Strictly Old School

Albuquerque Old School homesteading classesStrictly Old School

If you’ve never canned produce, made your own buttermilk or soap, or gathered eggs from your backyard chickens, the Old School in Albuquerque is the place to learn how. The Old School offers classes in the kind of “frugal, traditional, and sustainable living skills” that our great-grandparents might have known but that we, in our reliance on the supermarket checkout, have lost.

“One day I was wishing I knew how to can and how to make bread out of sprouted grains,” says Maggie Shepard, the school’s co-founder. Shepard is a strong researcher—she worked at the Albuquerque Tribune and now teaches CNM’s journalism course—but even she couldn’t find the help she wanted. Continue reading

Schoolyard Gardens

santa fe waldorf school gardenSchoolyard Gardens: Waldorf

Anyone who thinks that kids today are lazy hasn’t met Michael Oellig’s third grade students.

These nine- and ten-year-old Santa Fe Waldorf School students are an enthusiastic bunch. They greet visitors with a Ute blessing that sounds like a lilting song, look adults in the eye and…think plowing a garden by hand is fun.

It’s a bright Friday afternoon, the sky outside painted with pale cirrus clouds. The kids have just come in from recess, and their cheeks are flush from running around the playground through the cool late-winter air. Their south-facing classroom is sunny, warm and welcoming. Potted plants thrive along the windows, and the deep yellow walls cast everything in a golden light. An inspiring sense of calm pervades the room, even as the kids move furniture about. They laugh with each other as they quickly set up chairs in a large circle, then stand patiently until everything is ready for what will be a vibrant discussion about one of their favorite things about their school: the garden.

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Project Feed the Hood

SWOP nm project feed the hoodProject Feed the Hood

A patch of dirt heaped with old tires, soiled diapers and needles is an odd place for a garden. When the SouthWest Organizing Project got permission from the City of Albuquerque to take over the tract in early 2010, its workers and volunteers lugged out mounds of the stuff, including more than 35 wheelbarrows’ worth of glass. But once the weeds and debris were plucked and plots were laid, it produced more than 6,800 square feet of scarlet runners, tomatoes, onions, sweet corn, squash, pumpkins and yellow-meat watermelons, among a cornucopia of other produce.

Dubbed Project Feed the Hood, the mission of SWOP’s garden is to engage area restaurants in growing their own food and developing a healthy eating lifestyle. Sandwiched between the affluent Ridgecrest and Nob Hill areas, the Southeast Heights garden sits on the corner of Ross and Wellesley in a low-income and somewhat transient neighborhood. SWOP chose this plot for a reason: to organize. Continue reading

Gemini Farms

nm farming: gemini farmsGemini Farms

A wild thought occurs to me in the midst of interviewing Gemini Farms owners Teague and Kosma Channing. Sitting with them around their kitchen table, I’m scribbling madly in a mostly hopeless attempt to track the conversation when suddenly I think, “What if Thoreau could’ve been neighbors with these guys? He would’ve loved hanging out over here!” Erudite, well-spoken edge-walkers, Teague and Kos share with the famous idealist an engaging straightforwardness and the refreshing disinclination to suffer fools gladly. And, like Henry David, the two brothers are unabashedly, fiercely passionate about Nature and Self-Reliance.

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Farm Kids

nm farming: farm kids

photo: Gabriella Marks

Farm Kids

“Later in life, when I’m old and grey and my children are grown and gone, I will cherish the memory of my two kids playing in the irrigation ditch, stark naked, a week before Thanksgiving. ”          

We were late getting the garlic planted that year, and snow was threatening at our farm, which sits at 8,000 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. My husband was at his day job, and I planted about a half-acre of garlic by myself, nervous the ground would freeze for good before we could get all the garlic put to bed for winter. The kids and I would wait each morning until the sun thawed the soil above freezing. Then we’d bundle up and trundle outside to the field. I’d summon all the patience in my heart to allow Silas, then age four, to “help” dibble the little holes for the garlic cloves I’d drop in behind him. Yes, I could have done it ten times faster alone. Continue reading

A Farmer’s Life

new mexico farming: farmers lifeA Farmer’s Life: What It’s Really Like

A small farmer should live like a traditional peasant: work hard; eat exclusively from your crops and herds and flocks; can, pickle, freeze and dry what you can’t eat fresh; be miserly; save; mend your old clothes; drive an old pickup and eschew the new technologies celebrated by the younger generation.

I say “should,” because for all the Occupy rhetoric, the economic tide is still channeling wealth to the wealthy (as in trickle-up economics), and prices for agricultural products are stuck back in the last century for many of us, while costs appear to be quite unstuck. Lie low, eat from the fruits of your own labor and keep your meager savings under the mattress—this has always been the way of those at the bottom of the economic food chain. It has been said that when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no widespread famine, because people had long been accustomed to canning and drying food against the inevitable difficult times ahead. Continue reading