Green Taos 2015

Page 1

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It’s never too cold to think green


echnically, spring is but a couple of weeks away, but realistically, do we know when we’ll actually have spring weather? This past winter, we’ve seen spring weather numerous times, throughout most of January and February in fact. But we’ve also witnessed some pretty good snow storms and some low temperatures that make gardening an unthinkable act. Chin up though. Going green isn’t much about the weather anyway, it’s more a state of mind. Sure, in Taos County, our eco-friendly persona has a lot to do with our sustainable farming and farm-to-table kind of lifestyles. But it also depends heavily on green technologies, the kinds of which make your home more efficient throughout the long-sometimes cold winters and

which make it possible to capture enough rainwater and snowmelt to keep your garden wet all summer long. These are the green topics we are concerned with for this issue of Green Taos, a special publication of The Taos News. As writer Jim O’Donnell explains in his story on page 7, going green is more about action and about benefiting your community than it is about marketing and making a buck. It’s about trying to grow your own (start your own garden, page 14) or employing the ultimate in energyefficient building (Zero-Energy building design on page 18). If you can’t grow it, you can buy it directly from those who do (farmers market roundup on page 20 and Cerro Vista Farm on page 28).

There are also those in the community who deserve special recognition for their efforts, whether they are promoting the use of industrial hemp (the hemptress on page 24) or restoring their specific plot of land back to the grasses that once inhabited this valley (like Tony Benson, page 33). We only have one Taos County, so we might as well do the best we can, whether we’re recycling all our bottles or installing cisterns on our property (page 30). Hopefully, this publication offers a little knowledge and a little inspiration. Don’t mind the weather, it’s a great time to be green. — Andy Jones, special sections editor

Table of Contents 6



By Yvonne Pesquera

By Cody Hooks



Green Briefs

By Cody Hooks

by Jim O’Donnell




By Joan Livingston

By Teresa Dovalpage



By Andy Dennison

By Andrew Oxford

Being a steward of the environment involves more than just greenwashing By Jim O’Donnell


Zero-Energy building design

Farmers market roundup

Want a backyard garden? Do it yourself

Taos broadband to open up a world of possibilities

Meet the hemptress

Cerro Vista Farm

Rainwater harvesting

One man’s painstaking project to restore native grasses By J.R. Logan

Not Forgotten Outreach’s project puts focus on accessibility, sustainability

Taos News Staff/Green Taos

Robin Martin, owner / Chris Baker, publisher / Joan Livingston, editor / Chris Wood, advertising manager / Andy Jones, special sections editor Michelle M. Gutierrez, lead editorial designer / Katharine Egli, photographer / JENNIFER TAPHORN, production manager Cover Design: “High Country Barn,” painting by Jono Tew of Santa Fe, / Cover design by Jennifer Taphorn




we’re still

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from Overland Ranch in El Prado

Much Gratitude to ALL for keeping us company at Overland Ranch! WILDLANDANCE is now moving into the historic Ufer House, 101 Des Georges Lane (near Taos Plaza and Eske’s) to expand our workshop space, seminars, talking circles and collaborative projects on behalf of ALL things wild, land-based & sustainable! Please join us March 21st as we SPRING forward, 10 am to 4 pm, to launch the first of many gatherings in 2015… P.S. Field tours, plant identification workshops and seminars coming up SOON! Questions? Call Sylvia at 575-770-9040

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Tina Larkin Farmhouse Cafe and Bakery's Danielle Domenic, left, rings up customer Dawn Alena Bostad while owner Micah Roseberry stocks the the pastry case. The café is one of numerous restaurants that touts farm-to-table options and a green business asthetic.




Being a steward of the environment involves more than just greenwashing By Jim O’Donnell


veryone is going green.

As if you didn’t know. But if you missed it, you must have been seriously out to lunch. Hopefully it was a certified organic lunch of locally grown, glutenfree, vegan, kosher, climate-friendly vegetables supplied by unionized workers making a livable wage. Out to lunch nonetheless. Literally all over the world, businesses right and left are claiming to ‘go green.’ That means, ideally, running your business in a way that is friendly to both people and the natural environment. Ideally it means contributing to the maintenance or improvement of healthy people, communities and functioning ecosystems in a sustainable way. There are 73 percent more “green” products on the marketplace now than in 2009 reports the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), one of the largest independent product safety organizations in the world. USA Today reports that green start-ups are now raking in record amounts of investments. This is a real live THING. It is happening. And yet, TerraChoice, authors of the annual Sins of Greenwashing Report, tell us that over 95 percent of consumer products were found guilty of at least one form of greenwashing. Greenwashing? Yup. And I’m not talking about a kosher, vegan, organic-certified bottle of something or other you use to soak your kale and spinach. Nope. Greenwashing is “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service,” according to TerraChoice. Let’s be honest here. Businesses are in the business of making money. Seeing a market trend like ‘go green’ for many of them means leaping on a bandwagon in order to maintain or grow their market share no matter the impact on people or ecosystems. Most companies claiming to “go green” reduce a little packaging here and there, maybe install some energy saving devices and a solar panel or two and move right on ahead with business as usual. ‘Going green’ is more often than not a process of getting that pig up in front of the mirror, rubbing some rouge on its cheeks and pulling out the lipstick.

— Continues on page 9




— Continued from page 7


nd I’ll bet it isn’t even organic hemp seed oil lipstick! So what does “going green” mean ... really?

According to Ethan Gelber of New York University and author of “Adventures Less Ordinary: How to Travel and Do Good,” a truly green business is one that assesses its practices and makes proactive decisions to reduce negative impacts to the surrounding community, be that people, animals or ecosystems. “It’s not just about what’s happening in a retail or consumer-facing space, it’s about what’s afoot in out-of-sight storage and utility areas, even in unused zones. It’s about supply chains and service providers — are one’s partners, providers and contractors also doing their best? And It’s about leadership, especially when it comes to pushing lawmakers to conform to best practices and not vice versa,” says Gelber. “Even in the face of purposeful misrepresentation, I think ‘green’ is about an intention, a process, not a goal. It’s about demonstrating the farsighted thoughtfulness to change habits today in the interest of our longterm survival tomorrow. Critically, it’s about doing so honestly and transparently. Not everyone has the wherewithal to eliminate his or her carbon footprint or convert a business into one with zero emissions. We will all need to make compromises, but not all at once. ‘Green’ is a willful step-by-step methodology with challenges specific to the location, type of practice and supporting (or not) laws.” Taos-based consultant Erin Sanborn, executive director for the Partnership for Responsible Business says the definition of a green business is ever-evolving. She calls it a journey. “At the end of the road, a ‘real green business’ is a business that does not pollute in any way. There are very few businesses today that can produce their products with no toxicity or pollutions. We do not have the inputs made in biomimetic ways or with green chemistry along every step in the production process. Being a ‘real green business’ is an improvement process.” And so how can your business Go Green in a concrete and honest way? What would that look like? And what is achievable right now as you begin your journey? Honestly, it really isn’t that hard to set off on the right path. Taos architect Joaquin Karcher of Zero E Design suggests




“At the end of the road, a ‘real green business’ is a business that does not pollute in any way.

starting with an energy audit on your building.

