AZTEC — In the seven years they have been active, the members of Sustainable San Juan have seen a lot of change in the area. Their hope for the coming year is to see a lot more.

Close to a dozen of the total three dozen or so members — or "bioneers," they like to call themselves — met at the Aztec Public Library Monday night, as they have each second Monday of every month since forming, bringing homemade guacamole, carrot cake and other treats to share along with the many ideas they have for to make sustainable living better known in the area.

The nonprofit group will hold its annual meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 10 at the library. The meeting is open to the public and will discuss its priorities for the coming year. Among the ideas for growth are to recruit volunteers for sustainable education programs in local schools and the Boys and Girls Club, promote local foods, create environmentally friendly holiday decorations, hold workshops on sustainable quilting, and find alternate methods of garden irrigation.

One of the group's recent successes was the creation of a community garden in Good Samaritan Society — Four Corners Village senior living campus.

"We started the garden in the summer of 2011," said Joann Clifford, co-president of Sustainable San Juan and coordinator for the community garden. "We constructed 30 4-by-12-foot raised beds as an entirely volunteer effort."

The garden has produced some crop successes and failures, but Clifford sees the effort as just the start.


"When we got it going, it was a great sense of achievement," she said. "Now we are hoping to improve how it's irrigated as well as work with the city to do tilling."

SSJ, like so many other green groups whose interests don't always get enough traction in oil-and-gas-dominated areas like San Juan County, actively aim to do two things, said co-president Elisa Bird: educate the community about sustainable living and recruit new members.

"We need to star the revolution today," Bird said. "To go local in every way."

Member Penny Bailey knows a lot about going local, having grown up on a farm in Nebraska helping her parents peel and pit the local crops for canning.

"It's a journey," Bailey said. "The interest is there, which is abundantly clear when I meet and hear from people about what matters most to them."

Bailey, who is working on her credentials as a naturopath, or alternative medicine practitioner, recently installed hoop houses —domed coverings constructed with rebar frames — in the raised beds in her garden to grow herbs and vegetables that would otherwise fare poorly in the extreme New Mexico climate.

"I would like a real greenhouse gathering," she said. "To organize and bring people and local foods together would be amazing."

The key, the group agreed, is to visualize a better world and then build it together through the combination of good planning and coordinated execution.

Member Carol Tooley lives in a sustainable home volunteers from SSJ helped build, including the straw bale roof that covers the house.

Nancy Hamilton, a co-founder of Sustainable San Juan, wants to see the mission of the group transcend just gardens and off-the-grid housing.

"We need to have forums to challenge people," Hamilton said. "To help them live nobler lives, to discover the community resources sustainable living offers, and to not be slaves to $12-hour jobs."

Sustainable San Juan, which has organized film screenings and guest lectures on everything from alternative building construction to vanishing bee populations, actively solicits the ideas and questions from the community, at its monthly meetings and its website.

"Sustainable communities," Bird said, "is the best form of homeland security."

Sustainable San Juan can be reached at 505-334-1840 or online at