Thank you Silver City Beeks!

This past week I had the distinct privilege of visiting Silver City, New Mexico at the invitation of my bee friend Susan Clair, the force of nature behind our two year beekeeping certification program here in Duke City.  She has moved down south and now is working her magic to organize a Bee City in southern New Mexico. I have no doubt she and her club will be successful. This would be Bee City #2 here in New Mexico!

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One thing I noticed everywhere in Silver City, were native pollinator gardens. Come to find out, they have a very active master gardener club that has taken over public spaces to make them beautiful as well as important habitat for pollinators.

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I learned recently about the million pollinator garden challenge. Wouldn’t it be absolutely brilliantly amazing if communities all across this country took this challenge on? It begins home by home—in your backyard!

 

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The main reason reason I wandered down to Silver City, was to give the Bee City USA presentation and share our experience of becoming a Bee City USA here in Burque. I found Silver City to be an eclectic group of people carving out a living or retirement—depending on which edge of the age spectrum you reside—but certainly not sitting around and letting moss gather underfoot. I met small business owners and many well educated retirees finding the warmer climate and culture very amenable. Those recent transplants who had retired to Silver City were busy re-tooling for new enterprises —bringing a wonderful vitality and rich life experience to the community. The food was great, hospitality huge and passion for pollinators pleasantly surprising. It is a perfect storm for creating a Bee City!

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As I flew home on the single prop, tiny 10 seater plane called Boutique Air (who knew… They fly daily out of Albuquerque?!) I waxed poetic flying over the landscape. Having never flown over the Gila Wilderness and southern New Mexico before in such an intimate way, I was mesmerized.

Skies as wide as a New Mexico smile, the land unrolling like a human body. Rock shelves and mesas like high cheek bones….the bridge of a nose or a bony sacrum. Ruffled river beds like flowing Rapunzel locks and receding hairlines. Rivulets of zigzagging arroyos like birth scars or varicose veins. The color of rock like so many human skin tones. The Gobi desert colliding with a Kenyan Savannah.

The vast Gila with majestic curves heaped up into hillocks and mountains, dotted with Ponderosa pine forests or scraggly, scrubby beard.

 

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I was reminded of how precious is this planet and how worthy of loving and preserving to the best of our ability.

Thank you Silver City Beeks…for everything.

I’m rooting for you!

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Where Have All the Bugs Gone?

The war on bugs has been going on a long time. It is making humans and our earth sick. Sadly, the chemicals impact the whole food chain. All the way to the top.

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And unfortunately, the bugs are losing…though many humans are cheering their extinction. Ultimately, they are only the first in a chain reaction of extinctions.

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The flying community messes up our windshields, eats our crops and otherwise fills our invisible air with visible life. But sadly, it’s not just the pesky ones we are saying good bye to, it’s also the multitudinous beneficials—some whom we will never meet in our gardens. The pesky pests will continue to re-invent themselves and become resistant and resilient to all our chemicals. It’s the more vulnerable beneficials that we need for our gardens to grow, that we must fall in love with— bees, lady bugs, green lacewings, praying mantis’, and many more.

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They are the ones that worry me. Once they are gone, our natural insurance against massive pestilence and any hope in balancing the eco-system we have so destroyed, becomes alot harder. Chemical companies will be delighted to have our business, once the bio-force of bugs is gone.

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So much to lament.

Scientists have raised the alarm after a study 27 years in the making found the biomass of flying insects in nature protected areas has declined by more than 75% since 1990. The causes of the decline are not fully understood.

The decline of Europe’s bee populations has been on policy-makers’ radars for some time. Less attention has been paid to the plight of other flying insects but a study published in scientific journal Plos One in October has revealed that they too have declined in both diversity and abundance in the last quarter of a century…

Flying insects are a vital part of many ecosystems: they pollinate 80% of plant species and some 60% of birds rely on them as a source of food. They are also an important source of protein for many mammals and a key part of the nutrient cycle.

“Recently reported declines in several [insects] such as butterflies, wild bees and moths are in parallel with a severe loss of total aerial insect biomass, suggesting that it is not only the vulnerable species, but the flying insect community as a whole; that has been decimated over the last few decades,” the study said.  (Informed Comment, by Samuel White, Nov. 4, 2017)

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Agriculture in this country is moving towards a healthy holistic management of growing food that takes into consideration all aspects, which leads to a balanced, healthy food delivery system.