“Reduce your business’s overall consumption. Look at the efficiency of your heating and hot water system; get rid of that 45 percent efficient water heater. Look at your business’s appliances and machinery. Install a retrofit kit to turn your conventional toilet into a dual flush toilet.” Sanborn agrees. “Start with energy and water audits. New Mexico State University will do this for free. Then design a system to collect recyclables, invest in LED lights and low energy use appliances and track the ROI (return on investment). And, buy supplies from local vendors.” These are all good places to start. And as Gelber says, going green is ultimately about your intention. “Green is a process; it is not single actions taken in isolation. Sourcing organic chocolate is great, but not if the provider pays slave wages to underage cacao harvesters or packages the product using chemically treated paper made from the pulp of irreplaceable first-growth trees.” We think often times that green only has to do with pollution and the environment. But going green also has to do with people and community. If you’re not paying your workers a living wage, you can’t claim in any way that you are green. If your employees work in dangerous situations how can you make any claim on sustainability? You can’t. A responsibly run business takes into account not only the reduction of pollution, the conservation of resources, the reduction of consumption and waste but also the well-being of our human and community resources. In a small town like Taos, competition doesn’t work as well as cooperation — another term that comes to mind when thinking “green.” If we can get to a point where we all support each other as human beings … as well as our fragile water resources, our wild lands and our wildlife, then we will truly be in the path to being a wholly green community. Says Gelber, “Going green at home and at work is about being aware of one’s place in society. An even broader vision of a ‘green’ business is one that embraces its role as community benefactor.”

Clockwise from top left: Cid’s Market is a regular winner of the Best Green Business honor in The Taos News’ Best of Taos issue, Photo by Tina Larkin; The simple tin can walls at the Greater World Earthship Community helped usher in the era of Green Building designs, not only in Taos County, but the whole world, Photo by Amanda Creech; Mayor Dan Barrone donned a hard hat while at the Columbine/Hondo celebration at Taos Mesa Brewing last February. The brewery is an example of a business that has made great efforts to conduct company in a green manner, Photo by Katharine Egli; Assorted eggs from Just Kidding Farm and Goat Club, one of numerous vendors at the Taos Farmers Market whose business can properly be labeled ‘green’, Photo by Tina Larkin; The Solar Array at KTAOS is a reminder that the radio station and bar have been at the forefront of the green movement in Taos, File Photo.

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Tina Larkin An avid Pieces customer steps out of the dressing room.

Green Briefs Renewable Taos Renewable Taos promotes a complete and rapid transition to renewable energy in Taos County and our surrounding region.

The organization believes that local generation of renewable energy with an emphasis on local ownership is the best way to achieve a sustainable and healthy local economy. Renewable Taos builds community partnerships and proposes clean energy projects. The organization also recognizes that energy efficiency is integral to the transition to renewable energy. Renewable Taos works with other organizations to build political support for renewable energy at the state and national levels. For more information about Rewable Taos, visit New Water Innovations Water is one of our nation’s most precious natural resources, as well as one of its leading environmental issues. While each state has its own unique concerns, New Mexico faces a battle of public awareness in order to stress

the importance of protecting the state’s water aquifers. With this awareness also comes the realization that many of the “accepted standard practices” of the past are no longer appropriate to conserve and protect water for the future. New Water Innovations of Santa Fe works focuses on environmentally acceptable solutions to the many water quality issues that face residents today. NWI is at the forefront of providing economical and effective solutions to all clients who care not only about the quality of their water, but about the environment as well. One example of these outdated practices is the salt water softener, for years the accepted standard for treating hard water. High chlorides are now appearing in the ground water as a result of the salt-softener brine discharge. Where salt-contaminated ground water is used for crop irrigation, salt-softeners are being banned for the negative impact they have on our water tables. Fortunately, advances in water treatment technologies continue to be made giving us many environmentally safe alternatives. NWI offers green, cost-effective solutions for hard water problems, chlorine removal (whole house and

point-of-use), taste and quality issues, difficult water (iron, manganese, arsenic, uranium) and bacteria-free black water reuse. Call an NWI water specialist at (505) 216-0880 for help in dealing with hard water, and solving your other water issues.Or visit for more information. Secondhand shopping As green as it gets? Perhaps not the complete superlative but Pieces Consignment Goods is built on the opinion that secondhand shopping certainly makes the list somewhere. Pieces is just one of the alternative shopping experiences in Taos. Taking goods that the consignors don’t want or need any longer and providing them at prices less than retail is merchandise recycling. Pieces also incorporates recycling into its business practices, with most of the business’ display racks and cabinets being pre-owned. Pieces collects small supplies when found to use in the shop (scissors, paper clips, scrap paper, pens, etc) and uses recycled bags, bubble wrap and newspaper for packing. The business also recycles cardboard, plastics, glass and metals. While Pieces’ main focus is on furniture, household goods and clothing, the store also has a niche for needed — Continues on page 11




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11 New windows and doors, or simply sealing the cracks around your windows and doors, can be a big first step in making your home more energy-efficient.

— Continued from page 10

Green Briefs items that may not normally be taken by a consignment store: power cords, chargers, empty frames, yarn, fabric, art and craft supplies, books and more. Pieces has free box bins in front of both of store locations and provides space for the Giving Tree at the 218 Paseo del Canon location. The Giving Tree is a free store and once-a-month food bank. Pieces is going into its 10th year of operation and has over 4,800 consignment accounts, which put out over 50,000 items for sale each year. Medicine at our feet — take and Herb Walk The wild plants that surround us are the original medicine and food that have sustained the native peoples and early settlers of the mountains and high desert of Northern New Mexico. Making use of wild plants that grow in our area is an empowering way to participate in your own health care and become more intimate with the amazing variety of remedies that are your neighbors. One of the best ways to begin to understand the many uses of wild pants as medicine is to go into nature and see them yourself, collect them yourself and prepare them yourself. How does one begin to do this you may ask? Consider taking an Herb Walk where you will learn how to identify local medicinal herbs, how properly to collect and dry them and how to prepare them as medicine. Rob Hawley




of Taos Herb Company will be leading wild Herb Walks this spring and summer, teaching simple, easy-tounderstand principals of herbal healing along with careful attention harvesting these plants so plant populations are kept in balance and ensure they remain abundant for all who make use of them. Contact Taos Herb Company at (575) 758- 1991 for the schedule of herb walks. The ABC of green health A. Accept responsibility and ownership for your health. You are the only one living in that body, so every choice is up to you on what sort of experience you want to have. Take a walk, drink fresh water, get rest, choose nourishing foods. Participate in every decision that you make about your body, mind, and spirit. Don’t leave these choices up to others — remember, it’s not their life, it’s yours. B. Be in right action. Be aware. Be conscious. Be in the moment It’s all about you. How wonderful is that? If you’re waiting for the right time, that time is now. Take small steps. Measure your successes, not your failures. Each moment is a new moment, each day is a new day. Each step — a new step. C. Consider your impact on yourself, on others, and on your environment.

