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While garden grows, lawsuit pursued

Posted: Wednesday, Jul 17th, 2013

Ana Lucas-Pedro, right, helps her mom, Angelica Francisco-Lucas, left, weed their family’s garden plot located in the community garden on the Polston property Saturday. They will celebrate their harvest this fall. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — No reason to worry, Ana, your family will have a harvest this year.

Dan Russell confirmed Monday afternoon the Guatemalan families, whose traditional crops are just starting to flower, are not only allowed to harvest their gardens, but that he never intended to ask they abandon the grounds.

In addition, he said, he has asked Alamosa Ranch manager Alan Simpson to continue working the alfalfa field without change.

Due to the quick land transfer of the property earlier from the Alamosa Board for Education (ABOE) to Russell earlier this month that the Keep Polston Public (KPP) lawsuit could not stop, the community garden’s fate was in question. Although there is now an answer, it is not enough to stop the group from pursuing legal action against the property sale.

“We are in consultation with our legal counsel to really call a time out on this whole process,” said KPP spokesperson Danny Ledonne on Saturday while visiting with the Guatemalans on site. “We understand that we are into the next play on the field, but we are calling a timeout because we believe the last play was illegal... We aren’t going to let that go because someone beat us to the courthouse.”

He was not able to elaborate on the KPP legal intentions, but said the group claims remain the same in addition to the defendants.

“Unfortunately, the (sale) actions that were taken that (first) week (of July), without even disclosing to us that this had transpired, really just means that we are going to further have to entrench Dan Russell in the process, naming him a defendant in the suit,” Ledonne said. “None of us wanted to do that.”

In fact, he said, besides speaking a bit too hastily about the Trust for Public Land (TPL), the national non-profit helping the group bring a Healthy Living Park to the Valley, Russell didn’t do anything wrong.

“He was just doing his best as a private businessman to get the best deal he could on the land,” Ledonne said. “We don’t fault Dan Russell for getting a good deal on the property.”

Russell declined to comment as advised by his legal counsel.

The ABOE isn’t getting off so easy, and they failed to provide the Valley Courier a statement before press time on Tuesday regarding the legal action. KPP, Ledonne said, still firmly believes the ABOE made a decision that does not benefit the Valley’s youth, like Ana Lucas-Pedro, which is their primary concern.

The Ortega Middle School eighth grader comes to the garden at least four time a week for its second growing season to help her mother, Angelica, tend to their space tucked up against the Rio Grande. Together, they pull weeds, allowing their corn, beans, squash and native plants to grow, soon to provide food for a family of seven.

“Some people don’t have enough food at home,” Lucas-Pedro said on Saturday. “You can save more money and it is a skill that we might use in the future. Many Guatemalans have jobs like these.”

Working in the fields, an activity that keeps her body strong, also reminds her that there are different ways she can pass her time like becoming a doctor and finding ways to help people, a trait the Alamosa Mean Moose talk about a lot and is felt outside of the classroom for generations.

“I went to Polston Elementary,” Ledonne said. “I have very specific memories of being here, growing up here. I come back here after college to find that it is an active community garden and I see school children learning how to garden on this property. It has just become such an important pillar of this community.”

Both parties recognize the importance of the land in the community, and have brought some ideas for collaboration to the table with no success.

Russell, for example, has scouted other locations for a Healthy Living Park and has offered to give the topsoil to the garden community when the lot is ready for paving.

KKP, too, has made a few suggests including incorporating 40 RV sites into the Healthy Living Park plan to encourage agritourism.

 “KPP is happy to settle out of court,” Ledonne said. “We don’t want this to be a contest of wills and we are not trying to claim any damages to line anyone’s pocketbook. What we would like to see happen is to have the parties come to the table.”

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