Recently in an article in The New Food Economy, Sophia Mendelson writes, “These farmers are building a post-pesticide future, but first we’re going to have to get less squeamish about bugs.” Integrated pest management is not about how to best kill pests and diseases—it’s about how to best promote crop health and soil health and farm ecosystem health,” Neukirch says. That being the case, Campbell-Nelson says, “I do wonder if it’s time to have a shift in terminology and understanding.” Instead of integrated pest management, she suggests integrated crop management.

It’s about our obsession as a society for perfectly colored, shiny, flawless looking “plastic” food that can be mass produced. Food that has no nutritional content because it’s been doused, gassed, waxed, and flown thousands of miles. But it looks nice and fools us into thinking it’s healthy.

It’s about supporting and demanding that local agriculture give us “real” food and make it affordable for all. It may even have a worm, a discoloration, or a flaw in it.

Food. We live and die by it.

 

One Beautiful Thing

These past weeks, I have been trying to prepare my bees for winter. Colony collapse has become very real for me. I find in these waning Autumn days that beekeeping has lost the charm and childlike joy and wonder of my first love. At the end of the season, I am in the slog, fighting for their survival, hive by hive. Like any long term relationship, the honeymoon is over. Seems the more I know, the more painful it is when reality hits. Some days, I just want to return to the blissful ignorance of the wonder years.

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Commiserating with one of my veteran beekeeper friends, she told me that she also is disheartened, weary and more disillusioned than usual at the end of this season. We are all acutely feeling the looming 40-50% die off rate. It’s just not enough to fight off the parasites and feed the hives facing starvation at the end of a bone dry late summer/fall—now we are facing disappearing queen bees. Hives going into the long, darkening cold of winter without a queen face low morale and sure death. You have to understand, a queen-less hive at the end of October is a nightmare for beekeepers and a devastating  prospect. There are likely no drones around to mate with a freshly emerged virgin queen. I’ve already faced this with half my hives.

As if to remind myself how disillusioned I am, I hear myself on the phone with a friendly citizen the other day. He calls to inquire as to whether I could come and remove some bees from an old shed in his backyard. Exasperated, I grill him about whether those bees were chasing his children or stinging his dog? Were they coming into his house or bothering him?  “Well, no”, he said hesitantly, “but they do buzz around sometime when we are on our back deck—they don’t sting or anything”. “Then can you just leave them alone for the winter?” I ask, frustration leaking out all over. I go on to tell him that there is a 50% chance they will die over the winter anyway from mites, hunger, queen death, chemicals, etc. etc.. With a sigh, I blurt out “We are losing the battle. Our bees are dying and it’s very hard to keep them alive these days.”

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Though this man didn’t ask for it, I ranted on about the tedious science of extracting bees at any time—the diceyness of their survival when removed from their home. But this late in the season, if we’ve ripped apart their house and jammed them into a makeshift hive after they’ve carefully prepared for winter, they would surely die.

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The man listened quietly, then said, almost apologetically, “Yes, let’s leave them alone for the winter and see what Spring brings”. Then, he kindly stated, “I know every bee is precious”.  I caught myself mid flight —in my own free fall into despair—profusely thanking him for his care of the bees.

It seems that each time I am dangerously close to despair, one beautiful thing  rises up, as though to remind me that death will never have the last word.

In this case, it was a perfect stranger’s conscientiousness and compassion.

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Today, I could feel the pit of dread in my stomach as I opened up a hive that had built multitudes of queen cells—indicating their last ditch effort to replace a dead queen. I faced the dismal job of removing all those queen cells, and then the unpleasant job of combining the dwindling numbers of my bees with a friend’s hive that had a queen with even fewer workers and barely any honey stores.

So, imagine my surprise, as I opened up the hive and a fat new queen was running about amongst the dwindling bees. I watched her gorgeousness for a moment til she disappeared, and then I closed them up in hushed awe.

But the crowning glory was found in a hive that I had just re-queened a few days earlier. The queen was still in her cage where I had placed her, though the girls had diligently chewed through half of the sugar plug, in hopes of freeing her. I pulled out the plug and put her cage on the floor of the hive, peering in on this sacred moment when her highness emerges from behind the wire. Would her new community welcome her or shun her? Would they attack her or would she be cheered by eager comrades? The girls swarmed around the cage, but were respectful of the now open door, leaving an avenue for her to step out. Finally one or two entered the cage and in a moment of welcome, convinced their new queen to come out and join them. Suddenly there she was, skittering out into the expectant crowd of bees and disappearing from my view.

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I felt like I had just witnessed a birth. Or a life redeemed. So small a moment, yet so profoundly life affirming.

One beautiful thing in a sea of despair.

Watch for it.

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Think Like a Bee, Even When the Darkness Grows.

