“I’m going through changes….” – Ozzy Osbourne / Black Sabbath
We all have to experience changes in life. Change, and death, are really the only things we can count on, so they say… This has been especially true since the Covid pandemic that started in 2020, unfortunately. But I was blessed to have a job teaching Middle School math during the pandemic by having some kind of premonition that made me job-search in late 2019. Having a “regular” job (there is nothing regular or normal about teaching on an online format) meant that I had little time for social media or blogging for the last few years. I am hoping this blog post is the beginning of putting myself out there more frequently, especially now that I am starting yet another chapter in life. To update my readership in what has been going on for the last few years, I offer this post…
In a previous post, I shared an essay on creating a sustainable food system that I wrote for the Green Fire Times September/October 2020 issue. I am happy to announce that this essay was chosen for a book that came out in March 2023 called ‘Water for the People” edited by Dr. Enrique LaMadrid and Dr. Jose Rivera published by UNM Press. I have another chapter in the book that was co-written with Paula Garcia, Director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. It is nice to be published and I am inspired to write and publish more! Last year I was also nominated Taos Poet Laurete, and though I did not get chosen for the position, it further inspired me to write!
Other big news is that I have officially resigned from AIRE as of September 2021. AIRE is a 501c(3) organization that I founded and developed for about 12 years. The creation of AIRE was motivation for the creation of this blog in the first place. I handed the organization completely over to Micah Roseberry of the Farmhouse Cafe, who has served on the Board of Directors for most of the time AIRE has been in operation. With the coming of my transition, AIRE has developed a new Board of Directors and I would like to thank the former Board Members for helping me develop this organization into the success that it has been and will continue to be. Those Board Members were: Mr. Jason Weisfeld, Ms. Beth Enson, and Mr. Joaquin Griego. The organization I founded continues to thrive with farm-to-school programs and more of their activities can be found at https://airetaos.org/.
For some history on the organization and our accomplishments under my Directorship, AIRE stands for Agriculture Implementation Research & Education and was born through a conversation with Sadaf Cameron of the Kindle Project. I received a phone call early on in 2009 from Sadaf asking my opinion on Food Security in New Mexico. After about an hour of conversation, Sadaf informed me that if I was willing to start a 501c(3), that Kindle would fund my operations for three, and maybe more, years. AIRE was born with the mission “To gather the people and plant the fields.” This mission has been close to my heart regardless of funding or organizations, knowing that “all the problems in the world can be solved in a garden.” I think that quote comes from John Jeavons, author of “How to Grow More Vegetables…” The mission was given to me by a Native elder in a gathering I once attended where he gave us the wisdom: “Don’t try to solve the problems of the world. The problems are complicated and will make you crazy. Better to work on the solution which is simple: ‘Gather the people and plant the fields.'” This wisdom has been my guide post ever since.
The Kindle Project funded AIRE for 6 years and we also got some funding from the McCune Foundation, the Healy Foundation, Los Jardineros Garden Club, and many private donations. I would say our biggest success was what we able to accomplish through our relationship with the Taos Municipal School’s (TMS) Chrysalis Alternative School for about 3 years. Jason Weisfeld, a then employee of TMS Enos Garcia Elementary School, was able to acquire permission to break ground on a grassy field known as Parr Field to create a school garden. We employed students to put in the garden over the summer of 2012 and during that time we also built an horno traditional mud oven. We hosted and community celebration to eat fresh chicos and were able to donate the remaining dehydrated chicos to the elementary school for their annual holiday meal.
Speaking of holidays, another highlight of AIRE’s activities over the years was a Thanksgiving meal that was prepared in our horno with ingredients we grew including green beans, chile, and squash for our pumpkin pies. We not only taught the students how to grow these crops, but how to process and prepare them. I am still in touch with some of my past students, and am happy to say that many of them still maintain an interest in gardening and cooking, some even have children of their own and have come to me for seeds, tools, and advice which I have been elated to provide!