Consider your thoughts — they have a profound effect on your overall health and quality of life. No one lives in a vacuum. Everything we do affects someone or something. Have compassion for yourself first and foremost — only then can you access the compassionate well for others. Brought to you by Wholistic Alternatives — Integrative approaches to healing. For more information, visit or call (575) 779-6802. Earth Day events at OCHO Join OCHO Art and Event Space, 8 State Highway 38 in Questa, for an Earth Day celebration Wednesday, April 22 at 6 p.m. This youth-centered community celebration will feature “Luz es Vida” banners painted by local students, that will illuminate the room while poetry, performances and live music by high school and elementary school students light up the stage. Refreshments will be served. This is the first of Questa’s 2015 “Luz es Vida” event series. For more information, visit or call (575) 586-2362. Taos Food Co-op’s third anniversary In anticipation of a fourth year in business, the Taos Food Co-op membership is reflecting on the organization’s first few years and looking ahead with the knowledge that it is even more important to eat organic and locally produced food now than ever. Numerous health dangers have been discovered over

Make your home more energy efficient


othing says “sustainable” like installing solar panels on your roof. But in skipping the smaller opportunities to make your home more energyefficient, are you really getting the most from the flashier green tech? Installing energy-efficient windows and snugger doors are hardly sexy projects but together, they add up to save energy and money. Head of the Green Technology Program at UNM-Taos, Mark Goldman is working with the group Not Forgotten Outreach to turn a bed and breakfast into a sustainable respite for veterans and their families (see story on page 26). As the nonprofit is working with a limited budget, energy efficiency can help save money in the long run. Upgrades need to be economical, though. Goldman says that means small


but unexciting changes any homeowner can make. “If you think about it, you don’t want to jump right to your expensive high-tech systems,” Goldman said. “If you make it as efficient as possible, you’re going to be reducing the needs.” Here are a few more things to think about when it comes to your windows:


Leaks: Each small crack around a window and door is leaking energy. Caulking and weatherstripping can keep more energy inside.


Hinges: Windows hinged at the top or sides that open outward generally leak less heat. Shading: Awnings and shadings around a window can prevent heat gain during the summer, when the sun rises higher in the sky.

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the past three years, from indigestible proteins, to chemical-laden GMOs. This has increased the co-op’s resolve to help people improve their health by choosing the best– available foods and personal care products.

Proud to be green for over 50 years

Taos Food Co-op members have learned that making your own healthy kombucha, kefir, breads and chocolate is fun and that watching movies about industrial food processing isn’t fun, but it is important to stay informed. The co-op’s seasonal Back Porch Farmers Market has grown to two days a week and last year involved more than 10 individual producers who took advantage of the “nofee” opportunity to sell their yummy veggies and hand-crafted products. And recently the co-op ramped up its “Delivery Days” program for offering and delivering food to seniors and those who are disabled. Sustainability comes in many forms, from washing a cup instead of throwing one away, to recycling that old poster, to helping people learn how to grow their own fresh and chemical-free salad mix. On March 1, the co-op installed two full-sized commercial coolers, and begun the process of gradually increasing its stock of produce as well as more fresh cheeses and meats. The commercial freezer purchased in January has enabled the co-op to provide organic tamales, veggies and fruits, meats and fish.

We only use recycled newsprint.

Three years of gradual growth has had its ups and downs. Cheerful volunteers always save the day somehow. In celebration of the co-op’s third anniversary on March 21, there will be an all-day event beginning 11 a.m. with a seed exchange, and culminating with a drawing for grand prizes at 5 p.m. Fun, refreshments and door prizes will be a part of the fun all day. For more information, call Susan Moore at (575) 495-3379 or email Taos Land Trust seeking community input The Taos Land Trust is embarking on two community-wide planning efforts: a Community Conservation Plan and a Recreation Master Plan. Visit for more information or call (575) 751-3138 to get involved.

We proudly use only environmentally friendly soy inks. Unsold newspapers and special editions are recycled weekly.




Tina Larkin Garden tools stay secured behind a built-in retainer bar on the Livingston's garden fence.

Want a backyard garden? Do it yourself By Joan Livingston


o you’ve decided to have your own vegetable garden this spring. Congratulations. It certainly is a rewarding experience to eat what you’ve grown.

But gardening in Taos’ high desert can be tricky for those not lucky enough to have land that was traditionally used for growing. Challenges include heavy clay soil, drying sun and winds, and rabbits. But fear not. A garden is possible for the do-ityourselfer with a bit of sweat equity and patience. Here’s some advice. KEEP IT MANAGEABLE. I started with three beds, which was doable, and have since added two more. That’s created enough work for me, plus enough space to grow a variety of vegetables for two people. Can’t handle the digging yourself? Find someone who can. BUILD BEDS. My neighbor successfully uses raised beds contained by wooden planks, which also offers protection from eroding winds. I chose a different approach — going underground. The first year I dug three trenches




Joan Livingston A simple drip system is much more effecient than a hose or watering overhand.

4-by-8-foot trenches, 2 feet deep over several weekends. (You probably don’t need to go down that deep but I got carried away.) I used a shovel to remove the heavy clay soil and rocks — and sometimes a crowbar to break things up when the going got tough. I filled the trenches with compost, manure, purchased topsoil and some of the native soil. WATER THAT GARDEN. I realized early I needed to find an efficient way to keep my garden from drying out. I bought a kit for a drip irrigation system, which I have since expanded several times with extra parts. It’s attached by a hose to an outside faucet. I also use straw as mulch. FEED THE GARDEN. I have a compost system, using garden and kitchen wastes, which I supplement with purchased bags of manure and other composted materials. Either in the spring or fall, and sometimes both, I add the homemade compost to the garden beds. I also have the help of earthworms, which miraculously showed up in the underground beds. DETER THOSE PESKY RABBITS. We share the mesa with rabbits, hungry rabbits to be specific. The first year, we used metal posts and heavy wire mesh to create a fence around the garden. The next, my husband Hank and our son, Zack, built a proper wooden fence. Heavy mesh wire that goes down a couple of feet prevents the rabbits from squeezing beneath the fence’s bottom edge. The fence also cuts down on the wind. My neighbor with the raised beds successfully uses wire mesh around each one to keep the varmints out. LEARN AS YOU GO. Each season I have successes and flops. I try to learn from each one. This year I will figure out how to have a better and earlier crop of tomatoes. I will also take care of the bugs that destroyed my kale. ENJOY THE REWARDS. Last year, I turned over the garden’s soil in March although I put off planting until I was certain we were past the heavy frost. It felt good to be outside digging and planning what I would grow. And as a bonus, we had fresh vegetables for many months.

Tools for the beginning gardener Most of us have heard about using the right tool for the right job. That certainly applies to gardening. Here are some recommendations for the novice gardener. Gloves and a wide-brimmed hat. Take care of yourself before you leave the house. Gloves will protect the skin on your hands from our harsh soils. Needless to say, shade yourself from our skin-damaging sun. And don’t forget sun block. Tools. I keep it simple with two basic shovels (narrow and rounded), heavy-duty rake, and hoe. As for hand tools, I have four favorites. Two are hand rakes with plastic handles I’ve had over 20 years without showing any wear. (I bought the second when I misplaced the first.) I use them to mix in compost and break up soil once the garden is going. The third is a hand shovel for digging holes, handy when transplanting, and the fourth, a knife for cutting twine, stalks and harvesting vegetables. Wheelbarrow. I splurged for a heavy-duty wheelbarrow with solid front tires to haul garden refuse, compost and stone. Straw bale. Technically this is not a tool, but I use it as mulch, necessary in our dry climate. Drip system. I bought a kit, and then found I could easily build and expand one on my own. I buy the parts at local garden supply centers. A drip system is a more effective way of watering a garden than using a hose. I do use a hose, however, to water plants growing in containers. Compost container. I use a mesh wire cylinder for garden waste. For kitchen waste, I decided to forgo expensive plastic containers for a metal, burning barrel with a cover, which I found locally. Basically the burning barrel is a galvanized trashcan with holes and legs that keeps out animals. A plastic barrel would work but it would have to be drilled with holes. Cages. Plants like tomatoes and peas will need help staying upright. I prefer building my own with heavy-duty mesh wire but cages and supports are available at garden supply stores. —Joan Livingston




Courtesy Kit Carson Technologies A crew works on installing fiber optic lines in rural Taos County.