Every day a new assault. On common decency and human honesty. On truth. On health and safety for all beings. On this beautiful planetary garden that is pure grace and abundant gift. On the most vulnerable among us. On institutions that have served to check obscene greed and community devastation. You name it.

 Along with James Taylor, I cry out, hard times come again no more…

It’s not that I don’t see the daily goodnesses. The small and large kindnesses. The beauty that’s left. The life affirming actions of so many. The movements rising up to stand in the face of such large and unnecessary suffering. I see them. I celebrate them. They are consolations in a time of such moral and physical desolation.

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Despite this, it doesn’t satisfy.  I am clear that our culture has created and now unleashed the beasts of devastation and darkness here and around the world. Sometimes the only way to awaken humans from our trances and idolatries, slow learners that we are, is to to rattle cages and kick us out of our comfort zones with hurricane force gales and waves.

And the consequences keep rolling in…

So I look to the bees.

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I remember the Book of Job, in the pit of despair, when everything he loved was destroyed. He heard a voice…

“now ask the beasts and they shall teach thee, the fowl of the air and they shall tell thee, speak to the earth and it shall teach thee, and the fishes of the sea and they shall declare unto thee…”(Job 12:7-8)

It’s time to look outside of our meager, myopic, self-centered existence—and find wisdom in the creation that we are a part of.

Here’s what Bill McKibben said:

The facts—the testimony of the psalmist, the evidence of our own eyes and ears, the emerging understanding of the atmospheric chemists—lead to the same conclusions that God draws for Job in his mighty speech. Our anthropocentric bias is swept away. The question becomes this: what will replace it?

Humility, first and foremost, that is certainly Job’s reaction. If we are not, as we currently believe, at the absolute epicenter of the created world, then we need to learn to humble ourselves.

Bees are pretty humble creatures. They teach me daily. They have plenty of their own woes. But they don’t complain much. Their main interest is in making sure the whole village is sustained. They live in the moment, attending to the problems and struggles of their daily existence with ingenuity, steadfastness and plodding dedication.

Believe me, for bees, (and me, the beekeeper) the troubles someday seem insurmountable. Chemical laden habitat, disease and mites, lack of pollen and nectar due to drought, unpredictable temperatures, poisoned water, queen bees dying right and left.

Meanwhile, here’s what the bees teach me.

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Live in the moment. Give thanks. Work for the common good. Face each struggle with new aplomb and ingenuity. Connect with something life giving day by day. It will give you what you need to carry on. And there’s more…

 

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This created world is an open book full of wisdom. Read it. Even the little postage stamp where you reside is chock full of teachings!

 

If the world as we know it ended tomorrow ….

…I’d want to head up to Heartland Farm in Pawnee Rock, Kansas. A farm from the past, a farm for the future. A place of rest. Peace. Kindness for all living beings.

Recently I visited this Dominican sisters retreat center/working farm. I was greeted by the Sisters, Jane, Mary Ellen and Imelda, and Adela, the WOOFER farm intern, and official alpaca whisperer.

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Strong women all of them. Including the alpacas, chickens, dogs, bees and other assorted critters.

 

The 80 acre property is an idyllic home to many creatures, human to bees. It has been owned by the Dominican sisters and was founded over 30 years ago. I stayed in a lovely Midwestern style wood frame farmhouse. It is open to all who want to come and retreat from the world and find a place of healing, solace, community and sustainability. I pulled up a chair to their dinner table and a home cooked meal full of garden veggies.

 

Oneness with the earth heals…Heartland Farm is committed to a strong Care of Earth ethic. This is expressed through choices both personal and communal which respect the health of the planet.  The farmstead includes a guesthouse for individuals or small groups, homes for resident community, gift shop and space for our alpacas and chickens. A straw bale arts studio includes a pottery and fiber arts space…

and a more remote straw bale hermitage offers off the grid solitude.

 

Packages offered include therapeutic massage, guided retreats, labyrinth walks, spiritual direction for retreatants—or just a fun place for family and friends to come and be nourished and reconnected on this healthy, well loved piece of land.

If you are planning a trip through the Kansas heartland, plan on stopping here. Incredibly reasonable and full of spirit.

I hope it won’t be long until I can return myself…

Cross Pollination

There is currently an amazing exhibit at the 516 Arts Building in Albuquerque,New Mexico @ 516 Central Avenue downtown. It will be there through November 1, 2017.

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If you haven’t made your way down there, you must.

Valerie Roybal, visionary artist, is also an Albuquerque backyard beekeeper. She gets it. The beauty, the mythology, the symbology, the historical importance of bees then and today.

