A Life Home Grown

Photo by Gabriella Marks

Photo by Gabriella Marks

I’ve been having the best time recently, scrolling through Erin O’Neill’s blog, Seeds & Stones, A Life Home Grown, which chronicles her family’s homesteading experiences in Nambé. Erin and her husband, Joel Glanzberg, make living sustainably look not only feasible for some of us not-so-green-thumbed DIY illiterates, but even doable—and fun! Because the real bottom line to homesteading, it turns out, is not memorizing permaculture techniques or teaching yourself construction and engineering basics. It’s gleaning! Which is just a more polite way of saying scavenging. And not only for materials—wood, appliances, tools, mulching—but ideas. Other people’s ideas. Things they’ve already tried out themselves, so they know they work and they can warn you of how to avoid their own mistakes.

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Get Your Hands in the Dirt

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 11.32.45 AMThe degree to which we’re willing to care for something is based in the value we see in it. So it seems that solutions to the environmental troubles we face lie partly in reevaluating our relationship with nature. There is perhaps no better way of experiencing our place in this remarkable web of life called Earth than tending a small piece of it, in planting a garden. Get your hands in the dirt, have some successes, some failures, some surprises. Figure out what works. Experience directly what nature is up to, both that which is around us and in us. Continue reading

All Local All the Time

CSA egg, cabbage, carrotOn a bright Thursday morning, a group of six people have set up a temporary camp of sorts at the Hillside Market in Santa Fe, packing produce into boxes and reusable grocery bags. It’s member pickup day for Beneficial Farms CSA, Steve and Colleen Warshawer’s family business. The couple is joined by three volunteers (as well as some of the volunteers’ tiny, adorable children) and Colleen’s son Thomas Swendson, who moved to Albuquerque from Denver three years ago to work for MoGro, a nonprofit mobile grocery store that supports sustainable local food distribution. “I’ve been doing more of the technical side parttime for Beneficial Farms,” he says, “but in the past month, it’s been more handson.” Despite everyone working to a tight deadline, the collective vibe is laidback and friendly. But laidback does not mean slack, as any conversation with Steve quickly demonstrates.

Though not from a farming family himself, Steve knew he wanted to go into agriculture after spending time as a teenager working on a co-op farm located in Georgia. He came to New Mexico in the late 1970s as a junior at St. John’s College; when he finished up that academic year, his path took a different turn. “The land that we live on was purchased with my senior year tuition savings, and I didn’t return to school after,” he says. Thus began the long road to creating a working farm, which didn’t come into full existence until 1993. Initially the land, about 25 miles southeast of Santa Fe, was vacant unmanaged ranch land, and all infrastructure had to be put in place. There was, says Steve, “no water, fences, roads, anything.” Continue reading

Roxanne Swentzell

Roxanne Swentzell in the gardenWhen she was little, exploring among old ruins, Roxanne Swentzell remembers occasionally finding turquoise beads. She describes holding them up to squint through each tiny hole: “I was looking into the past.” These memories were so alive to her that, many years later, as a Native artist of great renown, she commemorated them by creating a large clay sculpture of a woman gazing into the past through the hole in her own turquoise bead. “We’re walking right alongside it,” Roxanne says of the past. “We’ve always walked side by side.” Sitting outside Roxanne’s living room window, the sculpture is a reminder; she holds this sense of simultaneity between her thumb and her forefinger.

From an acclaimed family of potters and sculptors whose Santa Clara Pueblo roots span all the way back to the days before contact with Europeans, Roxanne grew up with the code of sustainability the Pueblo people had always lived by. Back in the early ’80s, when Roxanne found herself, at 23, “homeless, living in a tent—an army tent—with two babies,” she admits feeling desperation. “So in between when my kids were napping, I spent a whole year mixing mud and making adobes. When I needed help lifting a beam or a viga into place, my mom and my aunties were there.” Continue reading

Let’s Make Lasagna!

Lasagna gardening is a technique gaining in popularity, especially for those of us living in high-desert terrain. It’s drought-tolerant, requiring minimal watering, for one thing; also, in preparing the bed, you won’t be trying to hack and whack your way through dry, hardpacked caliche and bedrock because with lasagna gardening, you’re literally building new soil from the ground up. In her straightforwardly titled book Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!, author Patricia Lanza lays out the fundamentals for the simple, effective—and fun—technique she developed about 20 years ago. It incorporates levels of nitrogen and carbon, which together produce the energy and organisms essential for organic plant and soil health. You can be creative with the materials you use, as long as you follow the rule of Lanza’s recommended ratio, which is two inches of carbon-rich “lasagna levels” interspersed with one inch of nitrogen-rich materials… Continue reading

Homemade Yogurt

Yogurt famously splashed into mainstream American consciousness sometime in the early to mid-’60s as a health food, along with granola, juicing and wholewheat everything. I had a yogurt maker back then, a simple little electric heating platform that held four cute porcelain dishes, each with its own fitted glass lid. You could monitor the milk’s progress without disturbing the process; as it got closer to being yogurt, lots of water vapor collected inside the lids. The procedure, essentially as simple now as it was then, is to add a small amount of commercial yogurt to the milk of your choice and leave it in a warm place to incubate. Continue reading