Recently I met Lorenzo Candelaria, an heir to one of 6 original families from Spain who were deeded vast tracts of land in New Mexico. He is part of 300 years of tradition—- land that has been in his family for 7 generations. We connected at the Growers Market in my neighborhood where he was surrounded by young handsome men with long black hair and beautiful smiles, a mixture of family friends and interns who work his farm. Close to seventy years old, Lorenzo usually wears a trademark handkerchief around his neck, a straw hat and overalls. He is small in stature, as a former horse jockey, but what he lacks in height he makes up for with a robust spirit and eyes shining with curiosity and intelligence. We connected over bees and spirituality. He invited me to come and see what he is doing on his family land.
Today I finally took him up on his generous offer. Lorenzo has 4 acres of family land down in the South Valley that he brought back from the brink of decay over 20 years ago. As a middle aged man, he returned to his home from a career as a horse jockey. Beginning in Chicago, he ended up criss-crossing the South and mid-Atlantic states racing horses for which he had a natural affinity and experience. He describes that time in his life as intense. A time of skyrocketing to financial success, but leaving him empty inside. He called the business “corrupt and ugly”. Farming for him was like taking a breath of fresh air after not breathing for a long time. Lorenzo dug up the trash that had accumulated, began to irrigate, nourish the land and plant food. He jokingly said that he is still looking for a tractor that disappeared. It took him 15 years to clean and prepare the land. It was full of Chinese Elm, an invasive species that sucks the land of water and nourishment. Now, after 5 years of production, Lorenzo’s land has more food than he knows what to do with.
He sells food, gives it away to the community, brings young people from schools in to learn about it and to work on the land. He says, “Farming is not a vocation or a hobby, [for me] it’s a passion”. For Lorenzo, this place leaks life giving energy and he radiates the joy and love for the land which he has nurtured back to health. He basically understands this call as a way to serve his community and Mother Earth, whom he talks of reverently and respectfully as a member of his own tribe. There are row upon rows of succulent blackberries, a half acre of asparagus, chili, blue corn, pumpkins,cucumbers, and an outdoor year round kitchen and hoop houses.
What does all this have to do with bees?
As Lorenzo talked about his land and the relationship that he has cultivated with it, I felt the same sense of connection that I have with my bees, welling up in my own heart. He talked of the food he grows as not just edible plants but a living life force which create consciousness as you partake in growing, nurturing and eating their gifts. “Every cell of your body reacts to “real food“, he said, his eyes lit up with delight. Yes. This is what I feel when I eat raw, freshly harvested honey, pollen or propolis from the hive. All of it is living food. All of it has healing properties, untouched by chemicals or human degradation. It is a sacrament from the bee’s gift economy —–given by their very life and hard work.
He talked of the deep spiritual aspect to the food growing tradition of his ancestors. He talked of the spiritual growth that comes from caring for the land. “We don’t own the land, the land owns us.” This flouts the Western European concept of ownership. It reminded me of my own Judeo Christian tradition in the first book of the Torah, Genesis, where we find the cosmology of the ancient Hebrews. The second creation story, chapter 2, calls for Adam (among other things, Adam means dirt being) to “til” and “tend” —-care for the land—-not dominate it. It’s about relationship. Lorenzo lives this. Money is nothing, he states. Our true treasure is food and water. They are everything. Money is an illusion. If the Rio Grand River runs dry, we will learn this lesson quickly.
This brought me to another reason I was there.
Lorenzo and other the South Valley farmers and nonprofit groups have been fighting a massive development in the South Valley, a 38,000 home mega-development by British multinational bank, Barclays. It would turn the sand dunes of the New Mexican desert into a high end village, siphoning off upwards of 12m gallons of water a day in a land where people, land and animals always live on the razor’s edge of drought. As Lorenzo said, it would reduce his water flow drastically, along with other farmers and dwellers along the river. It would create infrastructure for water and utilities that the city of Albuquerque and tax payers like myself would be paying forward. Public welfare, I think they call that. Santolina would abut a valley that is not only rich in history and tradition and land, but also ridden with gang violence, poverty and other societal afflictions. The development would be a travesty.
Lorenzo was featured in the Guardian recently: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/19/barclays-city-new-mexico-desert-santolina-urban-sprawl-albuquerque
After a sham of public forums to invite the communities to speak out—the voices packing the rooms being overwhelmingly against this development—the County commissioners, Art De La Cruz, Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert basically handed over the land. I, along with Lorenzo and many others in the Valley, would like to follow the money.
Water is not only life, it is blood in the veins of New Mexicans. Over the centuries it has proven more than once to be bloody as generations have fought for it’s right.
At the end of our tour, I noted Lorenzo’s beehives at the edge of the farm, empty and cob-webby. At one point, he said he had over 20 hives. “Mmmm, blackberry honey…”, Lorenzo smiled as he remembered. Due to the sickening practices of agri-industry and urban life—-our romance with chemicals for everything from mosquitos to roses to food—–his bees had also become run down with mites, diseases, colony collapse. He gave it up.
Maybe someday again there will be blackberry honey, if I have anything to do with it.