Mora – Land, Wool, and Democracy

Mora – Land, Wool, and Democracy

November 17 – 19, 2011

I pulled into Holman, New Mexico, seven miles north of Mora, by mid afternoon to find my hosts Daniel and Rebecca in their vintage late-1800s adobe house with its brilliant scarlet corrugated tin roof and seven acres of fields down along the stream.  Lengthening blue shadows of the mountains covered the north-south running valley in shadow and cold earlier than expected.

My hosts guided me along a grassy lane between their field and the neighbor’s to the low part where we’d pitch the yurt.  A couple of errant horses had invaded the field but occupied themselves feeding on stubble.  The recently mowed hayfield left nothing between the yurt and the onslaught of winds to come.  This trip would be the structure’s first test of strength.

We scurried to unpack and set up before dark. A recalcitrant chimney flue threatened to abort the stove’s inaugural burn. Tired, we retreated to their cozy house for a collaborative meal of ratatouille of eggplants I brought and chard from their garden, glasses of superb Gruet pinot noir from Albuquerque, and Rebecca’s wheat and rye bread made moist with goat milk from her landlady’s ranch that we’d visit the next day.  These folks know good food, having worked as interns on an organic farm and now with their own garden large enough to supply the local market.

We relished our common dedication to wholesome local food, fiber arts, and low-impact living.  I met the couple at the Quivira Coalition’s annual meeting, just weeks before.  The meeting celebrated the New Agrarians and brought mentors together with charismatic young farmers and cowboys from around the country, from rural and urban places.  With Quivira’s help Daniel had served as an apprentice to learn about fiber arts.  He gave an eloquent summary of his experience at the conference, where he described his journey with early art making, through agriculture, and back to fiber arts because of fibers’ blending of animals, land, and aesthetics.  We connected directly about making felt. He showed me wild examples of stones and bars of soap covered in felt, sandals that looked like they could have been worn by Christ, a stool made from a milk crate covered in about three-quarters of an inch of felt, and compelling necklaces of rolled felt he shapes over a drumstick or a skewer which, upon removal, allow for shrinkage. Daniel grew up in Mexico and Chicago, so his aesthetics combine a sense of self-reliance with utility that infuses common objects with playful materials and designs.

European immigrants settled Mora in 1835 (Pearce 1965) with settlers from Las Trampas, Picuris, and Embudo (Noble 1994).  In 1855 St. Vrain arrived and built a stalwart, but today crumbling, stone flour mill just down the street from the wool mill.  Mora was a renowned wheat producer and St. Vrain’s flour made its way to Fort Union and Fort Garland in Colorado. claims 1,390 residents in Mora split among 723 housing units spread out over 77.5 square miles.  87.5% of the population is Hispanic or Latino, in contrast to 12.5% nationally; most speak Spanish at home. A 23% vacancy rate of housing units testifies to greener economic pastures elsewhere. The population has almost three times the national poverty rate and half the per capita income. Then again, owner-occupied housing is more common than nationally, suggesting many live without a mortgage, having inherited land and housing along a chain of ancestors going back several generations.

That first night the wind crashed like big surf, shaking and popping the yurt sharply through three phases of the night beginning with starry blackness, a rising moon, and dawn’s first light.  Alas, the jet stream was parked over Mora for the next two days.  In the dark I could hear a vicious wind approach like a freight train shooting down from the stratosphere and dragging its wagon along the ridges of the valley.  Just enough of its power reached the valley floor to shock me out of a fitful sleep to wonder how long the canvas would hold.  Nonetheless upon daybreak the score was Tempest 0, Yurt 1.

Local Wool Industry

After a quick breakfast I joined Daniel and Rebecca for the 7 mile trip to Mora and Tapetes de Lana weaving center where they weave, spin wool, keep shop, and tutor young knitters.  The center is run by Carla, their landlady, boss, and mentor.  She and her partner Richard live up on the mountain outside of Cleveland, the small town between Holman and Mora.

