By Stephanie Owens
Feature Photo by Nova Sanders: The Lama community garden in its protected greenhouse, blossoming!
The Lama Community Garden initiative began in 2007 through the non-profit, Localogy. It was an integrated effort to grow food with Roots & Wings Community School students during the academic year and the Sangre de Cristo Youth Ranch during the summer months—schools don’t have a good schedule for farmer education! This project also encouraged local community member participation in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)-type design. At the time, we were growing food on about an acre of land and, soon, in a high tunnel greenhouse.
The Lama Community Garden currently inhabits the high tunnel greenhouse, and a small amount of land around it, on the ranch property of Ben Wilson, Dr. Bud Wilson’s son. Over the decades, Dr. Wilson worked very hard to protect as much of the Lama community from capitalist development as he could. One of his protective measures included placing much of the Wilson property under American Farmland Trust protective status. The Lama Community Garden use of land and acequia water, along with the horses on the ranch, help fulfill the requirements to maintain that designation and protect the cultural heritage of Lama.
Over the past 14 years, the organization and membership of the community garden shifted, expanded, and finally, ended in 2011. In 2015, with small children and growing grocery bills, Nova Sanders and I decided to restart the community garden project with permission from Localogy and Ben Wilson. For a couple of years, we grew food only in the greenhouse: the usual peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other heat-loving plants. And we were primarily the sole gardeners, with help from the Lama community acequia mayordomo, Nat Wilson, coordinating the irrigation.
By 2018, the high tunnel greenhouse had been in use for a decade and in need of major structural renovation and soil amendments. Nova and I got busy with children and work (grocery shopping is certainly quicker and easier) and dropped the project, until the pandemic of 2020. Though we knew in theory that the modern, industrial food system skates on a thin line of security, that understanding became very real last spring. Nova and I, with a few other neighbors in possession of machinery and skills, renovated the greenhouse structure, amended the soil, revised and expanded the garden beds, and gave a needed lift to the irrigation system.
The Lama Community Garden gets better every year. This year, four households are participating by giving labor and/or financial investment in exchange for a share of the food we all grow together. We have also expanded the community garden to my property, which is next to Nova’s and northeast of the Wilson ranch. We have a shared agreement to collaboratively use our acequia time to grow food. We built garden beds, rain catchment, and an irrigation system as fast as we could to get seeds in the ground this season. We are currently growing root vegetables and the usual greenhouse plants at the greenhouse and working toward growing our green leaf vegetables and having some root vegetable redundancy in the new garden beds.
Water is, of course, the limiting factor on the numbers of households that can participate in the project. The ultimate dream is that we as a community can begin to work together to help encourage other families to join the community garden by expanding homestead gardening infrastructure in other places in Lama with access to water. With this type of design, we can strategically grow food varieties in different zones on the mountain and then trade what we grow with each other—and share the joy in working with one another as a community for the health and well-being of us all in an uncertain future.