Twenty-seven people turned out for this second virtual Community Forum. Thank you for coming and we encourage you to bring a friend next time. Comments on this and all Re-caps are appreciated.
Terry Surguine was the evening’s moderator. He provided a few tips on Zoom use and noted that the forum would be recorded. Taos United’s list includes nearly 500 friends and activists working for a fair and just democracy. Diverse points of view are welcome. He said, “We exist to help you find allies for your cause and for you to find causes that ignite your activist spirit.” Terry noted that August 18 is the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. He felt that a few rays of lights are shining through the gloom of this nightmarish 2020.
Newcomers to the forum introduced themselves:
- Amanda Flores is the new Community Schools Coordinator for Vista Grande High School. She moved to Taos only last December, arriving just before the Covid-19 shutdowns.
- Andrea Rosen has a special interest in the food chain and food sovereignty and learning more about these issues. She likes to find commonalities across different perspectives.
I. While the theme for the evening was “local sustainable farming”, we start with two issues of great importance and with time restrictions.
- Rally in support of the U.S. Postal Service this Saturday – August 22, at 11:00 a.m.! Come to the main post office (or organize your own rally in Ranchos or at another post officer in the area). Coordinated by several national organizations, including MoveOn, Women’s March, SumOfUs, 350 Action and with the support of the American Postal Workers Union this will be a peaceful demonstration to show federal officials that they should not dismantle, de-fund or otherwise weaken this national institution. We will be wearing masks and social distancing. Go to Savethepostoffice.net or any of the organizations for ideas for signs.
- Support the 2020 census. Taos County has amongst the lowest participation rates in the US. As of August 10, the “Self-Response” rate was 30%. The goal is to get to 80% by September 30th. On August 4, the Trump Administration announced that the Census Bureau would stop the collection of 2020 census data a month early citing the on-going Coronavirus pandemic. Cutting the data collection time frame short by a month will have the greatest impact on rural areas across the country where getting responses to the census is hardest but where an estimated four in ten U.S. households reside. By not providing an accurate count of these areas, many rural communities – including Taos County — will not receive critical funding, and information needed to determine congressional apportionment and redistricting will be skewed. Call Lindsey at the Taos County Complete Count Committee, 575-779-6865 CELL (text or call and leave a message)
Farming in Taos: A Snapshot of Three Efforts to Be Regenerative / Sustainable
Terry explained the broad topic for the evening: sustainable farming. He noted its relevance in today’s uncertain world, with long-established ways of raising food in this country and around the world showing signs of imminent collapse. The current pandemic shows how our food supply can quickly become vulnerable. Three speakers were invited to give longer statements about their work in and philosophies towards farming in the Taos area.
Jeff Cochran, Owner of Talpa Farms: As introduction, Jeff explained that growing a salad a day was his original goal about 18 years ago, and he “failed miserably”! He thought he knew instinctually how to make a garden in his .83 acre plot (including his house). After that failure, he worked with and for a couple farmers at the Taos Farmers Market, where he eventually served on the Board. He then set a goal of growing all his food for one year. At first, people thought his ambitions were unrealistic, but over the past 15 years, he has produced 7 tons of produce, which he sells from his farm. He talked about working with the acequia association and several farmers in his neighborhood who, after some initial skepticism about “a 30-year-old white guy”, were pleased to share their knowledge of the land. Jeff does not use any chemicals on his garden. In response to a question about barriers to scaling up in Taos County to achieve food sufficiency, he noted that food is cheap, for the most part. You can buy a whole baked chicken at any of our supermarkets for $6, which is not the real cost of producing that chicken. The economics and politics of food production and distribution are complex and will need to be re-jigged if we want food self-sufficiency in Taos County.