I spent the morning learning about Tapetes de Lana.  The center has an inviting front gallery with several floor looms, wood burning stove, yarn and fiber supplies, consignment art, and a coffee bar.  Carla was fiber arts director for 18 years at El Ranchos de las Golondrinas historical demonstration site outside of Sante Fe.  Around 2004 she obtained USDA Rural Development funds and other grants to build a wool mill in Mora.  Since then her team has built new buildings and populated them with repurposed industrial milling equipment from failed textile mills around the US.  Imagine a semi-tractor trailer pulling into town with a multi-ton behemoth of iron, gears, and spindles.  The carding machine is so huge they built the building around it.  That giant is one of 15 originally destined for the scrap heap, but now it is the workhorse of the shop.  She has machines for washing, drying, carding, spinning, steaming, and plying strands into yarn. 

The mill can blend wool from various breeds of sheep with alpaca or angora, thereby creating yarns that make aficionados drool at the touch. There is a 40-spool spinning frame that is programmed the Victorian way with gears to produce yarn of desired thickness and twist.  Carla expects to install a worsted mill enabling wool fibers to line up in parallel for exceptionally fine, strong yarns of the sort used to make elegant suits.  The existing woolen mill produces softer yarns from Merino wool.  Spun yarns are dyed and offered for sale in the gallery or woven into rugs of greater value.  Having done some weaving myself, the rug prices seem low given the quality of material and heritage of the Rio Grande style they celebrate and take inspiration from.

A wool industry makes a lot of sense in this mountain economy, where folks with land grow some sheep for meat but find themselves with a pickup truck full of wool after the slaughter.  They bring it to the mill in exchange for a percent returned as spun, dyed yarn to use, sell, or trade.  Nonetheless, skilled labor is needed and scarce.  Machine operators need to be comfortable with gear boxes, mathematical calculations, and savvy about what quality finished products look and feel like.  And they need to be willing to live in a small rural community.

Carla can find surplus textile machinery because textile manufacturing has been outsourced to Asia, where giant mills with dozens of machines handle tons of fiber.  So I asked Carla, “How do you expect to make this relatively small mill work in the face of Asian competition?”  She is clear, “We fill a niche for our medium size customers.” There is a yarn retailer who contracts with Carla to spin custom blended yarns of wool, angora and alpaca.  The popularity of the superior, custom product has resulted in larger orders each time.

Carla’s marketing strategy revolves around the gallery.  Yarn, roving, and finished rugs in the traditional Rio Grande style are found in quantity.  Today Rebecca sold one of her table runners made of lustrous, long-staple Lincolnshire wool while I toured behind the scenes with a large group of fiber enthusiasts who lingered afterwards to buy materials from the gallery.  Some of the yarn is purchased at deep discounts and finds its way to retail outlets throughout New Mexico and the US.

Commerce is a challenge in any rural mountain village.  Yet, Merle Witt, President of the Mora Valley Chamber of Commerce spoke with me about innovation and intention. “I contend…Mora has a kind of a bifurcated economy. There are the families that lived here for many, many years. They have land, maybe not very much income, the local families with histories going back generations. Then there are people like myself, honestly, who, in my case I’m a retired military officer, spent 26 years in the air force, I have a military pension. I know of [many people who] come to Mora, they just want to live in the rural environment, but we have an income. So if there’s going to be economic opportunity like the [Mora Valley] Ranch Supply Store, then the first place to look would be to the people who moved here in the last 10, 15 years… because they probably have the resources. A lot of these people invest as sort of a contribution to the community. Not that they want to give their money away, but they recognize that it’s going to be several years before there’s any payback, even then it’s going to be not very much. But they live in this community and that’s their way of making it better.”

What goes around comes around.  I asked Mr. Witt if there were any other niches that are open for people to come in and set up a new store.  He answered, “We need a department store. Where you can buy basic household good items, clothes, work clothes, kitchen items. We don’t need people selling food. We have that. But the basic day to day items, why can’t we have that here?”  Curiously, they did, back in the day.  As Carla’s partner Richard and I drove by a quaint old abandoned mercantile on the corner of Encinal Road in Cleveland, just up the road from Mora, Richard explained “They had everything” until internal family squabbles tanked the enterprise.

St. Vrain Mill

After lunch of classic bean burritos at the homey Little Alaska café, I wondered off to see the many old adobe buildings around town, eventually coming to the abandoned St.Vrain grain mill, with its rusted water wheel.  In his delicious fictionalized history People of the Valley, Frank Waters makes the mill the site of the never-conjugated marriage between Maria de Valle and aged Don Fulgencio whose deception of Maria’s heart was solely to acquire her land through marriage as part of a scheme to build a reservoir in the valley.  Today the lovingly restored Cleveland Roller Mill is open seasonally for tours and its own festival of quality arts.

