issues, and interpersonal communication (you’d better believe they’re connected!). Start a discussion group around your favorite gardening book. At Lama we’re finding Lisa Rayner’s Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains a great help.
3. Reach out to people who aren’t necessarily part of your own belief system and be open to their ideas. Everybody eats, so you have common ground already.
4. Even if you’re intimidated by those who seem to have a more natural affinity for horticulture, consider adopting a tiny plot of earth and growing some food yourself. In consultation with an enthusiastic neighbor or a sympathetic nursery worker, try growing something easy.
5. Keep records of what worked and what didn’t work in your food-growing experiments. Make observations about the optimum siting of plants that do best in your unique soil and microclimate. Note the weather patterns; describe what you did to discover what factors were at play in your greatest successes and most dismal failures. (For example, last year I planted way too many tomato starts I picked up cheap in town way too late in the season for them to develop edible fruits. At season’s end I felt awful seeing the many tomatoes that froze before they could mature.)
6. Collaborate in local gatherings to create or continue farmer’s markets, support local growers, purchase food staples cooperatively with others, develop bartering and carpooling systems, and brainstorm about possible projects for local youth that connect them with the Earth that sustains us all.
7. Be fearlessly, joyfully creative. If your ideas aren’t being received in the venues available, explore why not and create new venues. There’s always container gardening if you haven’t your own small plot of soil.
8. Have faith that your combined good intentions do make a difference. Don’t be discouraged by your inevitable mistakes, but regard them as useful compost in the path forward toward more mindful living! Good luck!

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