Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hello Paonia!

Last April, after not being able to find a suitable property in New Mexico, I started visiting the western slopes of Colorado.

The little town of Paonia immediately captured my attention. Known for its organic and biodynamic agriculture, orchards and now vineyards, the town sits at 5,600’ of elevation and has a population of 1,500, with a dynamic mix of miners, ranchers, farmers, intellectuals, musicians, artists and activists.

The town has a beautiful library, park, bike collective, bike shop, 90 year-old theater,  food coop, community art center, two yoga studios, a farmers’ trading post, two thrift stores, excellent coffee shops and restaurants, lumber yard, solar energy school, hardware store, radio station, world-class publication (High Country News), Waldorf and Montessori schools, artist-in-residence center and a riverfront park on the Gunnison River.  

In the fall, I attended the Visionary Summit (Terrence McKenna’s brother Denis was presenting) and the Harvest Festival, and felt immediately welcome by the town’s people.  I got invited to gatherings and private dinners, and the former Mayor took me flying in his 1948 Piper Club-a nice way to discover this beautiful watershed!

Real estate prices are similar to New Mexico.  The valley is irrigated by a sophisticated and plentiful ditch system fed by a reservoir off the Gunnison River (North Fork). Miles of ditches serve several mesas and thousands of acres of hay fields, grazing pastures, orchards, vineyards and vegetable farms.

It was easy to fall in love with Paonia.  Small, bicycle-friendly, full of working people and free-running children, the town has no traffic lights, franchise or strip mall.  People here take time to speak with friends and strangers. Most never lock their house, car or bicycle.

Early on, I was invited to consider a 66-acre piece of dry land, with southern exposure, just above town.  People who recently purchased a B&B that they intend to turn into a retreat center have an option to buy that land.  We became friends and they liked the idea of having an intentional permaculture community as their immediate neighbor, including the possibility of collaborating on events and sharing infrastructure. 

The exploration was fruitful as I considered the idea of a carless, off-grid and strictly on rainwater catchment project.  It wouldn’t be for everyone but I liked the idea.  Pushing the edge.  What would it be liked to share a few cars within a community of say 10-20 people, parking the cars at the bottom of the hill and walking home through trails.  Or, if needed, using a solar-powered 4X4 hunting cart to carry supplies, a tired child or an elder. What would it be like to walk home in the snow at night after an event or returning from a long journey?  Interesting to consider…  

Same with solely depending on rain catchment for drinking, bathing, washing, growing crops and feeding whatever animals we manage to have enough extra water for.  Challenging!

As a permaculturist, one must work the edges as they say…

I am keenly aware that the success of a rural community depends on its members' ability to make a decent livelihood on, or close to the land, as well as have ample opportunities to creatively and intimately engage with a surrounding community.  If children are part of the community fabric, the proximity of schools is vital as well.

The property being located a mile or so from town fulfills some of these economic and social requirements.

With a friend having just purchased 12 irrigated acre near that property and offering us a space for farming, I can envision creating a multi-family community farm on his land, which is just 15 minutes walk from the 66-acre.   

My exploration also led me to research wastewater and rain harvesting regulations, and in the process I got acquainted with friendly Delta County officials, some of whom were quite intrigued by the idea of a community land trust.

After doing my due diligence on that property, I decided to let it be for the time being.  As much as the price is reasonable for the size of the land, its proximity to town and stunning mountains and valley views, it also presents a multitude of challenges that, as a permaculturist, I can see as opportunities but to others, the limitations may be more than what they are willing to live with.

I have now pretty much seen all the available properties on the market and most are out of our price range or do not have the privacy we need.

My next strategy is to seek farmers, winemakers and ranchers who may want to retire and see a new generation carry their legacy (animal breeding, specialty fruits or crops), and interest them in turning their property into a land trust, retain ownership of their home equity, become part of a community and serve as guides-mentors for a new generation of homesteaders-farmers.

I have already been pointed towards a few of these people and will begin contacting them after the holidays.

I also moved into the Fire Mountain Farmstead, a 14-acre property with pigs, goats, ducks, sheep, turkeys, guineas and chickens, and a fabulous dog named Bubba.  James, who owns the property, recently created the GoldenSeed Land Trust, focusing on preserving farmland and giving opportunities for young farmers to have access to land.  James and I are beginning to explore a collaboration as our projects have much in common.

I am well tucked in for the winter, with very little distractions beside a little bike ride to town or cross-country glide along the irrigation ditch.

I look forward to a productive winter and feel confident that I am on the right track.  A year away from working the farm has opened me up to cultivating new friendships; something the farm did not give me much time to do.  I meet a lot of kind and brilliant young people and families who have moved to Paonia with the same longing to live in a spirit of community.  One of them approached me during the Harvest Festival and introduced himself as a “Designer of Eco-Villages for Happiness”.  Needless to say that I deeply appreciate visionary young people!  

The New Mexico Community Foundation, our current fiscal-sponsor, has given the Mil Abrazos Community Land Trust permission to relocate to Colorado and has granted us another 9-months to find a property, as the two-year contract we have with NMCF to hold our funds was expiring.

I will be incorporating the Land Trust in Colorado, creating a New Board of Directors and finding a supportive fiscal-sponsor.  The name of the Land Trust may change to possibly reflect the local culture.

As much as our relocation to Colorado may disappoint some people, we hope to soon be able to welcome you, should you decide to spend a delicious vacation in this beautiful valley.

If you wish to donate to our Dedicated Fund to purchase property (funds held by the New Mexico Community Foundation), you can do so here.  Your deduction is tax-deductible.

May this Holiday Season bring you much inspiration, healing and vitality.


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