Yanni’s Urban Garden

Nicole Kapnison and Co.

Photos by Joy Godfrey

Wisdom is often hard earned, but the true testament of the strength of that wisdom is when it is shared and honored from one generation to the next. Nicole Kapnison was 6 years old when her parents opened Yanni’s in 1993. Since 2011, she and her mother, Chris Komis, have used the accumulated wisdom of those 21 years to modernize and progress to keep pace with the shifting restaurant scene. 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

Green Tractor Farm

Green Tractor June 2014

 

 

Green Tractor

What’s in a name? The act of naming—a child, a pet, a company, a farm—is a time-honored tradition, a ritual dating back to our origins in which we invest meaning, hopes and aspirations. With farms, names tend toward the descriptive and practical. They are grounded, based in an everyday reality of seasons, tools, seedlings. Hence a name like Green Tractor Farm.

In these days of industrial food production, of so-called “enriched” foods and empty calories, we’re just as hungry for authenticity, for a taste of something real, as we are for fresh greens. When we head to the farmers market on a Saturday morning, we’re looking for a narrative that rings true, a story of hand-raised produce, grown just down the road, presented by familiar faces.

That’s why I was so tickled to discover that there really is a green tractor at Green Tractor Farm. It’s not a logo gimmick; it’s the real deal. The story of that green tractor, and the recent addition of a second green tractor, is a parable of heritage and adaptation that characterizes the farm’s history and future. 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

Let Me Tell You ‘Bout the Birds and the Bees

In Upstate New York, where I grew up, water was so ubiquitous that I didn’t notice it. Grass needed to be cut once a week, trees didn’t need to be watered, and our property was surrounded by woods and fields. The soundtrack to summer was the chirping and warbling of birds and the drone of bees. I took all of that bounty for granted until I bought a home in southwest Santa Fe (or what was southwest Santa Fe 15 years ago). I looked around my yard, which had been cleverly landscaped by the previous owner with a mix of dirt, goat heads and tumbleweeds, and thought to myself, “Something is missing.” As I built an oasis for myself, adding flower beds, bird feeders, outdoor drinking areas for the cat and brightly painted patio furniture and garden walls, I noticed that birds and bees moved in as well. Now I can look out my bedroom window and watch a hummingbird sitting on her nest, and when I nap in the hammock I can hear the bees.

The rules of attraction are fairly simple: have things in your garden that birds and bees love.

"#1 Sunflower Lane" Pat Woodall Fine Art, Taos

“#1 Sunflower Lane” Pat Woodall Fine Art, Taos

“The single biggest attraction [for birds] is water,” said Roberta Beyer of fatfinch.com, an online avian accessory store based in Albuquerque. “It’s like a magnet.” If you can make the water move, that’s even better—the birds can see and hear it from a greater distance. Active water also stays cleaner, harboring fewer of the parasites that can harm birds. Bird baths, fountains and ponds are all inviting to birds, and the water attracts a wider range of birds than feeders alone. (Bees also need the water; they use it for cooling their hives.) A few rocks or floating twigs added to your bird bath or fountain just above the water line give the bees a foothold while they collect water.

Bird feeders and hummingbird feeders are fun, because not only do they attract birds, but they attract them to where you want to see them, such as your porch or outside the window where you drink your coffee in the morning. Make sure to hang feeders in an area that has some protection from cats and wind.  Hummingbirds, Roberta told me, will remember from year to year what hook you hang the feeder on, and once you’ve let them know that you’re open for business, you’ll be on their route each year. I asked her if it’s the same hummingbird I’ve been seeing for years in the nest outside my window, and she assured me it is. “She’ll keep coming back as long as you leave the nest alone.” Hummingbirds also send out an early scout, so you should already have your feeders out!

I spoke with Terry Smith, who used to keep bees, and asked him for some tips. His top suggestion was to keep fruit trees. “Fruit trees love bees, and bees love fruit trees,” he said. “Plant an apple tree and just stand by and watch them come.” He noted that when he had his bees, he had apples by the cartful. He also told me that bees have a three-mile radius, and when a bee finds a good source of nectar and pollen, it returns to the hive, where it does an elaborate ritual dance that transmits the direction and distance of the source to the other bees. So there really is a bee out there saying to his mates, “Caitlin planted some Russian sage and some bee balm, and she has an apple tree. It’s this way—let’s go!”

Native plants are important to birds and bees, as is variety. One of the reasons we’re losing bees is monoculture farming, in which there is only one crop to be seen for miles on end. Bees need a range of flowers and plants in order to maintain their health and health of the hive. When laying out your garden, plant flowers of different shapes, colors and varieties—preferably arranged in clumps rather than in solitary fashion. Bees are particularly attracted to purple, blue and violet. It’s also important to have a combo of plants that flower at different times so that there’s something available the entire growing season. Native plants are better than hybrids, which have less pollen and nectar. (Of course, they also take less maintenance to grow.) When planting for bees, bear in mind that they prefer sun to shade, and they like to be protected from the wind. I have lavender and salvia along a sunny wall, and they are very popular with both the bees and the hummingbirds.

When you’re in your beautiful garden surrounded by colorful native plants, the sound of fountain gurgling, birds in the trees and bees buzzing around, you should keep certain caveats in mind. You don’t get to pick and choose which birds you attract. If you invite one bird, you invite them all. And the expression, “The early bird gets the worm”? Well, birds take that to heart. They get up early. Very early. And they like to sing about it. The beautiful hummingbird outside my window? She’s also very messy. Sit down to a nice dinner or lunch al fresco, and the bees will assume that they are invited guests. But I can live will all of that. The birds are quiet in the afternoon, so I can take my hammock nap then. A broom, a hose and some window cleaner take care of the mess from the hummingbird. And a few bees have never ruined my picnic; if they show too great an interest in the strawberries or the wine, I always give them their own dish off to the side and politely ask them to buzz off.

 Story by Caitlin Richards