Taos Broadband to open up a world of possibilities By Andy Dennison


magine a world without buffering. Then, in that same world, envision a Taos that uses less energy with a lighter carbon footprint.

That’s the world that the $63 million Kit Carson Electric Cooperative fiber optic broadband project aims to deliver to a minimum of 10,000 households and businesses in Taos and Colfax counties. More than 100 miles of trunk line has been installed and, by mid-July, hookups to homes and businesses will kick into high gear. These individual “drops” will be done by a cadre of subcontractors over a year or so. Right now, in this area, the average Internet transmission rate is about one megabit per second. The highest Internet transmission rate for Taoseños is 2-3MB, and Questaños get by with a 0.5MB cap, Lovato says. With broadband transmission, a home can get up to




Courtesy Kit Carson Technologies Crews work on fiber optic installation, including underground and high-wired hookups, throughout Taos

20MB and a business or education facility as much as 100MB — or even more. Not only will computing become as much as 10 times faster, but the speed of exchange in personal and business lives will accelerate. That will reduce the time burning fuel while commuting to the office in order to get some things accomplished. Or, worse, having to hop into the car to drive to better cell phone service. These are some of the green benefits that José Lovato, project engineer for the "Fiber to the House — Broadband” initiative, can list about the project he oversees. And, he knows of what he speaks: “Without broadband, I can’t work from home because I don’t have enough bandwidth to get on the Kit Carson network. With it, I can maybe work three days a week without having to burn gasoline commuting from Questa.” The biggest gripe around Taos, says Lovato, is how long it takes to upload data out into the World Wide Web. Either you upload and wait, or you compress into a ZIP file that has to be expanded at the other end — with a likelihood of extraction issues. “Say you have something really large to upload, and it will take 24 to 36 hours,” says Lovato. “We walk away because our computer is tied up. With fiber, that will be only one to two hours.” The ecological advantages to a speedier Internet in Northern New Mexico come down to saving time and, thus, saving money. Getting things done on the Internet can’t help but cut into the time we consume (and pay for) energy. In other words, time is money. “We think that with broadband in Angel Fire, visitors will stay longer, do more work from their second homes,” says Lovato. “Our most frequent calls have been coming

Not only will computing become as much as 10 times faster, but the speed of exchange in personal and business lives will accelerate. he says, such as:

from Angel Fire asking about the project.” And, less time waiting on the computer means more time getting other things done,

Online high school and college class materials download quicker and synchronistic instruction streams more cleanly; day traders can go “real time” to make trades more efficiently; and, uploading and downloading can simultaneously occur more often. “At the Questa schools, Chevron Mining donated an iPad to each student, and they download their textbooks,” says Lovata, who is also a member of the Questa Municipal School Board. “Broadband will let those 200 students save the higher cost of buying a print text, and reduce paper use at the same time.” Health practitioners will be able to share medical records more readily and confer with other professionals more quickly, Lovato says. Educators can interact with their students in real time. It will obviously benefit Kit Carson telecom customers, and competing Internet and cell phone providers in the region get a chance to negotiate space on the fiber-optic network. For Kit Carson Electric and its electric delivery grid, faster transmission speeds go to the core of energy efficiency: It means the cooperative can record usage at homes and businesses in real time through its existing Smart Home system — and help consumers adjust their consumption of energy to save on their electric bills.

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Zero-energy building design A Taos design firm introduces building science for comfort and energy savings By Yvonne Pesquera


n the race to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, homeowners typically focus on renewable energy. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But Joaquin Karcher, of Zero E Design in Taos, looks at the issue differently. Instead, he asks an intriguing question: “Why do we have to heat our homes? Because they lose heat.” The definition of a “Site Net Zero Energy” building is that the total amount of energy used is equal to the amount of renewable energy created onsite. According to the Passive House Institute of the U.S., zero net energy consumption is most cost effectively achievable with: a super-insulated building envelope, airtightness, high-performance windows, whole house ventilation system, and solar gains to capitalize on free energy from the sun.




These are the same principles that Karcher follows. In fact, the Zero E Design website specifies that a superinsulated building envelope has insulation levels that are three to five times greater than a conventional building. “This is not guesswork,” says Karcher. “It is very precise. Every single design goes through rigorous energy modeling and gets worked out until we hit the target.” Of all the benefits (affordability, energy savings, and environmental stewardship, for example), Karcher points out that the greatest benefit is comfort. He uses a standard coffee thermos to illustrate his point. “Think of your home like an insulated thermos. You have ‘hot coffee’ and you want to keep it warm,” says Karcher. But what does comfort mean in everyday terms? After all, comfort is a subjective guideline for any homeowner. Karcher explains that a zero energy design house is the best

The definition of a “Site Net Zero Energy” building is that the total amount of energy used is equal to the amount of renewable energy created onsite.

house that money can possibly buy.

In addition to the superinsulation and airtightness, a heat exchanger lies at the heart of a whole house ventilation system. This provides fresh and filtered air at all times by exhausting and supplying fresh air to the house constantly. In this process, up to 95 percent of the energy gets recovered (compared to a house that does not have the same system). As a result, all temperatures are kept to an even 70 degrees and there is a constant supply of fresh, filtered air. Another point to be made about comfort is flexibility.

Photos courtesy Joaquin Zarcher, from left to right: Larry Gorman completes a blower door testing for air tightness; A Net Zero home doesn’t appear any different on the outside, photo by Kate Russell; This passive house near Tesuque features typical Southwest styling, photo by Kate Russell; One of the features of a Net Zero home might be a triple-glazed window with insulated frames; A heat recovery ventilator with air-to-air heat exchanger. The device can recover up to 70 percent of the heat of the exhaust air.

For example, homeowners can have top-of-the-line kitchen appliances and be on or off the grid. And a zero energy home can be designed in any style, in any location. In fact, Karcher says there are more than 50,000 zero energy buildings worldwide in cities and rural areas. “And they are not just homes. There are commercial buildings, hospitals, and schools,” he says. “This a concept that is made for the world.” Karcher’s career dates back to the 1980s, where he learned about adobe architecture in Iran and passive solar design in Germany. He has built innumerable solar/adobe homes in the Southwest. Along the way, he was impressed with the “2030 Challenge” issued by the internationally recognized architect Edward Mazria. Mazria demonstrated that 48 percent of our nation’s energy is consumed by buildings and that architects hold

the key to the “global thermostat.”

budget and “pays you back” over time.

So he switched his focus to zero-energy design. About the evolution, Karcher says, “I was the pioneer for New Mexico. We were the first ones to implement. But now it’s taking off. We have built 10 homes in Taos so far, and have other projects under way.”

The website gives the example that a 2,500-square-foot zero energy home in Taos can save $35,000 in 10 years in heating and domestic hot water cost alone (compared to the same house built conventionally).

