Digging deep

Addicts get back to the land in northern New Mexico

  • Katharine Kimball
  • Katharine Kimball
  • Katharine Kimball
  • Matthew Maestas and Robert Espinoza, Hoy farm manager, sell vegetables at the Pojoaque Farmers’ Market, where Audre Gutierrez of Nambe stops to look.

    Katharine Kimball

Page 3

"When I got to Hoy and found out I had to garden, I was like, I don't want to do this again!" Ana said. Growing up in the village of Chimayo, Ana sowed, weeded, irrigated and picked vegetables on the land gardened by her family for generations. "I did this work all my life," the 30-something woman said -- that is, until she got hooked on heroin.

Chimayo is among the villages hardest hit by the heroin crisis. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern New Mexico (famed, ironically, for the "healing dirt" at the Santuario de Chimayo, a Catholic shrine). It's also been the notorious focus of drug-related media coverage. Ana couldn't even count the number of family and friends she has lost to heroin -- too many to recall. She was not the first person from Chimayo to tell me this. The other clients shared similar stories.

Their stories aren't just about losing other people. Andy said he lost all sense of who he was because of his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Sixty-one days into his program, Andy now grew the very food he ate. He was helping to build a temescale, or sweat lodge, on the property. Andy proudly showed me the blisters on his hands. "Energy goes into these hands," he said. "These hands are making something."

The implementation of the pre-Hispanic healing tradition of temescale couldn't come at a more critical time. One of ValueOptions' first decisions was to close Hoy's medically monitored detoxification program. When it opened, it was celebrated as the first program of its kind in northern New Mexico, a huge step forward in the Valley's fight against drug addiction. Its closure was seen as another loss in a drug-weary region, and a harbinger of more losses to come.

Undeterred, Tafoya forged ahead with his plans to incorporate traditional healing into Hoy's services.

"When I first got here, I would pull weeds for one hour and be sore for two days!" Ana said. Now, 36 days into her program, she was looking forward to the hard work of gardening and to eventually tasting her crop of green chile. "It just tastes better when you grow it yourself," she said.

If Tafoya's goal is, as he says, keeping clients so busy that they don't have time to crave, he seems to be succeeding. In addition to the gardens and temescales, there are also chickens and llamas to tend to. Eventually, he imagines orchards and pigs, maybe even buffalo. In the meantime, the clients sell their crops at the weekly Espanola Farmers Market. Jose, a counselor at Hoy, is a recovering heroin addict. He grew up "just down the road," in the village of Los Luceros. "The last thing you expect around here is to see is an addict at a farmer's market! You'll see 'em at a casino or a bar, but a farmer's market, selling vegetables? No way!" But there they were, on a hot Monday afternoon, sitting proudly behind a table exhibiting squash, corn and melons.

Towards the end of my visit, I accompanied Ana to a private meditation garden the women were building. It's not much yet -- just a circular patch of dirt with a yerba buena, or mint bush, at its center. Ana wasn't sure what the future holds for the meditation garden, or for her. She planned to leave the clinic in a couple of weeks, and hoped to go to Hoy's residential recovery program in Espanola. In the sunlight, I saw the track marks that line her strong brown arms. Hoy and its gardening program have helped her in ways she never expected. "I didn't expect I'd be doing this again," she said, gesturing to the land that surrounds Hoy. "I'll keep coming back. I'll volunteer, just so I can keep growing things."

This story was funded by a grant from the McCune Charitable Foundation.

High Country News Classifieds