Daniel Hutchinson, Owner of Big Wheel Farm in Costilla and Director of Localogy in Questa — https://www.facebook.com/localogy.org/ — Asked everyone to hold their breath and to write down what a person needs to be alive. He then explained his work on about 100 acres of land, how he has lived off-grid all his adult life, and how the average US town has only about 3 to 4 days of food sitting on their shelves. The big challenge is to build food banks with staples that can provide sustenance for multiple years. (In response to a question, he noted that there are far more cows than people in our area, which require huge amounts of grain and water.) Daniel said the turnaround time to grow food and to build a solid community food bank is long, and that we need to be thinking and planning ahead right now.
Gillian Joyce, Executive Director of Alianza AgriCultura (and also heading up the Taos County Census effort), gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Alianza’s history. It was established in 2013 during the county-wide reassessement / revaluing of agricultural lands. So much land had gone out of production for a variety of reasons, including an aging farmer population and the departure of many young people from the area and continuous de-funding of public agricultural offices and programs. Alianza AgriCultura is looking not only at building resilience with land and water but also examining the traditional and cultural practices. The organization does advocacy, community engagement, information dissemination, policy work and education about sound agricultural practices in our dry, high-desert climate. Gillian said the Alianza works with many partners, including the two previous speakers, plus Taos Land Trust, El Valle del Norte Young Farmer’s Chapter of NYFC, LandLinkNM, Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union Cooperative Development Center, Taos County Extension Services, Taos County Assessor’s Office, Taos Valley Acequia Association, Not Forgotten Outreach, University of New Mexico (Taos’s Digital Media Arts Department and ABQ’s Water Institute), and Western Landowners Association.
LandLinkNM may be of special interest to some people at the forum, as it links people (especially younger ones committed to farming) who are looking for land to farm with property owners willing to lease their land to new farmers.
She also noted that the Alianza is supporting an Agricultural Valuation Study that will look at ways to incentivize 21st century relationships to working lands.
In a lively Q&A session, to which several participants and all 3 speakers contributed, there was discussion about the importance of composting at the individual household level (and which is not frequently done in Taos), as it helps build healthy soil for our low water retentive soil. Gillian feels that to achieve food security in Taos County, a lot of home gardens will be needed. That led to comments about preserving our scarce water resources for crops rather than hobby gardens or landscaping. There was also discussion about building more community spirit, with everyone recognizing the threats of climate change and the benefits of working together.
- Back to the 3-minute statements!
- AnJanette Brush noted that the Taos County Democratic Party has a blog. Go to https://www.taosvotesblue.com/blog to provide your own (civil) comments! You will have to register and then can post your thoughts about the Democratic Party Convention and the upcoming elections.
- Jean Stevens announced that September 21 is the International Day of Peace and September 26 marks the day for “total elimination of nuclear weapons” at the UN. Keep your eyes open for national and possibly local events or actions around these two important dates.
- Voting by mail: Complete and return your form requesting an absentee / vote-by-mail ballot! You can download the form at https://www.sos.state.nm.us/voting-and-elections/voter-information-portal/absentee-and-early-voting/ The County Clerk’s office will begin mailing the ballots on October 6.
- Bea Balsamo of Taos Immigrant Allies described efforts to help our local immigrant families. For several months, TIA has been providing $100 gift cards for shopping at Albertsons, as well as assisting with medical care and other necessities. These families have received no assistance from local or state government. With unemployment well over 30% in this community, they are in tight financial straits. TIA has provided over $37,000 worth of support and are running out of funds. If you can contribute, please text her at 770-5672. She can give you a few ways to contribute. You can see more at https://taosunited.org/what-we-do/immigration/.