Ranch Life

Later in the afternoon, Richard hosted me on his ranch for a horseback tour.  At the gate he jumped out of Daniel’s Jeep and caught his four-year old mare, placing a makeshift halter of bailing twine over her neck and through her mouth like a bit, “Hippie style.”  He grabbed her withers and pulled himself up like a practiced gymnast.  They loped up the hill to one of his tack sheds to saddle her up.  The image of the two charging away up the muddy track gave a sense that a willing horse is appropriate technology.  Grass-fed, carbon neutral, self-regenerating, trainable, powerful.  He rode off to a pasture to gather her brother for me to ride.  At the second tack shed full of dusty trail-worn saddles, a bucket of farrier tools, rain gear, and chaps, Richard pulled out a bridle and bit from his deceased mule which succumbed after being accidentally trapped under a fence.  Seeing that this was no dude ranch, I confessed somewhat sheepishly that although I was raised riding Western style I currently ride English and am unfamiliar with Western tack.  Richard shrugged off the English style by saying, “It is still a saddle.”  He and his father used to guide folks on wilderness pack trips in the Pecos, so he was wise about choosing an appropriate horse for me and helping adjust the stirrups.

He has lived on the ranch his entire life, having inherited the land from his father and built his own house at 16.  He and Carla manage several working horses, a small cattle herd, 40 sheep, over a dozen goats, a handful of capable sheepdogs, and a big family garden with turnips, greens, and other crops.  There is a giant two-story, unfinished and weathered palace of chipboard across the lane from his horse corral.  That project started with an early marriage but lasted about as long.  Now his son, a bright lad with designs on law school, shares Richard’s original house with Carla. With 350 acres, much in conifer forest at 9000 feet, Richard is using state funds to thin the forest to reduce fire risks while opening space for new meadows that will feed his herds.  Fire will spread across ranch boundaries, going or coming, so the thinning project benefits both Richard and his neighbors.  As part of the original Mora Valley land grant he has ample water rights that enable him to divert water here and there as a management tool.  We saw a patch of troublesome oaks that he doomed to die from wet feet, thereby relinquishing space for forage grasses to return.  It was November, with blustery winter conditions and ice forming in the ditches, so I asked, “Why are you irrigating now, when things aren’t growing?” His answer made a lot of sense; he was storing water in the soil for next season rather than having to catch up to high demand during the hot part of the year.  Too cold to evaporate, he could build reserves in the ground where it would be needed next year.  I relished the excitement of riding a horse that was willing to run yet kind enough to listen to my requests to hold back. He voluntarily bounded up steep slopes with the energy a six-cylinder car delivers when climbing a hill with cruise control on.

That evening, Carla prepared a casual feast of ranch-raised beef, turnips from the root cellar, carrots that Daniel dug from the garden that afternoon, and quinoa.  We washed it down with beer and local mead which was reminiscent of sauvignon blanc.  Dinner conversation took us to Richard and Carla’s work with Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools, which in the tradition of naming great institutions such as Stanford University for deceased youth, the Democracy Schools are named for a boy in Pennsylvania who died after exposure to sewage sludge (  The Mora community study group has been learning about citizen-based democracy because of threats to water and air quality posed by oil and gas development.

Richard and Carla have their livestock processed at Mel’s Custom Meat in Romeo, Colorado to earn the USDA stamp for their brand, Los Vallecitos Meats.   The desire for USDA certification means a 264 mile round trip requiring about six hours and close to $50 worth of fuel.  Other options include the Taos County Economic Development Center’s Mobile Matanza (116 miles round trip) or the Ft. Sumner Processing facility (368 miles round trip).  Before leaving, we purchased two pounds of lamb chops for dinner the next day, a dinner subject to a change of plans.