Karcher also points out that “minimal energy bills” is a major benefit in zero-energy design. “This is about curbing heat loss,” he says. “What’s the cheapest gallon of fuel to heat your home? The one you don’t buy.” The Zero E Design website explains what an intelligent investment this. It says that with the same amount of money it costs to build a conventional custom home, an ultra-low energy home works within any realistic building

The Chamisa Passive House is a featured Zero E Design project. In a team effort, spearheaded by builder Ben van Willigen, the Chamisa Passive House is the first in the nation achieving all three certifications: certified Passive House (by the PH Institute US), LEED Platinum (by the US Green Building Council, which is the highest level from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program), and Site Net Zero Energy. “What we do is science-based and it shines through technical excellence,” says Karcher.




Katharine Egli Hilery Duran of Red Willow Farms stands near a painted water tank next to one of the farm’s newly built greenhouses.



gua es vida” is a powerful refrain in Taos, where the water, land and cultural legacy of smallscale farming and ranching remain powerful forces contouring the landscape and economic development for future generations. And at Taos Pueblo’s Red Willow Farm and market, young people are working on and with the land to shape their lives and the future of their community.

Red Willow Farmers Market Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., year round 885 Star Road, Taos Pueblo Red Willow Farm sits on a few acres at Taos Pueblo and is the only farm in Taos totally run and led by young people. And with a year-round growing operation, a variety of hands-in-dirt educational programs and a decade-long history of community participation, Red Willow is a powerhouse of agriculture in Taos. During the summer of 2015, at least 11 high school students from Taos Pueblo will work the small farm — planting, watering, weeding and harvesting vast quantities of root vegetables, leafy greens and seven different varieties of tomatoes. Aside from their summer program, Red Willow also boasts a Youth Entrepreneurial Program, where young people who’ve already graduated high school can take responsibility for a few rows of crops and make a bit of startup money selling the vegetables they grew themselves. “It’s a quality educational experience, but in a

“Agua es vida” is a powerful refrain in Taos, where the water, land and cultural legacy of small-scale farming and ranching remain powerful forces contouring the landscape and economic development for future generations.

holistic farm environment. It’s an enriched experience because this is a real-life and real-time environment,” said former farm manager Angelo McHorse.

Hilery Duran, farm manager at Red Willow, said that while their busiest season is the height of summer around July, they grow lettuce, greens, radishes and all manner of vegetables throughout the year thanks to a wood-fueled biomass furnace. Red Willow sports four greenhouses, two of which are heated throughout the winter by the furnace. Once a day during the coldest times of the year, a young farmer burns two wheelbarrow loads of wood, just enough to keep the fire burning hot and the indoor plants warm and growing.

— Continues on page 22




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Katharine Egli L to R: Tomato plant sprouts sit in the Red Willow Farm store; One of the Red Willow greenhouses, seen here looking through a punctured screen; Crowds flock to Taos Plaza to visit the farmers market on its last day of the season last October.

— Continued from page 20


ed Willow is a haven for the whole community. Not only do young people gather to care for the land, the farm also sports a wellness garden, where folks living with diabetes and cancer, and their families, come together as a healing community to garden herbs and plants to help cope with illness.

institution, the Farm Stand Market is a great way to start your week off right. The market is for the 9-to-5 crowd with busy schedules and busier families, and for those folks who can’t always afford local produce. Area farmers sell veggies, fruit and value-added products made right inside the TCEDC, like fresh hummus, salsa and tortillas.

Arroyo Hondo, where many people still water their pastures and gardens with water from the Río Hondo and its acequias. A handful of locals gather once a week to sell vegetables, goat cheese and all sorts of baked goods — and once in a great blue moon, folks have special offers, too, like smoked trout from area streams.

Red Willow also works to bring produce to a number of local markets, restaurants and other special partnerships, such as that with the Waldorf School.

Back Porch Farmers Market Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2-6 p.m., seasonal 314 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Suite E, Taos The Back Porch Farmers Market is about as casual as its name. On the back portal of the Taos Food Co-op, just off the main drag of town, you’ll find plenty of people who farm, even if they don’t call themselves farmers. Citizen-farmers — those with day jobs, families and a little backyard garden — sell what’s left over from their fertile patches of Taos soil after their families are fed. Plus, the market has the added advantage of being housed at the Taos Food Co-op, a bulk-ordering store for beans, grains and any number of natural foods, supplements and the like.

Taos Farmers Market Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m., mid-May to October Historic Taos Plaza, Taos Taos Farmers Market is a hub of food, history and excitement, bringing hundreds of people to the heart of Taos Plaza and agricultural legacy from the second week of May to the end of October. Over 70 vendors from the region — from as far north as the Colorado’s San Luis Valley and as far south as Velarde, just south of the Taos Canyon — sell untold varieties of sustainable staples like eggs, carrots, lettuce and meat. The market also features the bounty of Taos orchards, and vendors regularly sell flowers like the hollyhocks and sunflowers so special to Northern New Mexico’s landscaping. Its energy is unmistakable — musicians regularly play near the gazebo, and when the season’s right, you can get hot-off-theroaster chiles. Parking is an easy walk away, and you can enjoy the Plaza shops for chocolate treats, coffee or even a fine piece of art.

Only a few feet from the farm stand, shaded under latillas, is the recently added farm store, with coolers of bison meat and eggs, as well as locally made blue corn meal for tortillas, jars of pickles and soaps made from wildcrafted herbs from Taos Pueblo. Taos boasts not just one, but many farmers markets that serve communities up and down the county and almost every day of the week. Taos Farm Stand Market Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2-7 p.m., summer noon-5 p.m., winter Call (575) 758-8731 to confirm. 1021 Salazar Road, Taos Shaded under a big portal of the Taos County Economic Development Corp., a Taos agricultural




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Photo courtesy of Ruth Fahrbach/ Image Graphics by Kelly Savage, Santa Fe Hemp Ruth Fahrbach celebrates hemp, as did President George Washington and other founding fathers.





Meet the Hemptress A sincere advocate for the crop of the future By Teresa Dovalpage


uth Fahrbacht bought a hemp guitar strap from a vendor in Kit Carson Park back in 1997 and loved its durability and strength.


“It was not like any other strap I had owned,” she

From that moment on, she started researching and learning as much as she could about hemp. “I began to study hemp and marijuana relativity and irrelativity,” she says. “In the process, I found out the many uses of hemp.” In 1998 she attended the first Hemp Expo in Santa Cruz, California. In 1999, after returning from a hemp research trip to Thailand, Nepal, India and Tibet, Fahrbacht decided to create her own hemp company, Taos Hemp LLC. The business allowed her to combine her Buddhist philosophy with the work of her hands. Taos Hemp began its cottage industry on the West Rim Mesa of Taos, in an offgrid, solar home. Today Fahrbacht sells her own brand, called Dharma bags, made of 100 percent hemp. She is also known as “the Hemptress.” “With the emphasis on no stress,” she said. “Oh, by the way, it also accounts for ‘great tress.’ Hemp fiber tresses are the strongest and longest on the planet.” Fahrbacht considers herself a natural person. She lives and works in an eco-friendly way.

“My hogan (in Diné, hogan means ‘blessing way’) is built out of straw bale, adobe, stone, and wood,” she says. “It has passive solar and active solar. The solar panels, with a kilowatt of electricity, run 2,200 square feet of dwelling.” Why hemp? Fahrbacht describes hemp as “a miracle plant that can heal the Earth.” “I like to say hemp covers it all,” she says. “From food, clothing, paper, shelter, medicine, fuel, and plastic composites to remediation of toxic soil. Also, economic recovery: it can provide jobs for farmers and individuals in a cooperative setting.” Hemp is the second-highest protein next to soy, high in vitamin E and magnesium. Hemp oil is also used in the cosmetic industry.

