Spotlight on Los Alamos: Life is livelier outdoors

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By Roger Snodgrass

The path from the saw palmettos and Lobllolly pines of Florida to the high mountain meadows and Ponderosas of New Mexico is hardly a straight line.

For Branden Williman-Kozimore, program coordinator at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) in Los Alamos, there was a decisive detour into the wilderness of Colorado during her freshman year in college. As a participant in an Outward Bound program, she hiked, scrambled and found herself a long way from civilization.

“We climbed several fourteeners,” she said, referring to some of the 54 peaks in the Colorado Rockies taller than 14,000 feet.

Seriously smitten by the outdoor lifestyle, she decided to enroll at Fort Lewis College, where she majored in sociology.

“Durango, Colo., is very active,” she said, “Most people don’t just sit inside watching TV. They go camping and sleep in tents at weekend music festivals.”

After college, she lived in Santa Ana, the capital of Orange County and one of the poorest and most diverse cities in Southern California – and a long way from the wilderness.

What does a hardcore devotee of the natural world do in the suburbs? Looking around, she saw a community that really needed fresh produce, so she set about creating a farmers market.

It took an effort and some skills to lobby city councilors and get an organization going in what seemed like an unlikely environment. That was in 2005. But more and more people, Williman-Kozimore said, were becoming aware of their carbon footprints and realizing the value of supporting local farmers to save energy and eat healthier.

One thing leads to another. Moving on to graduate school, she took a master’s degree in public administration from San Francisco State University with an emphasis in nonprofit management.

While delving into some of the questions and realizations from the farmers market experience, she also took up another related thread in her portfolio: teaching organic gardening to kids.

When her husband took a postdoc position at the laboratory last year, the couple moved to Jemez Springs, where they are gardening and learning about New Mexico’s historic acequia system.

Last weekend, they prepared a 70-by-20-foot plot for a garden that will be irrigated by the traditional community canal, still regulated by a major domo and shared by the neighborhood.

“I don’t hog water and you don’t hog water,” she said. That’s the way it works and the way it has to work with a seasonal stream with a lot of demand.

“We’re trying to be food sustainable,” she said, adding that with grocery stores located relatively far away, having your own food is a practical matter.

The couple planted new peach and quince trees to go with pears, plums and apples on their property. Next weekend, safely past the mid-May planting date, they’ll put the vegetables in.

“We started our own seeds – more than 250 plants – with grow lights in the garage,” she said. “It’s our first year of having a big garden.”

Interviewed on Monday, she had just returned from a hike with a school group working with Craig Martin, the county open space specialist. Shortly, she’ll teach a course in organic gardening at PEEC. She started Kids Organic Gardening at PEEC last year.

Something about the outdoor life and those trails, they seem to lead to  one great place after another.