Stress Test

I returned to the yurt around 10:00 that evening, under a clear canopy of the Milky Way and battering winds like those that had beat up the yurt all day long, leaving it a tad distorted in shape.  The new winter cover over the central opening at the top had shifted, thanks in part to the hole created by the thimble for the stove pipe.  Adjustments would require untying some of the ropes.  In the wind it was impossible to untie more than one corner at a time without turning the canvas into a kite, so I opted to leave things a bit askew and hope for the best.  Alas, great slugs of wind kept working their way under or across the opening, creating a Venturi effect that opened gaps down along the base of the canopy, especially around the door frame.  Tense pulling on the cover dragged at its tie-ropes, further shifting the outer tension band which is key to the yurt’s structural integrity.  Circumstances were setting the stage for catastrophic failure.

All night long explosive bursts of wind shook and snapped the canvas while straining the frame.  Suddenly at 5:30 a.m. a blast cracked one of the wooden members, announcing a more urgent situation had arrived.  I set to work packing my belongings for a hasty take-down.  By 6:00 a.m. I was outside, holding down the flapping canvas with one hand and dialing to call Daniel and Rebecca in the hope that they slept with their cell phone on.  I had to consciously lie to myself that I had things under control; otherwise panic would have taken over. Thankfully, Rebecca called me right back and soon both my hosts arrived to take down the structure. Again, the yurt revealed assumptions coded into the architecture itself, that as a family home many hands are available to deal with extreme weather and the more routine jobs of pitching and striking camp.

Now a homeless nomad I was ready to leave after two fitful nights.  Daniel and Rebecca kindly shared half the lamb to take with me, along with a shiny jar of home-made toasted kale crisps seasoned with salt and lemon – a terrestrial seaweed if you will – exotic and nutritious.  A mile down the road I received a call from Rebecca who discovered that I’d left two cherished yurt books behind, so I returned to pick them up.  Sleepily back on the road again I realized that the stash of firewood they had provided for the yurt was still in the back of the van.  Another call and we decided that the wood would be repurposed later, its first gig in my fireplace on Thanksgiving, which left a cherished albeit smoky legacy inside my house as a reminder of the earthy visit to Mora.  Another parcel of the wood will find use baking bread in a traditional horno at the university for our end-of-semester pot luck.

Since returning, Lee, a Native man who heard of the yurt experience, has recommended a blessing ceremony, to protect the yurt and hopefully to heal the trauma.


The DIY yurt community will appreciate several design modifications planned for the future.

1)      Include a traditional woven band, two or so inches wide, to run around the circumference of the roof, taking loops around each roof strut near its bend.  The band will bridge between adjacent struts so that the tie-down ropes from the hoop cover do not load the canvas and create gutters that catch wind.

2)     Insert pins through the mortise and tenon joints of the door frame. The unpinned joints actually opened during the wind storm; most undesirable.

3)      Add 3-4 foot-long triangles to corners of the hoop cover to keep wind from getting underneath.

4)      A 12-inch, drop-down extension is needed for the bottom edge of the canopy to reduce the chance of wind getting under it and opening gaps at the top of the wall.

5)      Modify the exterior hold-down harness to put diagonal bands across the outside of the canopy in the tradition of Turkmen yurts ( especially over the door.

Leeway exists during setup to make the diameter wider, thereby lowering the roof profile by about a foot.  That would reduce the leverage the wind applies to the walls via the roof struts.


Noble, David Grant (1994) “Mora” Pueblos, Villages, Forts & Trails: A Guide to New Mexico’s Past University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, pp. 175-179.

Pearce, T. M. (1965) “Mora” New Mexico place names; a geographical dictionary University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, p. 104.

Felt from the Fibershed

Nomads love felt.  Traditionally felt is made by hand and used to cover the yurt.  It is made into beautiful rugs by Kyrgyz people and finds its way into hats and slippers.  Felt is made by massaging wet wool into matted forms.  Small scales like those on a fish along each wool fiber expand open when wet and heated, then close again, thereby trapping fibers together.  Felt fits the nomadic lifestyle by being lightweight, strong, insulating, renewable, versatile, and beautiful.

My experiments with felt integrate travel, craft, art, and the sharing of ideas into a physical legacy of the experience.  Anthropologists’ treatments of nomadic fiber art seem to miss the memories, connections, and narratives nomads develop while providing objects of comfort and shelter.  By gathering materials in one place, producing in another, and using felt over time, nomads carry knowledge of good sources of materials and of helpful relationships throughout their domain.  Styles and color schemes become parts of tribal identity, symbolic shorthand for who we are, where we live, what we value, what we know.  Fiber art satisfies the requirement to minimize baggage by concentrating art on indispensable clothing and shelter rather than relegating it to additional decorative objects.

