Opting Out By Reaching In

Opting Out By Reaching In

Over the last month, we’ve empowered and incorporated a few very important words. These words are “Opt-out” or “Opting Out.” They are powerful, full of intention, and carry both intended and unintended consequences.

Opting out doesn’t imply anything nor is it ambiguous. It is making a statement and a choice. We have to reach within ourselves to find our vulnerable voice, add to it our integrity, and make a promise, vow, or contract. Opting Out is like Opting In. It carries with it a set of actions that are just as intentional and complete.

If you Opt-In to a particular cause, you set your intentions to support that thing you are opting into. If you Opt-Out, you are stating you will not be involved with a cause, program, or contract.

I opted to remove myself from Facebook not too long ago after I was censored for saying something that wasn’t against any community standards or guidelines. I’m still on Instagram, which is owned by FB, but because they haven’t censored me I have remained on that platform. I don’t have a problem with social media platforms as long as they don’t muzzle free speech, especially when nothing was said that was violent, malicious, or against the law. However, when youtube and FB start censoring those who may have alternate opinions on social justice, information on coronaviruses, COVID-19, vaccines, 5G, I have to draw the line.

What does drawing a line look like? We say it all the time, don’t we? “I draw the line at being forced to obey.”

Okay, so now what? How are you going to maintain your rights? Will you protest? March at a rally? We see the unrest happening. Much of it is a distraction used as a bait and switch. Look over here at what’s happening on the streets with violence so you can’t enter the courthouse and state your objections to forced mandated vaccinations. Yes, that’s happening right now as I write this.

Business is being conducted in these courthouses. Laws are being passed while the rubber bullets, police brutality, and naked aggression take place against the very people they have said they would protect. There are these dichotomies of speech happening. For or Against. Black vs White. Muslim vs Christian. Police vs civilians. Yet in very sneaky ways laws are being passed while all this continues.

It seems like I just went on some sort of diatribe, right?

It’s all interconnected. I hear often “the world is waking up.” Are they really? Are they waking up to what is really going on?

Let me tell you something about waking up. Waking up and becoming conscious causes something visceral to occur inside us. It starts a mourning process. A depression that grips the soul and asks, “what else have I allowed to deceive me?”

A deception is a cooperative act. It requires both parties. To be deceived or lied to requires our consent.

Will I consent to being lied to anymore? Nope. We stopped that bullshit last year. We chose not to engage or invest in anyone who would knowingly try to deceive or lie to us in order to get something or to use us. It was the best decision we ever made.

We opted out of being lied to by those we know.

Here is a list of things we’ve opted out of so far. We have only just begun the opt-out process and it will continue for years to come. One side note before I start listing things…We are not extremists. It isn’t a “for or against” scenario when we discuss opting out. One option for us to be able to walk away from weekly shopping is to purchase items in bulk, cutting down on the amount of packaging involved. That might involve ordering a 50 lb sack of rice and other grains for grinding our own gluten-free flours when we need them. This, for us, would be a better outcome in terms of packaging. Purchasing 2 pounds of rice in a plastic bag, 1 pound of gluten-free flour mix, and other things just add to the garbage we’re trying to reduce.

Here are a few of the things so far we’ve Opted out of:

1. Using a washer and dryer or going to the laundromat- Opted out of buying machines and spending money on the electricity and gas to run the machines at home or at the laundromat. We reached inward to realize we could do a better job washing our clothes by hand and line drying them, saving both electricity and gas every week/month. We allowed ourselves to be lied to that we “needed” a washing machine and a dryer to get our clothes clean. We allowed ourselves to be deceived that our clothes wouldn’t be clean if we did it ourselves. We lied to ourselves by stating that we couldn’t physically do it on a regular basis because it’s too hard. We opted out of lying to ourselves about the laundry we do. We now use a laundry bar soap for our laundry which cuts down on the chemicals that would go into our septic system and eventually leach out into our environment.

2. Buying store-bought drinks- We no longer buy anything bottled at the store, with the exception of Simmi’s apple juice. No more soda, mineral water, bottled water, alcohol, and other adult beverages, drinks on the go. We just started doing this on June 7, 2020. We have been preparing to opt-out of all store-bought beverages for about two weeks now. Reaching inward, Dom has been brewing up lots of fermented drinks for us so when we do want to have a beer, wine, or hard cider, it’s available to us. We have collected all the glass bottles for bottling up our own fermented drinks for about two years now. Reaching inward we knew it was time to let go of consuming things that weren’t necessary to our health or lives. In doing so we will be saving even more money, which can be used for purchasing a pressure canner and fruit press. When we have those items, we will be able to make Simmi’s apple juice and can it for later use. When that is complete, we will be fully opted out of buying beverages from stores. We’ve opted-out of lying to ourselves about how much we need mineral water, bubbly water, soda, wine, alcohol, and traveling drinks. We don’t need them, we like having them. Is there anything wrong with them? Not necessarily, but for our lives, in opting out of plastic products means that we are not participating in the making of the supplies that go into making plastic bottles and producing waste for landfills, or involved in the health implications that those who work around these chemicals are exposed to every day. 

In the end, purchasing things in bottles and containers doesn’t move us forward in our own lives. 

3. Eating out at restaurants and other food establishments- We rarely go to any food establishment. If we do, it’s usually Japanese food. We opted out of eating in restaurants 12 years ago after Simmi was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies. We can name the number of times we’ve eaten out over the last 12 years, however we feel we can do even better! Reaching inward we realized we can make Sushi at home and we do a damn good job of it. No need to go to a Japanese restaurant. We have an excellent cookbook we haven’t even used yet! It was gifted to us by our son two years ago. Now is the time to reach for that book and start enjoying Japanese food more than once every 6 months. We opted-out of lying to ourselves about how we deserve to go out to eat and be served by others. 

4. Owning a cell phone, wifi, wireless streaming devices, Bluetooth devices, cordless phones, and anything else that emits microwave radiation. We opted out of wireless technology four years ago and we never looked back. After I discovered I am extremely sensitive to microwave radiation and removed all devices as well as moving to a wilderness area with very little cell signal (cell tower more than 5 miles from our property) we discovered a peace like we never had before. It wasn’t long after we discovered my sensitivity that we observed Simmi was also very sensitive to it. Removing all devices resulted in a miracle…Simmi no longer had violent meltdowns that would last for hours. She was unable to learn, unable to reason, unable to problem-solve, unable to calm down. She was always either laughing and getting into trouble or screaming and physically violent. We thought we were going to need to get her medications for the psychotic episodes she was having. Children are often put on antipsychotics and medication for ADHD if they have frequent violent outbursts, no attention span, and are hyperactive. It only took a month for her to be completely calm and peaceful without any kind of meltdown and that is without the assistance of pharmaceuticals. I am happy to report that we’re now going on our fourth year without a single violent meltdown or meltdown in general. Reaching inward we discovered that we could hardwire our computer to a regular modem. No wifi needed. That’s what we did and continue to do every day. We opted-out of lying to ourselves about how much we needed our cell phones for communication and life. We stopped lying to ourselves about how cool wifi and wireless devices are and how much they enhance our lives. They don’t. They actually do the opposite by damaging DNA and causing autoimmunity, neurological disorders, metabolic syndrome, and even cancer. Beyond opting out for our own personal safety, we are opting out also

Half of the workforce of the artisanal mining sector is comprised of children. Without viable economic alternatives, most children must join their parents in rudimentary mining pits. Children as young as two years transport, wash, and crush minerals to earn half a dollar a day.

because the mining done to extract the rare metals needed for different technology components are causing damage to the earth. The conditions for mining as well as those who are forced to work in inhumane slave conditions is our other reason for opting out. When workers in other countries have netted the bottom of their buildings so that those working can’t commit suicide due to horrific work environments, and when children are forced to work long hours we need to ask ourselves if having wireless technology is helping us or hurting others. There may even come a time when we no longer use any technology and unplug completely. Every time we purchase a cell phone or other wireless device, we are opting into human suffering on an unimaginable scale. 

STORY ABOUT MINES IN THE Democratic Republic of Congo.
Pic by Daniel Pepper [mailto daniel.pepper@gmail.com] SMH NEWS REVIEW 060802

Click here to be taken to an article about Cell Phones becoming the new Blood Diamonds. 

The movement to Opt-Out of cell phone and wireless technology to raise awareness of the conflicts, human rights violations, human trafficking, can be done simply by not participating any longer in the lives being oppressed while mining rare metals for cell phones, the Congo, in India and also in Asia where similar conditions exist. Black Lives Matter not only in America, but also around the world. Let us not oppress others so we can use a cell phone. Make a difference and opt-out.

I’m considering starting a blog series about Opting Out. I want to provide a space for keeping track of what we opt-out of, why we’ve made the choice, and the steps we’re taking along the way. I feel it could be helpful for those who are also considering opting out of the current system. We’re in a system that has enslaved us to consumerism and enslaved others, many at gunpoint around the world so that we can consume these goods without understanding the consequences or the harm that has come to those who are forced to work in inhumane conditions. We are not free and our other human family members are not free either. So, how do we loosen the bonds and free ourselves? It takes time, careful thought and consideration of our needs, our family’s needs, and even the community around us.

They say it takes three weeks to form a habit but it takes two or more months for that habit to become automatic. We’ve given ourselves three weeks for each new Opt-Out. Doing laundry every day or every other day by hand has become a habit. Our next break with consumerism is with prepared snacks. That will involve potato chips, corn chips etc. That’s three weeks from now.

Opting Out by Reaching In is a new concept for me. It’s about reaching into my heart to see what really matters in life. To reach in and find out how the things I might purchase may impact others negatively. Sometimes it feels like being an accomplice to a crime against humanity, and for me, such a burden is too great for me to bear alone.


Building an Alternative Structure

Can you guess what this house is made out of? If you guessed 2 liter soda bottles, you guessed correctly. Is this a magnificent structure or what? Its not even finished and yet I’m so inspired by the possibilities.

These structures can be completely concreted so you would never know it was built from plastic bottles, or you can leave some of the outer bottle exposed and paint it revealing a pretty star pattern. In the photo above you can see the concrete pillars, and all of them are comprised of 1 or 2 liter bottles, depending on their use.

When I first saw a video of how these alternative houses and structures were being built, I said to myself, “HA! There it is, our chicken coops, our master greenhouse, the animal structures, the fermentation house, the casita, and the duck house.

Of course I also imagine that if I can learn to make a coop, cistern and other structures, what’s to stop me from teaching others with substandard housing to build a dream house out of someone’s garbage.

The beauty of filling plastic bottles with dirt from your property is that you can also shove other things in bottle and compact it down. Dirt, plastic baggies, plastic wrap, sticky labels, broken small objects…if it can fit in the hole, it can add to the strength of the bottle. 🙂

So what’s the next step for us? Getting the bottles. We simply don’t have enough bottles to even start a project like this. We can also use glass bottles (which we have in abundance) but the real workhorse will be the 2 liter bottles. We’ll be talking to our neighbors, and for anyone that lives in the Los Lunas or Albuquerque area, if you’d like to give us your bottles, leave a comment and let me know!
Here is a video by the company that came up with the soda bottle design:

Are You Ready for Economic and Social Collapse?

Normally, economic and social unrest sit in the back of my brain throbbing and pulsating like a deep migraine ready to explode.
These days however, the throbbing has moved to the forefront of my brain, creating the perfect storm within me for a rant.

I guess this is a rant of sorts, even though I feel fairly contained and at peace right now.

I have questions, because I guess I want to know if others feel this economic and social unrest?

Do you think our country is in for a major economic collapse? Beyond an economic collapse always follows a social collapse…are you concerned with this as well? Maybe its just a small percentage of us in the U.S. and around the world that are concerned, but I truly want to know what you all think.

How will the economic collapse of the dollar affect you personally? Have you invested in silver and gold as your “backup plan” or is it just a way to diversify your portfolios? What would happen if that gold and silver was confiscated by the government, as can be done in a TIME OF WAR?

What would you do then? My point is that paper money can not feed or care for you and neither can gold and silver. Huh? What was that you say? Well, haven’t you ever heard the expression “money doesn’t grow on trees”?

I’m sure all of you have. What good is gold and silver if there is no food to eat? If you can’t go out and buy it? You’d have to hoard food now for any impending crisis, and for how long do you believe that will last you? It won’t last. It will spoil or rot, unless its canned foods.

Gold and silver can definitely pay to keep the electric on, pay for gas, and other utilities, but for how long? What happens in the event of social collapse and the major infrastructure of your town or city is no longer functioning correctly?

How will silver and gold help that little predicament? It can’t. My point is that silver and gold, while important and valuable is not the end all-be-all for making it through an economic and social breakdown. Anyone that does have a portfolio knows that you never put all your “eggs” in one basket, and the same is true with gold and silver.

So what else can you invest in? Invest in purchasing and planting fruit trees and learn how to grow food in a sustainable way. The investment in all kinds of fruit trees, vegetables, grains, nuts, and livestock will create real food not only for you and your family, but for your community.

It is an actual commodity that others can not live without. Investing in your own fruit trees, nut trees, veggies, grains and livestock also creates an increasing yield each year if managed properly.

I know that when these kinds of questions about surviving come up, the first thing we think of is Y2K. Everyone who believed that our world was going to hell in a hand basket started building bunkers and hoarding food for when the collapse happened…it never did happen. Hoarding food and gold and silver is not the answer.

It just perpetuates the same problems over and over. Why? Because people have not learned how to actually grow good food…to get down upon your knees and plant some seeds. Growing food is not a method of survival…it is a way to thrive regardless of the economy.

It creates a firm foundation in which you can assist others in learning how to thrive as well. Our economy is consumer based and not product based, and in order to begin to reverse this trend, we will need to start getting on our knees and actually produce things of real value.

One seed can produce and produce, year after year, and without getting into the politics of big pharma genetically engineering and patenting seeds NOT to produce, buy organic seeds and watch those seeds perform endlessly.

A $2.50 package of organic seed will provide a yield where you will no longer ever have to buy that kind of seed or fruit or veggie again. $2.50 investment and never have to pay for another zucchini, tomato, watermelon, wheat product, rice, and anything else that can be grown in the ground.

Purchase an organic fruit tree for $25.00 and that tree will bear you fruit each year for that one time investment. $25.00 and never have to pay for another apple, pear, plum, peach or what ever else will grow in your region.

It seems such a small investment, but few do it. How about owning chickens and never having to pay for another egg or poultry product? Some may say “I don’t have enough land” but to that I say, do a little homework and research and you will find out that you can in fact grow a huge amount of food on a very small plot of land.

It also gives you the opportunity to create community gardens. We have just forgotten or haven’t been taught in the first place to grow things. Its either a novelty, or a “lower occupation”, which has been taken advantage of by big corporations.

If it takes a good three years for fruit trees to produce from the time you plant them, why not start now?

Even if there is no economic collapse or social unrest? The least you will be doing is utilizing your hard earned (almost worthless) dollar on something else you may want after planting some real products.

I have a dream which is becoming a reality for me and my family, the dream of thriving and producing something of real value that not only helps to create stability to us, but to our community that surrounds us as well.

One of the things I find repugnant are actions of well meaning people here and abroad that believe that they are the saviors of others by providing goods to developing and/or impoverished nations.

What will happen to them in the event of our own economic and social collapse? Will we actually be traveling to those distant exotic lands to put store bought goods into their bellies, and claim we are helping them?

We can’t help them unless we teach them to grow their own food, show them how to get access to clean water, and when we stop making them think that they should be thankful to us for the handouts. Because you know what?? they won’t be thankful when you don’t come anymore.

They will think they have been abandoned. We will never truly help others until we learn how to put the tools in their hands (and our own!) that will fight poverty.

Learning to grow food and share the surplus. Honestly, in an economic crisis, are you really going to be concerned with the well being of starving people thousands of miles away? I AM! I’m concerned that we have made them dependent on our way of life which, if we open our eyes, is in danger of extinction.

In the end, I believe that those in poverty has been defrauded of what they really need. They need to know how to care for themselves, and instead they have been enslaved by many well meaning people who think candy, bread, pasta and other commodities (even medicines) will help them out of their plight.

How many have gone oversees and taken pictures with these poor people, holding and cuddling their babies? And how many took a picture with these people while working along side them in a field, teaching them how to be self sufficient…not just to survive, but to THRIVE?

They hang around the cities, pour loads and loads of food, clothes and other products into their laps and then leave at the end of the week. Yes I’m ranting about this…well I’m railing on this topic, because when we can NO LONGER provide these kinds of services what will happen? What? Out of sight out of mind?

Will we really even care? Or will we say “I did the best I could, now I have to take care of my family. I can’t afford the trip to that distant land to bring candy and toys to these “poor” children I need to find a way to provide candy and toys for my own.”

I know that some (or a majority) of people will take offense to what I’ve said, but that is the truth, hard and cold. I’m sorry to burst the “good will” bubble and self congratulating attitude of those who think they are doing good, but unfortunately all you have done is create an even longer slow death of these indigenous cultures, who for thousands of years were able to create their own medicines, clothing, goods and services.

We have globalization to thank for that one. It is a slow and painful death which we bring to these people, and in the end, bring upon ourselves if we do not begin to make a change.

Why is the American Dream to own a home, have a couple cars, a couple of kids that go to college, and to keep buying stuff?

Why is that the American Dream? Its more like the American Nightmare, from which we will not be waking up anytime soon.

The American Dream should be about freedom and independence, but we are neither free nor independent. We think we are because we have money in the bank and we have a job.

But as we can see over the last few years, more people are losing their homes, their jobs, even their families. We think “this can’t happen to me”, but it can.

I have had this throbbing ache in the back of my head since the year 2001, and I remember thinking back then how much better it would be if we knew how to grow things, live off the land and live in a new way.

Ten years later, we are on road to making our dream an actual reality. Back then the only talk in circulation happened before the year 2000 with the Y2K event, and I was not worried about that in the least.

My American Dream is to be able to grow fresh fruits and veggies, livestock, honey, grains and to be able to pass this knowledge on to my children and my children’s children.

There is so much information out there on how to grow fruits and veggies naturally without the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Ways of caring for animals that’s simple. How far we have strayed from real knowledge. We go to college to get a degree, but what will that piece of paper do for you if you can’t get a decent job?

Worse yet, what if you already have a great job that pays quite well, but all your bills and mortgage keep you tied to that job and POOF! your job is gone because you are expendable?

What then? How do you feed your family? How do you care for your community? What true worth is there in money? Even gold and silver?

We all need to eat, yet the knowledge to actually produce our own food is quite limited or non existent for the average person. Utilize the internet to learn how to produce real products that will help your family and community.

To summarize my long winded rant, don’t hold on to tightly to that money, gold or silver that you believe will save you or at least get you through.

Unless you own your home outright, it is not an asset, but a liability. If you pay a mortgage, it is a liability until you own it outright. An asset pays you! What are your real assets right now? If the housing market continues to decline as it has, you won’t be able to even sell it and break even.

We are just getting started on our road to freedom and independence, and this spring will begin our investment into an agrarian life.

For those who have a mortgage, start investing fruit trees and other real products onto your land, so that your liability will start to become an asset for you.

Let your land pay you back! It could in the end guard your greatest investment (your house) from foreclosure. If we are not headed for an economic collapse, then you can go into your yard and smile as you pick fresh fruits and vegetables for your family to enjoy before going on that long awaited vacation you’ve been saving a year to go on.

I’m not against buying things, raising the standard of living and enjoying the finer things in life, but just as you “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” when it comes to saving and investing, you have literally put them all in one basket because one crucial element has been neglected…sowing and harvesting of real products.

Here are a few videos that I feel should alarm everyone:

The Gardens Edge

In our quest for finding a homestead location, I’ve begun to reach out to some of the local homesteaders and permaculturalists via the internet. In my search I stumbled upon The Garden’s Edge and I was so moved by what they are doing both here in New Mexico and in Guatemala that I asked Sarah Montgomery, the founding director of The Garden’s Edge if I could feature her organization here. I’ve copied their Mission Statement and About Us here, as well as an article written published in The Albuquerque Journal.  I would encourage everyone to check out their website, see the beautiful work they are doing. If you are inspired, I encourage you all to get involved.

Mission Statement:

Garden’s Edge is a 501 (c)3 non-profit corporation that works in New Mexico and Guatemala to revitalize local culture and economy through projects in sustainable agriculture and environmental education.


The Garden’s Edge was formed in 2007 by a group of farmers and social activists concerned about environmental degradation, global climate change, disappearing small-scale farmlands, and the erosion of indigenous cultural knowledge.

A strong desire to work towards creating a more sustainable future led founding members Sarah Montgomery and Aaron Lemmon to Guatemala in 2003 where they started a project to help indigenous farmers preserve their traditional seeds and agricultural practices.

This project called, PPAS (Proyecto de Producción de Alimentos y Semillas) The Food and Seed Production Project, was initiated as an alternative to the conventional international aid model. Conventional aid projects often create dependency in rural villages by importing technologies, crops, livestock and food aid from the west. This model often contributes to the erosion of indigenous cultures and disappearance of native plant and animal species by placing little or no value on traditional knowledge, crops, seeds and customs.

PPAS’s first focus was on food security and soverngtey in rural villages. Home gardens were planted with native foods and medicines that were well adapted to local environmental conditions and familiar to villagers. PPAS helped bring back many highly nutritious Maya food crops and medicines that were disappearing from the region. Crops such as Amaranth, native corns, beans, and vegetables such as Chipilin, and Macuy (Hierba Mora) are once again abundant in village gardens. They are replacing the introduced western hybrid varieties that require large amounts of agro chemicals and fertilizers to grow. Sustainable food and seed production has helped village families break their dependency on western aid projects and government handouts and has reduced seasonal work migration to large plantations and urban factories.

After addressing the need for better food security, PPAS helped local villagers organize their own independently run farmer and women’s association, called (Qachuu Aloom “Madre Tierra”) The Mother Earth Association. The Association works to improve soils, combat erosion, reforest the area, gather, store and sell native seeds, teach families how to run small businesses, and many other community initiated projects.

The Garden’s Edge has expanded into New Mexico and is working with sustainable agriculture, and environmental education.

An article that was published in the Albuquerque Journal:

Publication:Jnl Final Edition 8/2005-today; Date:Sep 21, 2008; Section:Living; Page Number:E1


Mayans find striking similarities between their agricultural traditions and U.S. Native American ways, and are fighting to keep them alive

By Amanda Schoenberg Journal Staff Writer

The story of how six Mayan farmers ended up sharing farming tips with native communities in New Mexico dips into tragic Guatemalan history, the pitfalls of international aid and the roots of indigenous culture.

Edson Tomás Xiloj Cuin tells part of the story. Xiloj Cuin, the director of the Qachuu Aloom (Mother Earth) Association in Rabinal, Guatemala, is a round man with a wide smile. On a late summer day, he stands at the entrance to Chispas Farm in Albuquerque’s South Valley, where he is winding down a threeweek trip to New Mexico and Arizona with a fundraising event. In a few minutes, he will describe to Albuquerque residents how farming helped revive community life in Rabinal.

Xiloj Cuin relives his trip with relish. This past July, Xiloj Cuin joined the 13th Annual Traditional Agriculture/ Permaculture Design Course, organized by the Traditional Native American Farmers Association, to learn about Pueblo farming. Growing up in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, Xiloj Cuin’s grandparents told him stories they had heard about the commonalities between Mayan traditions and their Native American neighbors in the U.S. Once in the U.S. for the first time, he saw striking similarities in farming and cultural practices that convinced him the stories were true.

“It’s like my grandparents’ stories came to life,” says Xiloj Cuin, in Spanish.

Rebuilding lives

Xiloj Cuin might never have arrived in New Mexico if Sarah Montgomery had not had what she says was a vague plan to use sustainable farming to help women widowed during Guatemala’s civil war. Montgomery, 31, an Albuquerque native who studied sociology and women’s studies at the University of New Mexico, first visited Rabinal in 2000. She wanted to learn Spanish and had met Carlos Chen, a Guatemalan indigenous rights activist from Rabinal, in Albuquerque. But it was a brief visit, and she soon moved to Costa Rica to teach environmental education.

Still, Montgomery couldn’t get Guatemala out of her head. Two years later, she returned to Rabinal, hoping to work with widows. She met with little success until a war survivor named Cristobal Osorio Sanchez knocked on her door. The first thing he said was, “my dream is to preserve the agriculture of our ancestors.” It was kismet.

Osorio Sanchez doesn’t give all the details, but what he does say is scary enough. He survived four massacres by the Guatemalan military in Rio Negro, a village along the Chixoy River, where more than 400 Mayan residents were killed in 1982. Between 1976 and 1983, Guatemala built the Chixoy hydroelectric dam with funding from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Construction began without consulting families who would be displaced by flooding from the project, Osorio Sanchez says.

When they refused to leave, the first group of 73 men and women were killed. Soon after, 177 women and children were massacred at Rio Negro. Osorio Sanchez went to a nearby market and returned to find 16 family members dead, including his mother and pregnant wife. Two other massacres followed. According to the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification, more than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared during the war, 83 percent of them Mayans.

“The war destroyed many of our lives,” Osorio Sanchez says. “We decided to create a community organization that would try to rebuild that.”

Osorio Sanchez, forced to move to the larger town of Rabinal with other displaced Rio Negro residents, encouraged locals to return to traditional Mayan farming practices and refrain from using the fertilizers and pesticides promoted by some aid groups and the government. Practices like planting with the moon cycle and using medicinal plants had been lost in many families, Montgomery says.

Preserving history

The next piece fell into place when a feisty woman named Maria Magdalena Alvarado Ixpata, who now works with Xiloj Cuin’s organization, stopped Montgomery in the street and asked her if she needed help. The two became fast friends. Alvarado Ixpata introduced her to several women’s groups working on human rights issues, who then began attending workshops with Osorio Sanchez.

With Osorio Sanchez, Montgomery started the Proyecto de Producción de Alimentos y Semillas, or the Food and Seed Production Project, which focused on planting home gardens and teaching locals to gather, store and save seeds. The plan was to reduce dependency on imported crops and food aid, and reduce the number of hybrid seed varieties that had already put many native plants in jeopardy.

“The fear is that if biodiversity and cultural knowledge disappear, when those go, so does a whole piece of history,” Montgomery says.

The seed project evolved into Qachuu Aloom (Mother Earth) two years ago, which now includes a livestock, microloan and seed business. With a seven-person staff and $25,000 budget, Qachuu Aloom works with 120 farmers, 80 of them women, in 14 communities. After six years in Guatemala, Montgomery moved back to Albuquerque in January. She founded the nonprofit Garden’s Edge to continue her work in Guatemala by focusing on sustainable farming in New Mexico. Her newest passion is fostering cultural exchanges like the one that brought Mayan farmers here.

“All the knowledge is out there, it’s just making the right connections,” she says. “I feel like that’s my job.”

2 worlds, 1 technique

Before she arrived in New Mexico, Alvarado Ixpata says she envisioned “only hamburgers and pizza. … But we saw another reality,” she says. “It was an amazing and marvelous experience for all of us.”

During the visit, the Guatemalan farmers saw similarities they never imagined between their wet, hilly gardens and southwestern farms. When the group visited the Tesuque Pueblo farm of Clayton Brascoupe, they found corn, beans and squash planted together, a configuration Guatemalan farmers call milpa. Brascoupe, program director for the Native Farmers group (TNAFA), says the plants support each other — beans add nitrogen, corn drains nutrients and squash reduces weeds.

At the Hopi Indian Reservation in northern Arizona, the Guatemalans visited terraced gardens created to conserve water. They were surprised to see crops like chile and onions thriving, according to Leland Dennis, coordinator of the Natwani Coalition, an agricultural component of the nonprofit Hopi Foundation.

Though Arizona is dry, as the Guatemalan group arrived at the reservation, it started pouring.

“It was very inspirational, it felt like they were bringing the rain to us,” Dennis says. “I felt like I was amongst my own people.”

Farm design was just one aspect of the workshop. Sustainable farming can help maintain indigenous culture, says Xiloj Cuin. “We are in agreement about the need to preserve our culture.”

COURTESY SARAH MONTGOMERY During a visit to New Mexico, Silvia Sic Alvarado and Cristobal Osorio Sanchez, from Rabinal, Guatemala, harvest onions at Amyo Farm in Bosque Farms.

GREG SORBER/JOURNAL Albuquerque resident Sarah Montgomery founded the Garden’s Edge to continue her work on sustainable farming.

GREG SORBER/JOURNAL Nan Brinker of Albuquerque and Silvia Sic Alvarado of Rabinal, Guatemala, cook corn tortillas during a fundraiser at Chispas Farm in August.

Silvia Sic Alvarado, who works with the Qachuu Aloom Association in Rabinal, Guatemala, cooks tortillas at Chispas Farm in the South Valley.

A Shift in My Thought Life

Our family has dreams of starting a homestead…that much is clear, but where? Where do we settle down? We found some land out in the Parajito Mesa and we just fell in love with it. There’s a catch though. The property is landlocked! When we called the realtor back to tell her we were interested, she told me this:
“You can purchase the land, but you can’t live on it legally.” Huh? “Why?” I asked. She stated that the Parajito Mesa is a part of a land scam from many years ago, and the developer never mapped out the plots of land correctly or put in the necessary roads. Basically all of the Parajito land is private, and in order for us to purchase a plot of land, we would need to create access. But from where? There are no legal easements and no legal street address. We would have to plow a road right through someone’s property to access ours. Obviously that isn’t a great idea, nor is it good for having a decent relationship with our neighbors.

The Parajito Mesa is home to about 400 families. As I did some research on it, what I found was heartbreaking. It made me actually want to move there despite the fact that it is illegal. Would we put our family at risk by doing that? Nope. So I had to think of a different way. If we were to live out there, we wouldn’t be able to get mail, be able give a legal change of address, update information on drivers license or other important documents and my grand daughter wouldn’t be able to get her much needed Medicaid. So why do I want to be out there so bad? For me, it has to do with three things I see…the disenfranchised, social justice and environmental justice. These three things are huge, and as time goes by, dreams can become diminished and finally replaced with despair. Does it have to be that way though? It seems as though they are forgotten and left out there to just exist or die. I’m unsure why the burden in my heart is so heavy for these families, but it is there none the less. I guess my thought is that the people on Parajito Mesa have an opportunity to make their own homesteads if they wanted. I believe that any family that is willing to make their lives better should have access to the tools and knowledge that would make that life an actual reality.

What can we do? How can we help? I believe that if we were to purchase a house with some land near the Parajito Mesa, we could begin to open up our home to those who would seek something more for their families. As we build our homestead in that region, others who are interested could come along side of us, learning the principles of water harvesting, earthworks and permaculture and bring that back to their own land and begin incorporating those techniques and principles. I don’t have any visions of grandeur, just a simple desire to help those who want help.

Most of the families out there are on ten acres of land each. How much food can grow on ten acres? I say that rhetorically, because even an 1/8 of an acre can be intensely gardened to produce thousands of pounds of food per year. They each have way more than an 1/8 of an acre which makes it possible to grow many different kinds of fruit trees, acres to grow grains, agave, and so many other types of fruits and veggies. Is the lack of water the problem? If they are conventional farmers, yes. But I believe if they begin to understand how earthworks and water harvesting principles work, they will be able to actually cultivate their land, build their soil and create something absolutely stunning. They are worth it, don’t you think?

If there are any permaculturalists in the area looking for a worthy cause to donate your time and talent, you can contact me by filling out the form on my Contact page. I would love to hear from you.

Here is a video I found on youtube about the Parajito Mesa: