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.
As they talk, Kos and Teague, along with Jack, their extra pair of hands, finish breakfast. Everything on their plates, from bread to potatoes to sausage, was grown, raised or baked right here. Typically, trips to the grocery are rare. Besides the vegetables they grow, they also raise goats and pigs and dairy animals; they bake their own bread in an horno; they make their own cheese and sauerkraut and sausage.
“I believe deeply in the gifts of Mother Nature,” says Teague. “Everything’s right here for us, and all we have to do is display our dedication, love and appreciation. We’re log jammed in this period of history. We’ve forgotten who we are. For thousands of years, people communally grew food together. We need to keep that alive.”
“The Chinese harvest with their footsteps, not with chemicals,” adds Kos. “Small farms use human input—it’s a multilayered experience, learning how to work with each other and the seed. What we want to do is help people learn to do this, then go off and start their own farm. A six month A-to-Z farm school and you don’t have to pay for it!”
Which is an extremely generous gift considering that over the past nine years, Teague and Kos have had to teach themselves from scratch pretty much everything they’ve learned about farming.
But not about loving nature. Nature, for both brothers, is their ally, their refuge, and their ticket to freedom. Growing up, says Teague, “we knew the great outdoors as our playground.”
“Yeah,” Kos agrees, “as kids we needed lots of space to go run and explore!” Their earliest childhood years were spent in the creeks, fields, meadows and forests of rural Massachusetts; then, in the ‘80s, the family moved to Santa Fe.
“New Mexico is more rootsian, more ruffian, than other places,” Teague goes on. Especially back then, when the Eastside, where they lived, was still relatively undeveloped, and the dead-end dirt roads gave way to meandering orchards and tangled wilderness. In addition, they spent many childhood summers with their mother’s side of the family in a rural Polish village. Fondly, they describe losing themselves in the countryside, fishing with their cousins, while all around them people dug potatoes and hauled produce in horse-drawn wagons.
So maybe it wasn’t so much farming, per se, as an identification and connection with nature, a yearning to stay outside as much as possible, that’s always been in their blood. Asked how they chose this place, just off the High Road to Taos, Teague says, “We picked each other”—“we” meaning this land and the brothers.
Kos adds, “It was love at first sight.”
They’d come in search of a place they could make their living on the land. It was the latter part of 2002. Inspired by younger farmers they’d met at the Farmers’ Market in Santa Fe, they’d helped them out with harvesting, which, as Kos points out, is a “bountiful, beautiful time to be on a farm. Really, though,” he continues, “it comes down to the eating. We experienced the taste, the quality, and we said, ‘We can do this!’”
Teague was fresh out of college; Kos had recently graduated from high school. The land, outside the tiny village of Las Trampas, belongs to Jeff Kline, father of a high school friend. “The Rio Trampas runs through it!” says Kos exultantly.
“That’s a special thing—and this is all national forest land around us.” Teague adds, “We’re extremely grateful that he has this beautiful piece of paradise that we get to lease.” It wasn’t a farm when they first moved here, just a house and the land. But Kline, founder of the , is of their ilk; his interest is in documenting elder locals’ knowledge of traditional methods of subsistence culture as it was still practiced in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Gemini Farms was small scale that first year. “We started with a basic one-acre garden,” Teague goes on. “You could count on your fingers and toes what we planted: corn, beans, squash, potatoes.”
“The corn and the squash kind of sang to us,” Kos interrupts.
So they continued to expand those crops and a few others, selling at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. “But we had to fight for a space there,” says Teague. “It’s pretty competitive. Which is understandable—a lot of those guys are older farmers, retired, and they love getting to do this. But where’s the future of farming if you don’t make space for young guys like us?”
Along the way, they got to know their neighboring farmers, whose families had worked the land there for generations. “We’re gringos, but we connected with them by speaking Spanish,” Teague continues, Kos nodding. “There are certain words related to farming that don’t directly translate into English.” This gave them a better appreciation of local farming customs. “One of our neighbors gave us seeds for pumpkin squash of the Hubbard family. It’s Ojo Sarco seed that he improved on, never been commercialized. He’s since died but we’re still planting that squash to this day—people love it! We’ve got some pumpkin squash pies in the oven right now!”
In recent years, they’ve begun to produce more food and so have branched out to doing restaurant and grocery store sales as well. In fact, “we’re talking about producing greater volumes of fewer crops, just for the sanity of our own lives,” as Teague puts it. Because they built a huge root cellar into the side of a north-facing hill some years back, they can grow larger amounts of cabbage, pumpkin squash, potatoes, garlic, carrots and beets, stash it there after the fall harvest and continue to sell through the winter months, thereby farming only during the summer.
Another friend from high school, Brett (“he’s our third brother”) started out working here, learning the ropes, then went on with his girlfriend to start a small sister farm plot in Chimayó, the two of them borrowing equipment from Kos and Teague as they need it. “They’re in their second year now—Brett’s been a solid contributor all along!” Kos says.
It’s an idyllic life they’ve carved out here for themselves. Along with the root cellar, they’ve built several new straw bale living structures, pole barns, hoop houses, a sweat lodge and an outdoor kitchen, meanwhile clearing fields for crops and building up the already-beautifully-fertile mountain soil. Part of their original vision included working with mule teams; now more than half the work is done with mules. Teague has a collection of various sizes of authentic Amish walking plows, bought either new or at auctions. In the process of making all this happen, “we’ve become Jack-of-All-Trades,” says Teague. “There are so many forgotten crafts of the past—thatching roofs, making wicker….”
“All the things that’re related to being a farmer and living on the land,” Kos interrupts.
“Kos has become quite a mechanic,” Teague interrupts back.
Kos goes on, “We fix all our equipment, do our own plumbing and electricity. If we hired jobs out, we’d have to get second jobs ourselves to pay for it!”
Besides friends and interns, the brothers host an annual visit of the third-grade class from the Santa Fe Waldorf School to Gemini Farms. The kids stay for several days, camping out, milking goats, weeding, moving rock, and helping to make the big meals Kos and Teague provide them. “They also get to play. We take them down to the river and on hay rides, play a lot of games,” says Teague.
“We’d like to do more outreach with youth,” Kos says, “especially 14- and 15-year- olds.”
“Small farmers can have an impact in creating food security here in the Southwest,” Teague goes on. “Why be such addicts? Kids are encouraged to be hooked on TV and video games in our culture. When the mainstream removes youth from outdoor experiences, there’s only a slim chance any of them will want to get into farming.”
They begin rhapsodizing about all the incredible opportunities that being outdoors provides (“This Earth is so grand!”): bike rides, bird song, walking outside on a summer’s evening in pitch darkness. And working with the plants themselves. “There’s this plant energy—”
“Yeah, it infuses you—”
“It’s all around you, in the soil, the plants, the sun and air and water—“
“It’s on your skin, your skin breathes it into your being—“
“You want to keep it with you a while, when you wash it off, you feel stripped.”
Suddenly: “Hey, the pies!”
“We forgot! They’re probably burned by now!” Teague pulls out four gorgeously golden pies. “One’s sweet, the other three’re savory. Want to try some?” Delicious—steamed potatoes, garlic, red chile, onions, sage and thyme, baked into silky pumpkin custard, perfect crust, piping hot. For a few minutes, the kitchen is quiet except for the scraping of our forks.
Story by GAIL SNYDER
Photos by KATE RUSSELL