- Amanda Flores is the new Community Schools Coordinator at Vista Grande High School. The mission of VGHS is to “provide a holistic education focused on critical and creative thinking, character, and community involvement”. The school is one of only 4 in the county to have received a $150,000 grant to work with school, parents and teachers to be more of a hub for whole county. They welcome new members for their community council, which also includes students, who learn about civic engagement and decision-making. Contact her at: Vista Grande High School, 213 Paseo del Canon 575-758-5100, https://www.vistagrande.org/
- Jay Levine, political activist and delegate to the NM State’s Central Committee, said there are several “awesome candidates” in NM races for the legislature and that help is needed to get them elected after they defeated conservative Democrats in the primary. He specifically cited Harold Pope from Albuquerque (who would also be the African American in the NM Roundhouse); Claudia Risener; Naomi Martinez Perez; Pam Cordova; Carrie Hamblin; and Karen Whitlock from Silver City. Jay said that an hour a week “or whatever time you have” would be helpful to make phone calls or do other tasks to help them get elected. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Todd Wynward, Founder and Director of TiLT (Taos Initiative for Life Together), has also been engaged with the local farming scene. He likes food hubs, for example, Valley Roots Food Hub near Alamosa, CO: https://www.valleyrootsfoodhub.com/. This is the concept of local farmers bringing their produce under one roof, collaborating on setting prices and distributing it. He would be happy to visit Valley Roots (for the second time) if anyone wants to go.
Todd also spoke about TiLT’s support to re-purposing our plastic waste. A workshed in Questa is open for people to visit, with waste plastic encased in metal cages and then plastered as with stucco. He would love to share more information about that initiative in a future forum. In the meantime, he urged participants to support Plastic Free Taos.
- Gillian Joyce took the floor again to provide an update on the 2020 census. She is the Taos County lead for the census and admitted that the President indeed managed to cut a month of census outreach efforts (in contrast with her thinking at the July forum). It is his Administration’s attempt to remove undocumented members of our communities from the financial apportionment data. Not only is that flagrantly against the Constitution but will create an absolute disaster, disenfranchising people from contributing to this country they call home. She predicted an historic undercount. Discussions and endless analysis are ongoing about including 2010 data, sending packets out and other methods to get more people to participate in the census. Several State Attorney Generals, including NM’s, has joined a lawsuit against the federal government for its egregious efforts to shorten the census data-collection period.
- Terry Surguine, as Emcee, said he wished to take a few minutes to talk about how to win the November 2020 election nationally. TU was born right after 2016 election to resist what Trump might do. Now we know he is worse than we ever feared. Still, for too long throughout these past 4 years, we did too little to resist him. We had been taught that our Constitutional system would protect us. We believed that Congress or the Courts would bring him to bay, but they barely slowed him. He and his cronies and enablers were only emboldened when our traditional safeguards proved inadequate. Only one institution is left to stop this damaging President: free and fair elections. We are last line of defense. Each of us has only one vote, of course, and we must use it. But we can do much more.Terry urged everyone to multiply our individual impact by joining with the Elections Team (of Taos United) and writing letters or postcards and make phonecalls to Democratic voters who do not vote regularly. He asked us to imagine 10 million letters to less frequent voters with 10,000-15,000 letters or postcards to voters in swing states from “little ol’ Taos.”
An Action Alert will be issued in the coming days. He asked everyone to sign up, get trained and start multiplying your vote.
Terry then made a pitch was made for contributions to Taos United to cover costs like stamps, postcards and envelopes for people who cannot afford them. The link is TU donations to make a contribution through PayPal or credit card.
Jay reminded everyone that it IS possible to change behavior in a short time, and that includes around climate change. He said that Covid-19 has made our personal and social behavior unrecognizable in many ways, with face masks and social distancing now part of our protection of ourselves and of others. He urged everyone to be involved in some way, whether it is around health, housing, banking, the postal system, education or any other issue.
Terry thanked the special guests, who were absolutely great, and asked them and everyone to come again. The forum is held the third Tuesday of every month.
Don’t miss next month’s Community Forum, on September 15.
Come make your own 3-minute statement on your favorite issue
and support your neighbors around town on theirs.
Taos United Steering Committee: Bea Balsamo, Paula Claycomb, Danielle Freeman, Marjorie Luckey, Diane Shifrin, Terry Surguine