In June 2011, I traveled with my class through the New Mexico and Arizona foodsheds.  In Tsaile, Arizona, on the north rim of Canyon de Chelly, we attended the Sheep is Life festival held on the grounds of Diné College.  Seen from above, the striking sacred geometry of the college encompasses a 2000 foot diameter circle with clusters of buildings oriented on the cardinal directions, a motif shared by hogans and yurts.  The public day of the festival included samples of traditional Navajo tea and booths to buy weavings, yarn, and wool. A traditional Navajo weaver held up a vivid blanket and declared, “This came from my corral.” The felt-making workshop struck a chord and soon I was learning how to make simple felt by a wet process involving window screen, dish soap, water, and lots of rubbing.  The potential for making nomadic clothing and decorations was irresistible. For $11 I bought a complete raw fleece smelling of lanolin and containing mysterious bits of barnyard detritus, all fresh off one particular Churro sheep named Daffodil.

Good ideas spread fast.  As Foodshed Nomad, I held a mini-workshop about making felt on my trip to Los Poblanos Inn and Cultural Center in August.  There, I met Binah, master fiber artist who specializes in a dry felting process that requires special needles.  Dry felting may be the savior of wet felting because small glitches can be healed and finishing touches can be put on edges of the fabric with the needle method.

The felt book cover sports the gray color of Daffodil and vivid colors of Churro wool from Tierra Wools in Los Ojos, New Mexico.  The bold palate included dyed roving in golden yellow and orangey red, along with natural chocolate brown.  As a relatively new tribe of one, I wonder how other tribes lodge on particular color schemes and how designs of hats, robes, and rugs are settled upon by the community, ultimately becoming iconic of that group alone.  Contingency plays a role — a finite selection of colors in the local fibershed limits the scope of possibilities.  Once a satisfactory pallet is selected, it may become adopted as the local standard.  Imagine the creative energy of contemporary communities inventing a localized couture.

Following a design in Liz Clay’s creative book Nuno Felt, I made the book cover from four pre-fleeces of solid color that were stacked like pancakes.  I cut out shapes, or plugs, through all layers at once, which enabled plugs to be inserted into the corresponding hole of a differently colored background felt.  The ensemble was carefully wet felted again to lock the plugs into the background.  Upon drying some wools shrank more than others leaving small gaps that I filled in by needle felting.

The cover now protects my journal like a favorite sweater. Judge this book by its cover, a direct outcome of inquiry into the nature of nomadic ecology.  This enfolding of experience, where the chronicle is wrapped in fibers and knowledge met along the journey, is magical where consumerism is not.  In an essay in the 1976 book Radical Agriculture, Wendell Berry tells how agriculture needs ecology as its fundamental science and ecology needs art to express relationships. The Foodshed Nomad’s art depends on relationships that span place, time, and culture.  The underlying ecology ramifies from fleece to flock, to field to landscape and watershed through time – seasons, generations, and centuries.  The cultural aspect of agriculture involves tacit union of the Spaniard’s gift of Churro sheep to the New World, the Navajo lessons of Spider Woman, and the descendant of European immigrants’ active quest for connection to place.  To touch the book cover is to invoke these many dimensions of existence and to validate the beings, human and otherwise, which made it possible.

On Site at Zulu’s Petals Produce in Cañoncito, New Mexico

On site at Zulu’s Petals Produce in Cañoncito, New Mexico

September 23 – 26, 2011 

The fall equinox found the Foodshed Nomad in tiny Cañoncito, New Mexico.  Who would guess that this minuscule outpost is glued together by a barter economy? Labor is traded for rent and jalapeño peppers are traded for a supply of winter meat from a sausage maker.  There is striving to increase interdependence without losing independence. This seeming paradox is the lesson of Cañoncito.