Hemp is the second-highest protein next to soy, high in vitamin E and magnesium. Hemp oil is also used in the cosmetic industry.

is still classified as a Controlled Substance Schedule 1— along with heroin and its cousin marijuana.

“In 2013, 21 states introduced industrial hemp legislation, but current federal policy still places a barrier on production,” Fahrbacht said. “The irony of this is that more industrial hemp fiber, seed and oil is exported to the United States than to any other country.” Hemp history Hemp is one of the oldest cultivated plants. Its use can be traced back to 8,000 B.C.

“It is a superb moisturizer and detoxifier at the same time,” Fahrbacht said.

“Hemp was known by the ancient cultures of China, Egypt, and Persia,” Fahrbacht says. “It was used to make textiles and for cosmetic purposes.”

A Taos-based skincare company, Nabis Naturals, uses hempseed oil as an active ingredient to produce a moisturizing serum and a cream.

However, we don’t have to go that far in time. Hemp it is also part of American history. The United States’ declaration of independence was written on hemp paper.

Hempseeds contain Omega-6 and Omega-3, essential fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties. They can also be used to make butter, milk, and protein powder.

“Washington and Jefferson demanded that the colonists grow hemp for their clothing, food, and maybe building materials,” Fahrbacht said. “Hemp paper requires no bleach, no heavy dioxin like the tree pulp industry which has polluted our rivers and cut down our virgin forests for paper.”

The legal fate of hemp Fahrbacht is quick to point out that hemp is not a drug. “Hempseed has very, very little amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), just .03 percent. THC is the primary ingredient in marijuana cannabis,” she said. “Using hemp products will not give anyone a high!” It is not legal to grow hemp in New Mexico right now. But Senate Bill 94 (SB94) — introduced by Albuquerque Democrat Cisco McSorley — would authorize the farming, production, and sale of industrial hemp in New Mexico, if successfully passed. Under this bill, New Mexico residents could be licensed to produce and distribute hemp. “The Federal 2014 Farm Bill allows hemp, when individual states pass the pro hemp legislation,” Fahrbacht says. “Then they can safely do pilot studies and test plots to determine the correct cultivars.” There may a long way to go, though. At federal level, hemp

Hemp production was endorsed by the government in the ’30s and during World War II because it was needed to make ropes for Navy ships. “Henry Ford made a hemp car and ran it on hemp fuel,” said Fahrbacht. “The question is: what became of Ford’s idea? Guess he was run off the road by Dupont (plastics), Eli Lilly (pharmaceuticals), Hearst (paper), Andrew Mellon (friend with Hearst) and Harry Anslinger (chief of Narcotics Bureau). We still have huge lobbies against hemp in these arenas today.” Despite the obstacles, Fahrbacht is convinced that a green future will include hemp. “It will propel us into the age of self-reliant, self-sustaining livelihoods,” she said. “Let’s get together behind the production of the strongest fiber crop on the planet.”




Katharine Egli Clockwise: Don Peters, executive director of Not Forgotten Outreach, sits Sept. 21, 2014 in front of the property the nonprofit plans to convert into a respite for veterans and their families; Bob Fulton, right, takes measurements of the property while Ken Westerhausen,left and Roberto Molina Jr., center, look on Feb. 25; Kim Sanchez, founder of Not Forgotten Outreach, laughs as Peters takes a picture of the property.

Not Forgotten Outreach’s project puts focus on accessibility, sustainability By Andrew Oxford


ealing the wounds of war can take a lifetime. Healing the Earth can take longer.

are veterans) began on what has become an opportunity for learning as well as healing. “We can stay in the classroom and learn out of books,” said Mark Goldman, who leads the Green Technology Program at UNM-Taos. “It always seems to make more sense to use the real thing. Why should we stay in the classroom except that it’s safer and easier for me?” But when Goldman first visited the property with Don Peters, executive director of Not Forgotten Outreach, he realized it would be a difficult project. “When we first went the first few times to tour the building, he couldn’t get his wheelchair in it,” Goldman recounted. Building ramps and installing an elevator (they’ve got the perfect spot) is just the start, though. Everything from doorknobs to the heights of countertops will be reconsidered.

But the students and veterans transforming a bed and breakfast into a fully accessible respite for wounded warriors aim to do a little of both.

Maneuverability is not enough, Goldman explained. The goal is to allow guests using wheelchairs to feel at home in the space.

Renovating the six-bedroom house on Calle Esequiel is only the latest project of Not Forgotten Outreach, a local veterans group that has pioneered a series of agricultural therapy programs around Taos.

None of the six-and-a-half bathrooms are wheelchair accessible, however, and one room will be designed to accommodate guests who are completely immobile.

Tucked away near Sunset Park with an unbeatable view of the mountains north of town, the attraction is understandable. “It provides tranquility,” Kym Sanchez, an Iraq War veteran and the founder of Not Forgotten Outreach, said during a tour of the property in September 2014. “So many of our vets live in places where they don’t have that.” To turn the two-acre property and 5,150-square-foot house into both a working farm and accessible bed and breakfast, the organization has teamed with the Green Technology Program at UNM-Taos. This winter, the veterans and students (many of whom




“Our goal with this place is to make it all accessible. We’d have to change quite a few things but that’s really important to us,” Sanchez said. Getting the house up to code is not enough, though, according to Goldman. “There is no allowance for shortcuts,” he explained. “When you talk about the building code, they give you a set of prescriptions on how you design something for handicap access but they’re always assuming there’s only one disabled person.” While the building will serve as a case study in accessibility, it could also serve as an interesting example in sustainable design.

This winter, the veterans and students (many of whom are veterans) began on what has become an opportunity for learning as well as healing.

Improving the building’s energy efficiency will not require a lot of money, Goldman said, just a lot of time.

“The biggest thing, which is the most boring thing is leaks,” he explained. “If you have a building that has a little leak around this door here and that door there, it’s like having a two-to-three-foot hole in the wall. It’s not expensive to fix, just a lot of work.” Existing windows will be replaced with more energyefficient models. Mechanical systems may need repair, too, and the group is shopping for a solar thermal heating system. But with improving the building’s energy efficiency, there is a lesson for every homeowner: don’t put the cart before the horse. Do not invest in an expensive, flashy new heating system before repairing existing leaks. “Rather than using renewables as a Band Aid to fix bad design, fix the building the first,” Goldman explained. This lesson in sustainability is also a lesson in reality. Not Forgotten Outreach and the UNM-Taos students are not building from a prototype but renovating an existing structure shaped by a series of additions and showing at least a few signs of aging. If you are serious about sustainable architecture, forget the glossy magazines with renderings for new green buildings. Instead, put on your gloves, roll up your sleeves and get to work on the buildings we have. For more information about Not Forgotten Outreach, visit For more information about the Green Technology Program at UNM-Taos, visit construction-technology.html.



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Courtesy Cerro Vista Farm L to R: A volunteer clips cauliflower at Cerro Vista Farm; Daniel Carmona with some seedlings, almost ready to go in the ground; Volunteers show off some jumbo sweet onions; A five-man crew plants lettuce; and a volunteer harvests vitamin greens.