Through music, art, jewelry, sound, Valerie takes us into the intricacies of our human interconnection and intersection with the world of beneficial insects.

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Here’s what she writes:

An exhibition at the intersection of art and science, emphasizing the importance of bees and other pollinators…

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If you didn’t already fiercely love the insect world, I hope this will be a step towards awe and admiration.

Plan to go soon.

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Water is life II

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Fracking Rio Rancho, the meeting to determine which would prevail: the Stoddard Ordinance, written for the oil and gas industry, or the Citizen Ordinance, written for public safety, went like this…

The September 21 Sandoval county commissioner’s meeting was not only flawed, it was a sham, a farce, a public shame. An unpaid, well informed, educated and reasonable citizenry showed up on their own dime to present their concerns and well researched and thorough findings on geology, hydrology, fracking pollution, corporate regulation, diversified energy economy and public health. It was not lost on these good citizens that the front row seats were reserved for well heeled, connected oil and gas industry representatives, while 75 persons who came to comment against the Stoddard ordinance were barred from the too small room, and sent packing to view this on the 2nd floor monitor.

The overwhelming majority gathered that night were clear with their elected officials. The Rio Grande/Chama Watershed, this limited ribbon of water serving the food shed, agricultural hub and residential neighborhoods of over a million people downstream, could be irreparably damaged by fracking. The public was rightfully appalled that our leaders have not held this sacrosanct, and protected from the insanity of any industrialization by the profit driven, poorly regulated fossil fuel and mining industries. The Stoddard ordinance may allow for this, but is it moral for elected officials to endanger the watershed of a million or more people?

At the end of a 4 hour meeting with impassioned citizen testimony, the chairman read a pre-written statement that clearly stated what he knew before we began— that ordinary citizens would have no impact or bearing on the final decision. The Stoddard Ordinance would stand. All, save one, would vote yea, revealing that they operate as a corporatocracy, not a democracy, using the thinly veiled guise of “jobs” though the community knows there are safer ways to economically diversify and create good jobs. The process may have invited public comment, but it was clearly disregarded by a preemptive decision. Is leadership ethical when its decision is clearly weighted before the process even begins?

Perhaps those commissioners who claim to be public servants, yet voted for the Stoddard ordinance, written to benefit the oil and gas industry, would want to begin by sacrificing their mineral rights and live within the allowed 750 feet next to the first fracking well?

The public, including the Pueblo’s sovereign governments, deserve a real forum. Citizens demand a thorough process by non-corporate true public servants who will actually do meaningful environmental reviews on water, air quality and infrastructure in response to this amoral request to frack the Rio Grande watershed.

Without clean water, future generations—from pollinators to humans—will not survive. Here in the drought ridden high desert of New Mexico, it’s not even so much the choice between clean water or polluted.

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It is whether we will have water.

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Water is Life

Fracking has come to many of our backyards here in central New Mexico. Rio Rancho and Sandoval County commissioners are getting ready to pass a fracking project without citizen consent. Follow the money. Apparently it speaks louder than the people.

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Time to stand up for our water. Water is irreplaceably precious.

Here in New Mexico, everyone lives downstream from someone else. Our lives are  tied together by a ribbon of life—the Rio Chama watershed— and a series of rivers and aqueducts refueled by snow pack. All are threatened by drought, development, agricultural and industrial run-off and overuse in the land of enchantment. The Rio Grande River runs out of water somewhere in the desert of Southern New Mexico.  It never makes it to Cuidad de Juarez, Mexico. It is an ongoing feud.

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Curiously, those who make the big bucks in the fossil fuel industry and those in office who benefit continue to ignore the lesson that includes them—when the clean water is gone we cannot drink oil.

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Without ordinances that keep these projects out and strictly prohibited, we will be living with the sickness of air, land and water pollution in all of our backyards. Water is heavily used to “clean” and process oil and fracking gas. In a drought ridden state there is precious little water to spare for processing the heavy metals and chemically laced natural gas pumped out of our water tables to the tune of millions of gallons of water.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry, which has been in New Mexico for over half a century or more, continues to swindle the public and pump money into protecting their interests. In the land of endless sunshine, there is a battle brewing for dominance of the energy future. And the citizens want clean energy. Don’t be fooled. Natural gas is NOT clean energy. Solar, wind, geo-thermal, bio-mass and many other forms are the future.

If we learned nothing else from Standing Rock, it was that water is life itself and it is worth standing up and fighting for. I am thankful to all Indigenous brothers and sisters who came together with the Sioux nation to teach us.