Cañoncito is a vintage landscape of classic Hispanic adobe homesteads strung like beads along the acequia channels.  Old orchards are swallowed up by hedgerow brambles that outline pocket-sized fields of vegetables and flowers for market.  Anglo newcomers, having rejected the information age, come to reconnect with the land and harvest solar energy.  The hills are home to artists galore.  The earthly pace of life makes the sun an adequate timepiece.  Residents seem to cherish the lack of cell phone service.  Here, relationships are nurtured with neighborly acts — gifting a sugar pumpkin from the garden, handing out some chile peppers to guests. More strategic offerings include discounted organic pea and winter rye seeds for cover crops that build soil and friendships both.  In Cañoncito, I uncovered a secret agenda known as the “chess game” to expand organic agriculture parcel by parcel so that the wider landscape could provide organic honey for all.  Lacking a mayor, volunteer community leaders collaborate to attract grant funds from outside this mountain economy and thereby cultivate a richer agrarian landscape.

Cañoncito seems to have begun around 1860, at least that is when the oldest standing house was built, just a stone’s throw west of my yurt site.  Nearby, the Spanish Embudo Land Grant was made in 1725 on land of the Tiwa people of Picuris Pueblo.   The oldest house was occupied for 99 years by a woman who passed away just weeks before.  Families of Martinez, Arellano, and others came to this valley and stayed, passing land, houses, and landraces of chile, squash, corn, and onions from parent to child.   Landraces beat commercial varieties by having more genetic diversity from which new lines can be selected to be sweeter, shorter, more drought tolerant, more disease tolerant, more flavorful, more unique to this place, this climate, these people.  Biting into a juicy local apple from Fred Martinez’s orchard reminds that its wetness is the water that flowed from the mountains, to the Rio Embudo, through the acequia, and up the roots of the 3,800 trees he prunes each winter.  Thus, the bodies of each resident carry water from local food watered by the river, the rain and snow of this valley.  Although you can recognize a landrace chile by the hook at the end of the pod, you might not realize that the genes in each pepper trace back 150 years through generations of Cañoncito’s families.

Wikipedia claims that adjacent Dixon, New Mexico is home to the largest number of organic farmers in the state.  One of them was my gracious and indefatigable host, Loretta Sandoval, who has a background in chemistry, nutrition, horticulture and plant breeding. Her farm is a showcase of organic agricultural experimentation and innovation, both to isolate and preserve traditional varieties such as Hopi amaranth and to foster an appreciation for the agricultural heritage and well-being available to valley farmers she tutors.  With her colleagues M.S. Campbell (farmer, landlord, and holder of a Ph.D. in chemistry), and J. Tucker of Embudo Vines, the team is researching cold-hearty varieties of grapes.  Their field trials show that partnering the vines with beneficial soil fungi increases growth.

Loretta took my student Mike and I on a tour of the acequias, a physical and social binder that promotes independent family food security through interdependence of community water management.  We walked along the acequia ditch network which is the physical manifestation of the acequia association that manages irrigation water for its members.  Acequias in both senses of the word are Arabic innovations introduced to Spain and later brought to the Americas in the late 1500s.  The acequia originates at the pressa, or diversion, that takes water out of the Rio Embudo and transports it along a dirt-bottomed ditch.  At various points, further diversions are made to smaller channels that run along the contour of the slope, above the valley bottom.  At each farm, yet finer diversions controlled by gates empty water onto the land according to a tight schedule that provides each farmer with water on selected dates for a set number of hours.  None of this happens automatically.  Rather, communication between the farmer, the commissioners, and the mayordomo is needed to coordinate the openings and closings of gates along the way.  Sounds simple, until drought makes it more difficult for the downstream users to get their share.

Once the water gets to Loretta’s two-acre farm, she uses a separate system of plastic pipes and valves to move the water around.  She doesn’t have pipes to cover all her needs, so all during irrigation day she connects pipe, irrigates a patch, disconnects, moves the pipe, reconnects, and waters elsewhere until needs are met.  The last few sections of pipe run perpendicular to the tops of rows where the water pours out through little adjustable gates in the pipe, running downhill through the field until the end.  All this requires skill and timing to account for differences in soil texture that affect how fast the water sinks in.  Loretta has won several WSARE grants to pay back her investments in pipes, tanks, and valves.  Here success inspires others.

