Radical Homemaking: What Permaculture Looks Like in Jacona, New Mexico

Permaculture experts and radical homemakers Scott and Arina Pittman live a bounteously full life—on their own terms.

| March/April 2014

  • Arina and Scott’s hyperproductive gardens yield everything from cherries and peaches to chard, beets and asparagus.
    Photo by Kirk Gittings
  • In the covered central courtyard, surrounded by building mass on three sides, Arina and Scott grow subtropicals such as bananas, fig trees, cherimoyas, citrus and numerous ornamentals.
    Photo by Kirk Gittings
  • Arina describes her family’s goats as “smart, kind and fun to watch.”
    Photo by Ariana Pittman
  • Arina planted the garden in concentric circles with wide paths throughout.
    Photo by Kirk Gittings
  • Arina and Scott’s goats produce milk and great garden manure.
    Photo by Kirk Gittings
  • A handcrafted outdoor table holds homesteading supplies.
    Photo by Ariana Pittman
  • Scott and Arina raise heritage poultry.
    Photo by Kirk Gittings
  • Sasha swings above a natural irrigation ditch that winds through the yard.
    Photo by Kirk Gittings
  • A hobbyist carpenter, Scott built the kitchen cabinetry himself. A deep sink makes food preservation tasks easier.
    Photo by Kirk Gittings
  • What was once a monoculture grass field is now a diverse chicken pasture where Scott and Arina raise 25 to 35 chickens each year.
    Photo by Ariana Pittman
  • A hybrid strawbale/adobe structure, the house’s walls are plastered with native clays found in the surrounding hills.
    Photo by Kirk Gittings
  • Scott restored a 5-acre swath of native wetlands near his and Arina’s homestead. Formerly overrun with invasive exotic plant species, the site is now home to ducks, geese, hawks, owls, songbirds, herons, egrets, muskrats, snakes, turtles, frogs, salamanders, trout and blue gills.
    Photo by Seth Roffman
  • Native grasses and wildflowers attract and feed pollinators.
    Photo by Kirk Gittings
  • Scott picks one of “an embarrassment” of apples the family grows.
    Photo by Ariana Pittman
  • Prayer flags act as outdoor decor.
    Photo by Kirk Gittings

Arina Pittman’s life moves in circles with the grand repeating rhythm of the seasons. From a satellite photo you can actually see the pattern etched lightly on the earth in her round vegetable garden. Inside those nested wheels of time and tilled land, she lives her life.

With her husband, Scott Pittman, and their 5-year-old son, Sasha, close at hand, Arina intensively gardens an acre or so in the high desert community of Jacona, New Mexico, near Santa Fe. She and Scott produce much of what they eat while maintaining—even improving—the ecological balance of the land.

Calling what they do “gardening” is missing the point. They practice permaculture: a holistic, science-based system for living in harmony with the earth, whether on a farm or in a suburban yard.

Although Scott has taught permaculture worldwide for 30 years, even he will tell you that the Pittmans’ lush, jungle-thick, absurdly bounteous home plot is mostly Arina’s doing. At an elevation of more than 6,000 feet, the place has a strong four-season climate with cold winters and hot, often dry summers. The Pittmans irrigate from a 300-year-old hand-dug canal or, in drought years, a drip system from the well.

“We have a perennial polyculture going,” Arina says, referring to the wide variety of plants that feed the family, along with four goats and nine chickens, and help sustain each other in a living web.

“We’re not trying to be self-sufficient. There are things you do well and things you don’t. We focus on things we do well. We’re really good at onions, tomatoes, producing milk, making honey…”

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