Click here and I will share a recent letter I sent to multiple local papers of which a portion of this was picked up by the Albuquerque Journal. Here’s some of the places to send your letters:

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I invite you to flood the media and offices of these commissioners and pass this along to friends and family, neighbors, workplace and organizations. As down -river dwellers our health will be irreversibly impacted by fracking. Ask the Navajo nation in the Four Corners. They live wrapped in a Delaware size cloud of methane from off-gassing by the fracking industry.

Commissioners are located in Rio Rancho at the county seat at 1500 Idalia Road, Building D, Bernalillo, NM 87004 and here is the mailing address: P.O. Box 40 Bernalillo NM 87004 and phone #505-867-7500  Fax# 505-867-7600

This is our moment to stand up for New Mexico water. Your water. Our water.

Water is life. For all living beings.

Mni Wiconi.

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Needed: Young Farmers

Please apply.

Evidently, arable land is shrinking and the average age of farmers is about 57 years old, with 1/4 of farmers over 65. That’s not good news for tomorrow’s food.

The Rio Grande Community Farm is an incubator for new farmers. According to Sean Ludden, Executive Director, this year’s batch in the Las Huertas farm training program were women. We mused about this at the last Albuquerque Community Foundation meeting. Why are women coming in droves to shore up farming—a quickly diminishing vocation? The same holds true for beekeepers. More women than ever in this formerly male dominated field.

Perhaps it is because women are generally the gatekeepers for the well being of their children, the family and community. No surprise that they are being drawn into the profession of tending small plots of land and the husbandry of animals. They want a healthy food system.

We need less industrial farming and a war sized effort of expanding small farm — employing boatloads of people, not one or two old men at the helm of massive farm machinery in air conditioned cabs.

We need less square acreage of animal feedlots, dumping methane and the stench of suffering into the air, and foul waste into the water tables of communities.

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Satellite view of a feedlot

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Cows packed in feedlots for miles in Dalhart, Texas

We must vote with our dollars when it comes to food—avoiding the cost of so much environmental, animal  and community suffering. We need to support small farmers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said this, back when they were not villianized by Washington D.C.:

[The] growing scale and concentration of [Animal feeding operations] has contributed to negative environmental and human health impacts. Pollution associated with AFOs degrades the quality of waters, threatens drinking water sources, and may harm air quality.

My friend Deb is a case in point for the new face of farming. Unexpectedly she, as the daughter of a farmer, was the one who took over the family farm. Not a son. Deb’s facebook posts nourish me. I love visiting her farm via facebook! Her place is full of the beauty and the living experience of real food. Village Acres Farm and Foodshed is all color. Robust health. Organic and life affirming. It is full of animal whisperers.

 Here’s a recent post:

Chandler‘s poor sheep are apparently attention starved!

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Or this:
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Lovely morning spent in my pepper sauna!

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See what I mean? This is what #realfood looks like. And everyone on the planet should have access to this. Not the dead stuff, devoid of vitamins and minerals, grown from depleted GMO saturated, fertilizer and chemical ridden soil whence most food hails.
So, if you know an entrepreneur, itching to get their fingers in the soil, but need support and a piece of land, send them to Sean Ludden at Rio Grande Farms.
They aspire to to launch farmers from college to middle age into a new vocation!
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Real food

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I am putting in a plug for my farmer friend Lorenzo Candelaria, whose land has been in the family for over 300 years. Every day, he and his crew cultivate, tend and harvest beautiful organic food to eat. It is the food that comes to us gratis from bees, soil, sun and water. He offers CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes. Cornelio Candelaria Organico hand delivers to your door. Who does that these days?

Organic1-2Not many people know about his small farm, tucked away in a corner of the South Valley, Albuquerque. Most farmers tend small plots. Lorenzo has 4 acres. Like many farmers,  they produce  massive amounts of food—way more than they can even sell or give away. Mama Earth is like that. Abundant. Productive. Prolific. Especially if you treat her right. If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Lorenzo is a mystic farmer. He has a special connection with the land and understands that our human dependence on mother earth is like an umbilical cord. It is a sacred, nourishing relationship. We humans cannot live without her generosity. Yet, unlike a baby in the womb, Mother Earth requires our mutual care. Under Lorenzo’s tending, Mother Earth flourishes. She is happy. So are my bees that live on his farm!

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Lorenzo and Dora have space for more CSA box customers. Fresh produce to your door every week, or however often you want to receive one.

Sign up for gastronomic delights and joyful foodie journeys, week by week. Call Dora or Lorenzo today 505-382-5447.