I reveled in the luxury of my 14-foot diameter yurt.  Satisfaction increases with each day spent, like properly steeping tea.  We pitched  the yurt with the door facing due east so that the rising sun of the fall equinox would come in directly.  Earlier in the summer it rose to the north of east.  Later on the winter solstice it will rise further to the south.  Throughout the day the yurt-as-sundial took on a subtly different glow and shadow pattern than during the August trip to Los Poblanos Inn, when the noon sun was higher in the sky.  At night the clear sky and brilliant stars of the galaxy over Cañoncito testified to the astronomical lessons available to nomads, where the architecture of the yurt blurs the distinction between indoors and out and invites inquiry into the progression of days, seasons, and years.

Visitors formed a steady stream all day Saturday, thanks to Loretta’s promotion via the local list-serve and word of mouth at the Taos market.   Newcomer Marlene was visiting from Denver, exploring a place to live that fit the new chapter of her life.  Little did she know that within 24 hours she would be renting a newly renovated cacita in Cañoncito, attached to the oldest house.  Thus Mary would become Marlene’s landlady, with the prospect of trading labor for rent and joining the ranks of interdependent neighbors. Along with Sandy, a long-term neighbor of the farm, Marlene and I put the solar oven to double duty roasting eggplants from the farm and cooking an easy casserole of lentils, quinoa, onions, peppers, eggplant, cinnamon, and cumin.   With the oven at 275 degrees or so, the cooking went on for a few hours and provided us with a hearty meal before my lecture about the project in the Dixon Community Center.

Here and in central Asia there is a curious asymmetry to the semi-nomadic experience.  Each visit injects the nomad into a local community of people familiar with each other and their environment.  The nomad is an outsider but welcomed visitor.  In Asia, the nomadic tribe moves independently as a unit from place to place, bringing relations, colleagues, and partners along.  But once situated, they become interdependent with sedentary locals who may trade effectively or not, be friendly or not.  Thus, excursions in New Mexico reveal nuances generally ignored in the anthropological literature about Asiatic nomads.  It matters where I setup.  The effort of packing, moving, setting up, and repacking is weighed against the value of the experience to be had.  Some places seem more suitable than others. Over time, nomadic people evolve travel routes that balance many needs with the effort involved, all of it contingent on the receptivity of local sedentary hosts and the availability of water and forage for their livestock.  Thus, nomad ecology is one of independence and interdependence.

The Foodshed Nomad is generally a tribe of one.  On this trip however, one of my graduate students, Mike, a new transplant from Wisconsin, visited as my first overnight guest, forming a temporary tribe of two.  We swapped his guitar to play our favorite songs and held an impromptu competition pitting my beloved old-school SVEA stove (see Tour the Yurt) against his high-tech stove to cook a delicious soup of noodles and re-hydrated mushrooms he imported from Madison.  As an academically oriented tribe, we found the yurt a perfect escape for outlining a research proposal to seek support for Mike’s Masters thesis on optimized foodshed design based on state-space maximum entropy theory.  The science was as nourishing as the soup.

Once the yurt was packed up to go, I made a stop at the renowned farm of Stanley and Rose Mary Crawford. The photo shows his fabled wooden boxes, circa 1950, immortalized in an essay in his book River in Winter.

Foodshed Nomad: Sustainability and Identity Through Local Participation

The Situation

Sustainable development seeks the provisioning of basic needs (i.e., health, food, shelter, and transportation by virtue of water and energy resources) for current and future generations of people and other species (Brundtland Commission 1987).  Sustainable development abides by the triple bottom line: economic vitality, social equity, and environmental protection. The modern consumerist lifestyle has failed to deliver lasting well-being, as indicated by: (1) destitute human populations, (2) rampant food insecurity even in the US and especially New Mexico, (3) the current recession, (4) billions in health care costs entailed in the epidemic of obesity and diabetes attributable to consumption of industrial food (Schlosser 2001), (5) adverse circumstances created by shareholder corporations (Speth 2008), and (6) the extreme concentration of wealth among few (Alperovitz 2005).

In the US, the unsustainable status quo is due largely to the worldview put into practice by descendants of immigrants to the New World from Europe.  Along the way, Western culture abandoned its sense of being indigenous, abiding rather by Bacon’s view of people separate from nature and Descartes’ view of nature as machine. Failure to replace lost indigenous ways perpetuates an economy rife with environmental and social externalities that compromise well-being of people and planet.  Thus, the cultivation of well-being calls for the active and conscious construction of personal, collective, and institutional identities that allow the consumerist model of ownership to be replaced by a model of participatory relationship (Thomas Berry 1988).