Cerro Vista Farm Three and a half decades of trial-and-error farming By Cody Hooks


erro Vista Farm is away from the fray of life in Taos. Just 20 miles south of the Colorado line, the farm doesn’t see much traffic or too many people. The wilds of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument are a stones throw away. Underneath greenhouses, fields of winter rye and —




during the warmest months of the year — row upon row of carrots, potatoes and other vegetables is one of the largest underground aquifers in the county. And Daniel Carmona, a farmer, seed breeder and Taos entrepreneur, is this farm’s steward. Carmona has farmed in Taos County for over 35 years, and in that time has built up one of the biggest operations in the region. Between selling at area farmers markets since the 1970s and running a Community Supported Agriculture program (that fed 185 families each week of the summer last year), Carmona’s learned how to watch the sky for rain, how to watch the weeds for damage, and how to watch the land for the 1,000 and more little details it takes to coax from Northern New Mexico crops to feed himself, his family and the community. “I didn’t have a plan to make a career off farming, to make a living at it. I was doing construction work,” Carmona told The Taos News one unseasonably warm day

in February at a coffee shop in Taos. Winter is the only real time to leave the farm; during the growing season — which starts with seedlings at the tail end of February — he just has too many things to do. “It’s a well-choreographed dance,” he said of the fulltime, work-from-home job of being a farmer. It all takes finesse. About 25 workers from the dirt-road community show up like clockwork throughout the week, though rain, drought and temperatures aren’t quite so predictable. In 2015, Carmona will put over 70,000 seedlings in more than 450 rows laid out over 5 acres of former sagebrush. Carmona doesn’t have to keep his eyes just on the legion of seedlings, but on the army of weeds that grow up between them. “If they get three inches tall, you’ve lost the crop,” he said. Carmona’s reservoir of farming know-how comes from years of seed breeding, as well. Years ago, on a little plot

After all these years of learning the land, witching for water, selling at farmers markets and through his CSA; after all these years of watching close and working hard; after all these years of common sense, sustainable farming, it’s getting back to an art form once again.

of land in Arroyo Hondo, Carmona grew 235 different sort of quinoa. In the decades following, he’s bred onions and other alliums, too, localizing crops to the Northern New Mexican landscape he’s called home since 1979.

“I started out on the Atalya Ditch,” he said, where the Río Hondo flows from the Taos Ski Valley and feeds into three acequias and countless pastures of alfalfa and backyard gardens. He first started learning how to grow row crops — corn, tubers, beans

and some grains — on the “sloppy, curing land of the Hondo,” he said. “It was definitely an art form.” Carmona said that even as a mayordomo, it was an uphill challenge to get the water he needed for his crops consistently. That challenge took him on a search for land that eventually landed his penchant for growing in the tiny community of Cerro, north of Questa. “I literally flew around Taos County in a small airplane, looking at what the land looked like,” he said. Carmona’s first big operation used drip irrigation and photovoltaic solar cells — brand new technology at the time. Sustainable from the get-go, Carmona has spent the past 36 years knowing success is a function of trial-and-error, perseverance and diligence, and the humility to learn new tricks. When Carmona finally found his land in Cerro, it took another half decade before the water rights were in his hands and the wells drilled.

Now, Cerro Vista Farm — with 100-mile views to the west, the ever-present watch of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east — boasts what Carmona calls real community development. Every season, two dozen locals find employment at the farm while a handful of beginning farmers intern with Carmona, who know the only real way to get healthy food to the people of Taos is to help young folks find land, water and experience enough to set off on their own. After all these years of learning the land, witching for water, selling at farmers markets and through his CSA; after all these years of watching close and working hard; after all these years of common sense, sustainable farming, it’s getting back to an art form once again. You can purchase a CSA share from Carmona, or find out about internships or consultations by visiting or calling (575) 770-1426. And from May to October, look for Daniel and Cerro Vista Farm at the Taos Farmers Market on the historic Taos Plaza.




Photo Courtesy Charlee Myers A cistern system installation project.

Rainwater harvesting Catching life in a barrel by Jim O’Donnell


ainwater harvesting isn’t exactly new to New Mexico.

For thousands of years the original inhabitants found a wide variety of brilliant ways to put water to work. Much later, Hispanic colonists did the same with the creation of acequia communities, employing an ancient technique that originated in North Africa and is still in use here today. Although the methods have changed and technological

advancements offer many more options than were available historically, the importance of rainwater harvesting has only increased. With our normally dry environmental conditions, our frequent cycles of drought and the dire predictions of climate scientists, the collection, storing and utilization of rainwater is perhaps more important now than ever. Longtime Taos-area contractor Charlee Myers says that, in general, groundwater wells across the county are drawing down. There are more people in the area using more water and the meager snowfall of the last decade has done little to replenish the regional aquifers. Myers is the owner of Mountain Mesa Construction and sits on the board of directors for the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA), a national group that advocates for sustainable rainwater harvesting practices and regulations. “In a lot of our area, county wells are simply too expensive to drill. This is especially true west of the gorge,” says Myers whose home water use is 100 percent

It may seem odd to some but New Mexico is actually one of the leaders when it comes to rainwater harvesting.

from rainwater and snowmelt. Myers says he has not had any outside water augmentation to his system since 2011. Since then his tanks have remained at least 60 percent full. Our most recent snows brought him up to full capacity. “We go through dry periods in Taos and people wonder how harvesting could work. But even in a drought, when it rains it rains a lot. And with the right size tanks you can take advantage of that.” It may seem odd to some but New Mexico is actually one of the leaders when it comes to rainwater harvesting. For example, Santa Fe County mandates that new developments and large buildings have catchment systems. A number of subdivisions and communities rely almost exclusively on catchment strategies — the Earthship community for example. This year there is a bill before the state legislature that would give tax credits to people who install rainwater harvesting systems. — Continues on page 32




On 100% solar-powered Klauer Campus we practice what we teach:

Sustainability isn’t just a word — It’s a way of life!

UNM-Taos 1157 County Road 110 Ranchos de Taos, 87557 (575) 737-6215 •

“The history of every Nation is eventually written in the way in which it cares for its soil.” ~President Franklin Roosevelt


Taos Land TrusT Preserving open and productive lands in northern new Mexico since 1988 Po Box 376, Taos, nM 87571 575.751.3138,

Taos Soil & Water Conservation District

Taos Land Trust was founded in 1988 with a mission to conserve open, productive and natural lands for the benefit of the community and culture of northern new Mexico. The only new Mexico land trust north of santa Fe, TLT works with landowners across nine counties to create permanent conservation easements and ensure that they qualify for the significant tax and financial benefits available to them in recognition of the public service of voluntarily protecting their land. Through easements and public acquisitions, TLT has permanently protected over 24,000 acres of farms and ranchland, wildland habitat, and beautiful open lands.

P.O. Box 2787, Ranchos de Taos, NM 87557 Physical Location: 202 Chamisa Road, Taos, NM 87571 575.751.0584 .


Taos soiL and WaTer ConservaTion disTriCT assuring a sustainable Future Through Conservation P.o. Box 2787. ranchos de Taos, nM 87557 Physical location: 202 Chamisa road, Taos, nM 87571 575.751.0584


•since its2015 GREEN TAOS creation in 1941, Taos soil and Water Conservation district has utilized practical


strategies to assist local farmers, ranchers and citizens with critical natural resource issues. The district has a long history of cooperation with private landowners and public agencies and believes this relationship is essential in order for conservation programs to bridge the gap of political boundaries. Taos sWCd consists of an elected and appointed board of supervisors that formulates policy based on local natural resource needs. Taos soil & Water Conservation district follows a policy for fair and equitable distribution of program resources. district services are available to any eligible participant.

— Continued from page 30


his is a far cry from Colorado where the state restricts catchment and claims the water, essentially killing any attempt at harvesting. Meanwhile Texas has become one of the centers of rainwater catchment. But their laws can be confusing and controlling. In New Mexico, the State Engineer’s Office actually encourages harvesting. It only makes sense after all. “We have a recognition that if you don’t collect then you will be pumping it out of the ground and removing it from the system,” says Myers. “Overall, New Mexico and Arizona are two of the most progressive states on this issue. We are a bit of a cutting edge leader.” It is worth noting that a Taos resident is on the board of a national organization. Myers’ position empowers him to make sure Northern New Mexico’s lifestyle, culture and environmental considerations are always on the table as national standards and rules are put in place. Myers is also one of co-authors on the new national “ARCSA Rainwater Harvesting Manual” due out in July 2015. So why might you want a system at your own place? As mentioned before, wells in Taos county are expensive and generally declining. Climate change predictions call for not only drier conditions in general across our region but also more violent storms with faster runoff that won’t replenish our aquifers. You may also have concerns about water quality. Filtered harvested water is cleaner and lower in mineral content than aquifer water for example. In the long run, water harvesting could be a money saver for you.

Rainwater and snowmelt can be collected from rooftops, sidewalks and a wide variety of surface areas. You can use that collected water to drink or wash or water your landscaping and garden. Methods for collecting the water that falls on your land can range from simply setting out buckets and pots to the use of systems of check dams, swales, underground cisterns and rooftop collection. Before you begin, decide how you will be putting it to use. Your intended use and needs will help you decide what kind of system to put in.

“Overall, New Mexico and Arizona are two of the most progressive states on this issue. We are a bit of a cutting edge leader.”

According the Myers, the four top things to think about when considering a rainwater harvesting system are your type of roof (metal or permeable membrane roofs are the best), the size of storage system you will need, your local “freeze factor” (how long and how hard freezes last in your area) and your budget. “If you can afford it, underground tanks are best for our area. Being underground helps with the freezing issue but also our ultraviolet rays are pretty harsh and can break down the tanks if they are above ground.” Harvesting rain and meltwater just makes sense in Taos. Not only do we face issues that should encourage this practice but we have a history and a wealth of knowledgeable people to access. Clockwise, from top left: There are numerous ways to collect the rainwater and snowmelt from your roof and gutters,; A cistern installation project on the mesa, Photo courtesy Charlee Myers; A large rain barrel that captures the runoff from a car port, Photo Courtesy Charlee Myers; Rainwater catchment can allow you to lower your groundwater usage or go completely off the grid,




Courtesy Taos Land Trust Tony Benson’s ranch, where he has has conducted a mission to eradicate the invasive sagebrush and restore native grasses.

One man's painstaking project to restore native grasses By J.R. Logan


hen Tony Benson bought 3,000 acres west of the Río Grande Gorge in 1991, he saw more than a wind-blown moonscape. He saw potential.

In corners of the vast property were little pockets of native grasses eking out an existence in a brutal country. Benson was confident he could vanquish the invasive sagebrush that had claimed nearly all the rangeland, and bring back the grasses that once carpeted the mesa. “What I didn’t realize was how tough it was going to

be with five or six inches of rain every year,” says Benson, bouncing behind the steering wheel of his pickup on a tour of his living dryland laboratory. For nearly 25 years, Benson has been trying to figure out how to get grasses to grow in a place with the same annual precipitation as the Mojave Desert. Not surprisingly, it hasn’t been easy. First off, the ubiquitous sagebrush that once dominated the ranch is a mighty adversary. The coarse, woody shrub can be a nightmare to rip out, and Benson says he’s seen the plants extend a four-foot radius of shallow roots that choke out any other plants. The loss of the mesa grasslands and the proliferation of sagebrush on the Taos Plateau is generally blamed on heavy grazing during the early 20th century. Benson thinks that’s only part of the story. Land management theorists like Allan Savory argue grazing animals can actually be beneficial if they’re managed correctly. Without them, land in “brittle” climates becomes infertile and barren. “Our theory in talking to the old timers is that it was overgrazed from around 1895,” Benson says. “And after World War II, there was no grazing, so the lack of grazing for the last 50 or 60 years has allowed this sagebrush to take over.” Benson now has about 40 head of cattle and 100 llamas on the property.

Benson was confident he could vanquish the invasive sagebrush that had claimed nearly all the rangeland, and bring back the grasses that once carpeted the mesa.

Even after the sage is removed, Benson says it takes a lot of luck getting something to grow in its place. Rain and snowfall are sporadic, and it takes the right amount of moisture at the right time for newly planted seeds to germinate. Benson faces an equally mighty foe in the merciless winds that pound the ranch. The gales suck up what little moisture might be in the ground, and they wreak havoc on bare soil. In the spring, it’s not unusual to see dust storms erupting thousands of feet into the air in the area around Benson’s place. Yet for all this adversity, Benson has had some impressive successes, much of it through simple trial and error. “We’ve done most of this ranch, and now we’re kind of perfecting and fine tuning,” Benson says. Benson says mowing the sage with a medieval tractor implement called a flail mower has been effective for the soil and microclimate at his ranch. While other places in the county use a disc harrow to tear the sage up, Benson says that method turns his soil to powder, and it blows away before anything else has a chance to set roots. — Continues on page 34




Courtesy Taos Land Trust A view of some of the restored grassland pastures restored by Tony Benson at his ranch west of the Río Grande Gorge.

— Continued from page 33


he flail mower, by contrast, knocks out the sage but preserves the topsoil to give native seeds a fighting chance.

Benson has also experimented with different types of cover crops. The idea is that the cover crop will grow quickly to capture moisture and keep the soil in place so that perennial grasses have a chance to get going. While cover crops have proven very successful in more humid regions, the results so far at Benson’s ranch have been mixed. Benson is hopeful that clover, winter wheat and winter rye will poke up in early spring if there’s enough moisture. If they do, he thinks those plants will lock down the silty soil during the hot, dry months of summer.




Benson says he’s also seen the ecological makeup of the ranch shift in the last 20 years of drought. “If we’re getting climate change, we seem to be getting more of this kind of stuff: winter fat, four-wing saltbush, fringing sage,” Benson says. “They’re very good forage in the winter, and they’re a lot more drought tolerant. Since none of the ranch is irrigated, Benson is taking steps to hold on to the precipitation that does fall. He’s erected a series of one-rock dams in the arroyos that etch the ranch. The so-called dams don’t actually catch water. Instead, they slow it down, allowing it to soak into the ground instead of carving into it. “We’re getting the water to soak in here instead of running dirty water into the Río Grande,” Benson says. Restoring the ranch’s open rangeland is only one of

Benson’s goals. He’s also gone to great lengths to thin the piñon and juniper forest that wrap around the western edge of the property. The work is meant to not only protect the property from wildfire, but improve pasture by opening up the woodlands so grasses can grow. The majority of the ranch's 3,000 acres has been designated as a conservation easement through the Taos Land Trust, an organization which Benson serves as a board member. A quarter-century into the massive undertaking, Benson has managed to do some kind of restoration in most parts of the property. Some projects have gone better than others, and the ever-changing conditions mean it’s a job that might ever be finished. “When I bought this, I was going to spend the rest of my life restoring this,” Benson says. “And that’s what I’m doing.”


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