In addition to aforementioned projects, we were able to teach and inspire hundreds if not thousands of students in our educational programming on the farm, in the schools, and at workshops and conferences; we were able to produce the ¡Que Vivan las Acequias! radio program semi-consistently with almost 50 total programs; contribute to the efforts of the New Mexico Food and Seed Sovereignty Alliance; and conduct some research projects and crop trials to learn about how we might meet the challenge of climate change and food insecurity. Much of our programming was featured in our writings for the Green Fire Times and video production on our GrowFarmers Youtube channel. Much more contributions can be found on the Internet by doing a search on “Miguel Santistevan Taos.”
We went through more changes when Chrysalis Alternative School got moved to the High School campus, which left our site empty of people and our horno and Grow Dome abandoned for some time. Luckily the Grow Dome got moved to the Elementary School, but our horno succumbed to the process of time and collapsed. We did gather up the mud and bricks with the intention of rebuilding the horno at Sol Feliz. When all these changes were happening, I was employed as a full-time Secondary math and science teacher and was running AIRE as a volunteer on the side. Micah Roseberry was active in acquiring grants for her burgeoning farm-to-school program so activity and responsibility was on the increase without needed resources to support my involvement in that growth.
I then suffered some incidents of institutional racism within the funding and organization realm, and decided it was time to move on. Institutional racism is a drag in that the perpetrators are most often well intentioned and would never think of themselves as racist or in supporting racist structures and processes, but unfortunately the institutions and structures are set up that way. I tried to address the situation, but instead of taking responsibility and fostering communication, the perpetrators made excuses and tried to shift the blame over to me or processes out of their control. So I decided to “get my toys and go home.” Overall, I am so grateful to the Kindle Project for the inspiration and funding to get a 501(c)(3). As a traditional northern New Mexico dicho relates “No hay mal que venga que bien to tenga” (When bad things come, there is also good). I feel like this incident offered me more clarity and direction, and will ultimately be an educational and maybe eventually a community-building and reconciliation process for all.
Difficulties in life are often fodder and motivation for art and music production so these and other challenges to livelihood and culture have been motivation from my Paseo art installation “Acequia Apocalypse.” I composed and recorded an essay on this theme, and projected images, video, and music samples during the last two September Paseo events. My installation featured video and photography of northern New Mexico culture and used imagery to exemplify factors that challenge our cultural existence. My installation has been accepted to be part of Paseo in September 2023. This year I am hoping to be using a projection dome with much more video and imagery in a more immersive experience entitled “¡Entra la Acequia!”
Looking forward, I have just started “Sol Feliz Enterprises LLC.” I am so far doing business as “Miguel Santistevan Consulting LLC” and “Escuela Sol Feliz LLC.” Still in beginning stages, I am now selling and distributing red chile products from “Chimayo Heritage” and have plans for an online store for these, and other food/remedio products with my wife Margaret Garcia, who is doing business as “Rooted in Place LLC.” It turns out I am somewhat responsible for the conservation of the chile seed used in the Chimayo Heritage chile products, as I collected chile seed from the late Mercedes Trujillo of Centinela by Chimayo (you can see Mercedes Trujillo in Don Usner’s book “Sabino’s Map”), gave back to her nephew Tim Cordova, who then had it planted to cross-pollinate with our main chile farmer’s crop located in Corrales, New Mexico. All of our chile is grown in Central and Northern New Mexico, processed in Española, and is some of the cleanest (no seeds or stems in our chile powder) and therefore best tasting around.
Escuela Sol Feliz will be hosting programming in agriculture, sustainability, and ecology with:
- online classes and webinars
- live workshops and presentations
- tours and workshops at Sol Feliz Farm
As Miguel Santistevan Consulting LLC, I look forward to helping people and organizations:
- improve their land through acequia agriculture, permaculture, and “agri-scaping”
- programming for groups looking to learn about acequias, sustainable agriculture, and ecology
- other fee-for-service arrangements where I can be of service.
I have over 25 years of experience in acequia agriculture and Permaculture practice and design. With a Master of Science degree in Ecology from UC Davis and a PhD Candidacy in Biology from UNM, I use an understanding of science to guide my thought process and work.
Thank you for your interest in what we have to offer, stay tuned for more developments! Feel free to shoot me comments or questions! My email address is email@example.com and you can find me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube.