Living ‘Rurally’

Name: Nazca Armentha Warren & Phil Rothwell

Location: La Fragua, New Mexico

Topics: Rural, Valley, Organic, Farming, Community

Quote: “It was hard at first to understand how to live ‘rurally.’ Both of us coming from cities, we have had to do a lot of shedding of our layers and understanding what that looks like.”

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Urban Origins

N: My name is Nazca Warren and I grew up primarily in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I also spent time in Chicago and in Mexico. Las Cruces is definitely my hometown. I’ve lived in El Valle now for about 5 years. We live in La Fragua, which our postal code for the whole valley is Ribera, but this is La Fragua. La Fragua is a name or an antiquated name for a blacksmith. There’s ruins across the river that were there before the town moved after a flood of that part of the river. Now it’s on this side of the river.

P: My name is Phil and I too have been in the valley for the last 5 years. I was born and raised in the Detroit area… and I escaped! To me growing up that’s really an important part of leaving where you are from. It can be really oppressive in the sense that you get boxed into an identity. It’s great for me to be in New Mexico. Definitely a better fit. It’s a lot ‘freer’ out here, and I appreciate it.

When I was in Michigan, I was attending the University of Michigan and I hated it! I bought a motorcycle and just took off! I went south because it was still spring. I ended up living in Austin, Texas for 3 years and then I went to do farm labor and ended up in Santa Fe for 3 years. I met Nazca there. We were looking for affordable and found it here in the valley. I did have a progression when coming here, it wasn’t a real shock. The first time I came to New Mexico I was struck because it was like nowhere else in the country. I don’t think people appreciate that here. Anywhere else in the country outside of New Mexico, everything is the same thing. Strip malls and cookie-cutter-houses. And here it’s totally different. It’s old world. It’s really nice.

N: This is Everett Rothwell [son]. He is 3 and-a-half years old. He also likes to be called, ‘Baby Turtle.’ He was born in the valley, here in our house… in our bed. We had a home-birth and a midwife and a doula. Our midwife is the oldest midwife in Santa Fe. She has a lot of knowledge and it was really great and we are really happy that he is here. We were not expecting him to come so soon, but we are really glad he is part of our lives. He has really made this property better because it was hard to know what the vision was for this place. Especially for me because you are pushing along all this dirt and you don’t know what it looks like. I think Phil and I are both ambitious people, we like to do things ourselves.

That summer when I got pregnant I sort of hit a wall where I didn’t know what I was doing or why [laughter]. After Everett’s birth it was clear that it was for sustainability for my family and to just live a natural life to show him what that’s like growing up. I didn’t experience that growing up.

My mother is Swiss, and so, there’s all these tales of the farming life and her people were farmers, but they had stopped that way of life. It was always so romantic for me. With this little guy, it all came together to show us that it was possible to continue down that path.

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Urban Neighbors to Rural Partners

N: Phil and I were actually neighbors and we started talking. We would have really good conversations and we started going to the Farmer’s Market, and we would take home to make a meal in each other’s apartments. We got to be really good friends and then we realized that we were interested in each other. I thought it was weird to date your neighbor, so I had to move out [laughter]. And actually our relationship got stronger. We would walk across town. I didn’t have a car at that point. We would meet each other halfway and then we would walk to each other’s home and make dinner. It was really important for us. Food was always important from the get go. We moved in together after we became engaged. We had this idea that we really wanted land, and we didn’t really think of a house, we just wanted land. We looked up in Taos, over in Abiquiú, and all around and it just didn’t seem to be a good fit. And then we sort of gave up looking and said, “We don’t need land, we are ok.” And one day I happen to open up the newspaper one day and see an advertisement for this property. Pretty much everything lined up after that to bring us here, so it was really special. We had given up, and here was our dream with a house, which is what we needed with a kid.

It was hard at first to understand how to live “rurally.” Both of us coming from cities, we have had to do a lot of shedding of our layers and understanding what that looks like.

I think we are now just coming to a point where we are starting to be more social and really making these connections with folks like El Valle Women’s Collaborative [EVWC] and the Farmer’s Collaborative. Those things are really essential to rural living. Also, we had to do all this other work on our own on our property to some foundation work so that we can be where we are now. It’s important to go out and be part of the larger community. I don’t know if everybody experiences that, but maybe just the type of people we are, the ambition came first but we also know that we need the community love and support.

P: Nazca has driven a lot of that socialization. I am very introverted. I could do just fine at some mountain top [laughter]. I see the value in it and I am glad she is pushing us in that direction because the community is important.

True self-sufficiency is impossible. We need each other. I need that push to get more community oriented and connected to people. It’s been a learning experience for me. I drag my heels inside, but it’s good that I am learning and growing.

When we were looking for land, I wanted to be with a small community. I wanted to be out of the way, out of the city. But I still wanted to have people around to connect with. I feel like the valley is that. It’s maybe even a little more populated than I think I would consider ideal. If I wanted to talk to people, if I want to have those interactions, I can. I think the experience people have depends on the circles that people are around. I know there’s a lot of drug problems here and I know there’s crime. I don’t associate with any of those people, so it’s never been an issue for me. I hear it being an issue for other people. I think Nazca can tell you about social opportunities, but for me I at least have enough social opportunities as I desire. I have no complaints, it’s great.

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Challenges To Living ‘Rurally’ 

N:

I think commuting is hard to connect with other mothers and children. I know the socialization for him [son] is important.

I think what happens out here is that people want to spend time with each other, but because they have been driving around all week and doing things, they just want to be at home by the time it’s the weekend. I think organizations offer that opportunity to have that. Jobs are also very difficult. When we first moved here I would commute 4 days a week to Santa Fe. Phil wasn’t working for a while, and then he started working in Las Vegas. He ended up finding a job at the restaurant locally, but then it closed. It’s hard. Right now I am only working 2 days a week in Las Vegas at a great daycare. I think that’s hard for a lot of people.

P: When we lived in Santa Fe I was just waiting tables at a regular old bar & grill kind of place and I was able to save $32,000.00 in a year in a half. I put that in savings. And I said to myself, this is going to be a breeze. You pay off the property, you do this or that. Not the case… you got to have a car out here! Man that eats the cash! You got a property and you want to improve it, so all the money I have to spare goes into the property. I went from going zero concerns about money to being pretty tight the whole time we’ve been out here. The economic thing is really an issue. And if you are going to do really good out here, you almost have to be a real entrepreneurial hustler kind of person.

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Women’s Collaborative Building Community

N: I think that the El Valle Women’s Collaborative primarily brings women together, which is important. They are all so talented and bring so much to the community. A lot of us are outsiders, and we are trying to reach out to people at large, not because we want to change what’s here, but we want to be a part of it. We want opportunities for everybody. We want opportunities for ourselves, we want opportunities for our neighbors down the road who have lived here for generations. A lot of the people I have met here commute to Santa Fe and they have done that for 20 years. So if it’s hard for us for about 2 or 3 years, I can only imagine what 20 years worth of commuting is like.

I think the Women’s Collaborative is really special in looking at different ideas of healing, motivating change, and bringing programs here that are necessary. The Farmer’s Cooperative, which came from the Women’s Collaborative, is really beautiful and has the potential. We all live out here rurally and we are all trying to be on our properties. We come together and support each other to be something really special. We want it to be an agricultural venue for all of us. Trying to  bring all the produce together in location. We can each be economically viable while also having that for our neighbors and friends as well.

P: There’s a traditional problem of wanting to have good jobs and economic stability without sacrificing the traditional culture, and I see that the valley has a great opportunity to do that through farming.

There’s such a demand now for organic food, which around here it’s not organic it’s just the way it’s always been done. The fields are all there, most of them are not getting worked, but they could be easily.

Encouraging that type of farming is really great because then you wouldn’t have to commute, you just work in the valley. And you are not spending all of your money on gas and insurance and all kinds of stuff. That can be an economic engine. A traditional sort of economic engine that could really improve everybody’s lives in the valley. I am trying to do my part. I am not a terrible social person, but I see the value in getting involved and being part of this larger process where everybody can get involved.

There’s a real big idea that has been growing in my mind that if we all just focus on improving ourselves and doing our part, we end up benefiting all sorts of people that we may not even be aware of through osmosis. Being right on the highway, the way we are, I really see that. If I am trying to develop our little plot of fruit for my family, all of these people come up to me and they talk about how wonderful and inspiring it is what I am doing with the property. Which was almost at ruins when we got it.

Even in that passive way, community building can be about thinking about what society you want to live in. What would your part in that society be? And then do it!

I see a lot of people who spend a lot of energy protesting and demanding that other people change, and to me it seems like a wasted effort. When you can be out building for yourself the community you want to live in. And if it resonates with people, they will say that it’s great and they want to do it, too. Then they start doing it, and that’s a true grassroots movement there. I know there’s a lot more active things like the Women’s Collaborative is doing, but that’s kind of like my take on it.

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Defining Community

N: I think for me bringing that community means reaching out more. Trying to have conversations with neighbors and people you don’t know. That can be hard sometimes. I don’t know that I do it enough. But what I have done that I see a lot of benefit to it. Friendships are more like family and helpful. Our neighbors down the road, I don’t talk to them that much, but I know one-hundred-percent that I can always go ask them for something if I needed help.

I think I would like to see more of what the Farmers Cooperative is going to be aiming at to work on each other’s properties. My neighbor down the road has his own field, but he’s just one guy out there working hard and he needs help. He has been here for generations and he knows what he is doing in his own style. My style might be different from his of growing vegetables but I would like to learn that style and really respect it. Find the way to help him if he does need help. It’s strange to ask for help or to be given help, but through something like that it’s really wonderful to have somebody who helps.

There’s just an exchange that happens that really grows out of the heart out of this place. Maybe having more community events, more outreach to each other, because I think we all struggle with our lives in our own way. I don’t think we don’t need to be so isolated out here. I know everybody says it, but then we find ourselves there [laughter]. I think recognizing different tactics how we can come together more.

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History At Home

P: Here is the history of the house that I know… starting in La Fragua. The old town was built across the river, and the river was on this side of the fields, and there was a major flood. The old town was destroyed, then the river switched course. Now the town was built on this side of the fields, and the river runs on the other side. This house was built about 110 years ago. It’s really well done in the traditional style. It’s 2 foot thick stone walls with adobe. It’s been lived in constantly that whole time. It’s really interesting to think that this 500 square feet, the original house, so it was really primitive living. This would have been for families of up to 10 people.

It’s really nice to have that connection. When we got it, the lady who owned it before us, had agreed that her tenant in lieu of paying rent would fix up the place and the result of that was that he gutted the house and left. She had gotten remarried and was moving on, and she had a house that was basically a shell. Walls and a roof. And that’s how it was when we got it. The land was undeveloped. The fruit trees she had planted had all died. When we got it, we did everything. Electric, plumbing, plaster floors, cabinets… the whole thing!

N: When we first slept in here, it’s funny to think of that… it was pretty darn ugly [laughter]. It’s still not one-hundred-percent there where we would like it to be, but it just felt really warm.

P: Like a cathedral… almost. To me it did.

N: It did feel bigger. It just felt right to be here. The history of the house is interesting because it was used to make bootleg liquor. There’s a basement down there. We kept thinking we would find a still eventually [laughter]. All we found was a bunch of bottles and dirt.

P: Maybe it wasn’t such a big deal hiding it, but the house is dirt floors, except for the one wood floor they had to put to cover the basement. Somebody had filled it in [laughter]. When I went to re-excavate it and turn it into a storage, it had all been filled in with dirt and it had plaster chips in it. Somebody panicked.

N: How we got to find out about the name of this town, it’s not listed anywhere as you’re driving through. Villages are listed like El Pueblo, Villanueva, and the larger ones that have the landmarks. And this one is not. It felt sad when we were working on this house. We came to work every weekend on the house for about 6 months.

People would just stop by and talk to us. That was really strange at first, coming from the city where people don’t take the time to talk to their neighbors as much. But that’s how we learned all about the history here. And we really had to slow down ourselves to know how to talk to people out here. People would come over and half an hour to an hour later they would leave [laughter].

P: My friend in the valley here, is a man named Bill Madison, and he’s an older guy. The way I met him was that I was over here plastering and he just walked in the back door and started plastering the wall with me [laughter]. He’s a great guy… but that’s just the way it is [laughter].

N: Everyone just wanted to know what we were doing and what we were up to. And then they just told us the history of the house. One day we just went across the river and we saw that there was so many shells of houses. The history doesn’t get told unless you live here and there is not a lot of historical markers, and it’s a shame because there’s all these great stories. Like the church, their windows the way they are, they were literally at war with Natives at the time. Many of the people here claim that they come from the original settlers that came from Spain so they all got land grants. And on our deed to the house it actually has the seal of Queen Isabella of Spain, because the laws of the land grants had not changed that much since then. There are really old families and they have really different outlooks than anywhere else I’ve lived in New Mexico.

Here you see all these different bits of history and it all comes together to form a living history of the valley.

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Building A Future in the Valley

P: Let’s say in 10 years, it would be nice to see a thriving agricultural community here. Most of the people here have land, so it doesn’t have to be that type of the century capitalist sort of thing. It can be more equal. If it was an economic engine of farming here, you could see all sort of problems go away. Our reliance on government assistance that robs people of their sense of dignity. That pride of doing wholesome work, and getting ahead, I think is lacking here now. It’s possible, people are working on it, and in 10 years we can have that. We can be getting over a lot of the drug problems in the valley because people would have good work to apply themselves to. Good work to be building on their own land and building their own future. It can be really great here. Not to be utopian about it.

N: I agree that agriculture can be an outlet for people to find a space for people to really eat healthy food. There’s so much excess that comes even from our own garden that helping other people would be great. And I think that if there is a group of people doing that, then it goes a long way.

I think people in this valley are so closely intertwined with agriculture that even if they are not doing it now, it’s still part of their heritage. You can hear the love in their voices when they talk about it. Somebody told us that this has been the most consistently farmed area in New Mexico.

P: In the country!

N: Because it was so isolated for so long. When the outside world came in, many people went away from their roots to pursue other opportunities. As Phil mentions, sometimes it’s important to leave where you are find to appreciate what you’ve left behind. For a 5 to 10 year plan, the coming together of community and building as all up together. I think people have been loving overall and accepting, and I don’t think they have to be. I know that in other places in New Mexico it is not as easy as an outsider to be part of the community. It’s really my choice if I decide to isolate myself and not join that community because people offer and people are interested in having that exchange. I think having more organizations or more togetherness is lacking. I think having more of that will bring all the things that people want in their own way as well as collective.

I hope for him [son] that he would get a chance to travel. I do think that’s important. I think me teaching him this way of life it’s so different from the way we grew up.

It’s just so important to know where your food comes from and to be a part of nature and to know the land. It’s just so expansive and beautiful here. And that’s why even though I love to travel, I always came back, and I don’t think I will ever leave New Mexico.

There is just so much heart and culture and love here and open space. I think for him [son] to have a good community of friendship and family who love him… a lot of people out here talk, a lot with children, say that the education system is getting progressively better for children’s best interest. And even though there’s a good school out here, they still have to do certain things aligned with the federal government and testing and all of that.

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Everett’s Future in the Valley

I have been inspired by a lot of the families I have met recently who do home school, but I think that homeschooling can be isolating also. I think the push is more towards nature schools and schools where there is community. It is communities of parents getting together and raising their children together. I think I would really like to see that for the valley to have that opportunity to raise our children together. To not have to go that much further for middle school or high school to places like Las Vegas. It’s too far to bus children that way.

P: I feel like we are really in this important page in history where people have really become disempowered in so many ways. We are disempowered to provide our own food. We are disempowered to provide for our own house. Everything is being outsourced to the Monsanto in the food industry to big pharm in the western medical establishment. Our power is in community organizing are being outsourced to government thousands of miles away and I think we are all suffering as a result of that. But there is this resurgence to be the person of the renaissance now means to be able to provide your own food… at least if you have to. To know how to heal yourself from minor illnesses. If you have a car to be able to do basic maintenance. If you have a house to be able to do maintenance on it. To be more or less to be able to be a self-sufficient person. For me to see the whole government dissolve. To see the whole medical establishment breakdown. And to see it have to be more people centered than institution centered. The portal is opening. It has a window and it has an opportunity to walk into this volunteer society that could be another quantum leap forward in human society. I am just super excited and happy to be alive here and now.

N: I think from not having the community to realizing that you need the community and knowing how important it is. This is really a time when we realize we need the connections and that it’s really integral to our lives and our health and our futures. We need the community, and we need it to thrive.

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Potential in Herbalism

Through El Valle Women’s Collaborative, they helped fund me to go to herbalism school and they gave me a grant which is really wonderful. I couldn’t have done it even though it’s only $3,500. That’s a lot for a family who is not working full time with a young child. I am so grateful. It’s called Milagro School of Herbal Medicine in Santa Fe. It’s a 9 month intensive program.

Although I have studied herbs and used them most of my life, it really shifted things for me to really start to have personal relationships with individual plants. To really get to know the plants in my own area and to realize that there is a wealth of healing there that we take for granted often. And I think it just accelerated my knowledge to be in a community of like-minded individuals and to go and meet the plants personally on our field trips and camping trips. Now I am constantly making medicine and it’s amazing.

I think for the valley, along with other beautiful people are doing to heal others and to help them. One of our members went to midwifery school. I know that I couldn’t have been successful being pregnant and giving birth at home if it had not been for the herbs. And I didn’t even know that much, relatively speaking, except for what I knew in books, whenever I was pregnant. They made me feel a lot better and it was amazing.

I think people out here also have a strong link with herbal medicine. A lot of my neighbors have talked to me about the Spanish names for medicines that I know and they can think of a lot of different uses for them. They also notice that poleo is not at the river anymore, there use to be huge strands of it. From a conservative perspective, I think it’s also important to know them, and maybe to reintroduce those medicines to people and offer them. I think a lot of people are on medications and living difficult lives. I think that herbal medicine really has the potential to heal people, if they’re willing. I am really grateful to be able to offer that to my community in the future. Once I learn more myself and keep integrating it to my own life. I can’t share that with people who are willing to learn about it and use the herbs, too.

*Everett plays the harmonica for outro*

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Bonsai says:

    Love your pictures! I am from Michigan too and graduated U of M. What a beautiful family!

    Liked by 1 person

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