ampersand project blog

off-the-grid and interconnected


Climate Adaptation

Yesterday my Arid Land Restoration class was overflowing with students. It was the most I have had attend a class I offer at the Santa Fe Community College. At the beginning of class, I openly delighted at the interest and wondered aloud at why this subject has drawn so many this season. Is it because of the state of the planet? I asked. The response from my class of more than 20 was laughter. I didn’t expect that. Was that just too obvious a question? Listening to the student introductions, I could see that each person cares deeply about the property that they caretake or they want to learn more about the lands of New Mexico. I could see that indeed the Earth is calling us back, collectively. Her people are hearing the call. Each person hears it within her own heart, a desire to know and integrate with the healing of the land.

I have to admit the word Adaptation rubs me the wrong way sometimes. Having been a sustainability educator for so long, the idea that people are more interested in adapting to save their own lives rather than making these changes in order to live appropriately with the Earth and her elements and creatures, can make me feel defeated. But it’s only natural that crisis awakens in us a desire to find new ways.

And there’s another way that adaptation makes sense to me.

The biological definition of adaptation is “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.”

The fact is we human creatures need habitats that allow us to survive and thrive. We have the ability to predict and model the future. This allows us to observe the discord between our way of life and what the planet can continue to provide for us.

March 2020 1

But we are not only biological creatures. We have hearts and souls. We hurt when we hear of the 100 species that are on the edge of extinction from the fires in Australia. We hurt when we learn of the damage we have done to even the deepest ocean environments. It’s too much. When we feel this pain we know that we are not suited to our environment. When we can no longer ignore it, we realize it’s time to change. It’s time to adapt our lifestyles, our ways of thinking and knowing, to the planet we have now.

So adaptation includes that unfolding process from a hunch that our civilization is on a destructive path, to feeling the heartbreak of knowing this, and finally responding by showing up to learn new ways. We can show up to actively care for our planet through building soil and growing plants in our backyards. We can show up by looking at the extractive mentality that we were raised with, and wondering how to shift into a culture of care.


So when I say Climate Adaptation, I mean it in two ways. One is the adaptation our hearts call us to, so that our actions and instincts may reflect our values, to help us be at peace in these unsteady times. The other way refers to our need to meet our needs so that our households and communities can continue to explore living and learning on this beautiful planet.

For 2020, Ampersand offers a workshop series called Climate Adaptation. The events will be offered in May and June. Soon I will announce the schedule on our website, so stay tuned! In the meantime, see the events we have scheduled for March and April.


I hope that there is something that calls to you!

Written by Amanda Bramble

1 Comment

People and Place

One day all our communities will be rooted in a particular place.


We are in an age of extinction, with dozens of species going extinct every day from human impact.

We witness the ecological systems that support life on earth falling apart.

We see the empire grasp for power on the brink of yet another collapse of another hierarchy.

Living lives supported by the last breaths of a dying civilization, we look towards a time when we will all just have each other. By that I mean look out your window. Who is there? Your neighbor, the burrowing rodents, the insects, the coyotes, the juniper trees, the concrete of the sidewalk. At some point, again, these will be our friends, our resources. The people and wildlife and the more quiet, still aspects of our surroundings will comprise the environment that we care about- the only place that we have is the place where we are.

The importing of things from far away will be much more difficult. The movement of people will be greatly reduced, except those moving for survival.

Knowing this, do you wish to wait to learn how to take care of a place? Or will you listen now, listen to the land, the people and animals who know the land and it’s needs to stay healthy.

You have your own values and ways of thinking. They were likely given to you by the dominant culture that has also brought us ecological collapse. All this is inextricably linked. It takes a big, big pause to process the need to change one’s paradigm. It’s takes courage and patience to even see your own paradigm.

Will you wait for the “leaders” to change their paradigm so that they can save life on earth as we know it? What would it look like to change your own paradigm? I mean the kind of shift that results in a belief that humans are not more valuable than other beings. That people with more money are not more important than those with less. That white people are not above all other colors.

Let’s look at human communities. We’ve lost most of the ways we knew how be in healthy groups living together. We’ve been out of practice for generations, and knowledge has been lost. We have not needed to draw on what is outside the window. The fossil fuels that have given the oceans and atmosphere larger and larger doses of carbon also brought us the ability to order from Amazon. They gave us the ability to move across the world from our families but visit every year. They gave us the steady stream of power that we can plug into so that we can meet our social needs through digital devices. It’s been that way for a while. But not really that long. And it won’t be much longer.

There are folks who have been focused on learning how to create healthy human community. Look at Intentional Communities and Temporary Autonomous Zones, Nonviolent Communication and Consensus decision making. Notice indigenous communities focused on preserving and reviving their own cultural traditions. These all point towards trying to live in harmony, trying to build a life where humans support one another. But often these are practices in transient gatherings. Because for those of us with privilege, it’s so easy to move-join other circles, find another crew. It’s so easy to go somewhere else when things are difficult. And we do.

So we can keep doing this until we can’t any more.

Or we can dedicate ourselves to a place. This is the answer to so many things. The Earth needs our attention. The most direct and immediate way to give that attention is to look down at the land you stand on, the hills that surround you. Develop relationship there. Deepen it. Look around for who else is there. Be with those beings who are a part of that place. Even the humans, as awkward as they may be.

I’ve had my feet on this particular ground, my ear to this land around me for a while now. The following is what this place has told me about healthy community:

  1. Acknowledge the land you are on and a part of. Acknowledge the ancestors who lived on that land before. Learn from them. Be humble and try to live in a way that shows you do not value human life above other life, wealthy and white humans above others. Become a part of this land by giving her your sweat, your tears, your blood. Nourish yourself with what the place provides for you. Eat the weeds, heat with the sun, drink the rain.
  2. Reciprocity is essential in relationship with the land and with all other beings. It’s all about giving and receiving. Generosity is part of it. Consent is part of it. Listening is part of that. Learning to listen is a first step and goes hand in hand all along the way into weaving a life of reciprocity with all beings around you
  3. Accountability is key. Follow through to maintain trust in relationships. The accountability should be to your own agreements with yourself, and then naturally the accountability to others will follow. It’s about building trust. When you hold your own integrity as a priority, you remember what you agree to.
  4. Ritual Creates Relationship. Humans everywhere say hello and goodbye. Often this includes a physical interaction like a handshake or hug. Many of us gather our community to honor people for their birthdays. We sing and celebrate by presenting a sweet treat, adorned with small flames. Humans gather to mourn the loss of a loved one. Each relationship is it’s own sacred thing, and needs it’s own moment. There is a lot of room here for creativity as we become people of a place again.
  5. A Dedication to Repair is also imperative as we learn to be in community again. We have a lot of learning to do, with all that colonization has taken from our human cultures. We need the will and the ability to rebuild trust once it has been broken. What will help us repair? Acknowledgment, reciprocity, accountability and ritual. And other things.

If you are already a person who belongs to a place, I consider you one step ahead- leading the way. One step ahead in a civilization that is ten thousand steps behind.

My dream is for all earthlings to become a beautiful faunic community as an interdependent aspect of place. I dream for the Earth to speak through each of us as one of zillions of expressions of life bursting from this moment, reweaving the connections of people and place. I dream for our collective expressions within community to do so as well.

It will take practice.

Written by Amanda Bramble


My Whole Self

I’ve known my purpose as long as I can remember. It is to heal the earth and humanity’s relationship with the Earth. That may seem like a lofty goal. But what it looks like for me is very life-sized. One day it can be a water harvesting perennial bed that processes greywater. Another time it can look like a vision for a tribe of people working to create equitable solutions for thriving along with the land they live on.

How I express my purpose has looked different as my life has unfolded. While I haven’t written a blog post in quite a while, writing has been one way I teach and share my purpose. For the past several months my weekly radio show has been my immediate avenue for expression. And of course I’ve been teaching groups of people in person through classes, hikes and workshops for decades.

As a teacher, and one with a vision for the world, my avenues for expression have been very important. I have things to say. I imagine they might benefit the world, so they must be expressed.

I’ve always felt I am an expression of the healing instinct of the Earth. Speaking and imagining for the Earth has always been my instinct. That pretty much explains me. It’s not always easy to share this particular experience of myself. I’ve noticed a big contrast with what other people’s central motivations are. That’s not a judgment, but an observation. I’m just wired this way. Other people are wired other ways. When we are all obviously of this Earth, completely dependent on the Earth, and owe everything we have to Her, why doesn’t everyone prioritize the health of the Earth in their lives? That is a conundrum I will never understand. That mystery is part of what motivates me.

photo credit: Alicia Fischmeister

In my world, the plants, the sky, the sun, the wildlife- they are all sacred. The more I celebrate their sacredness, the more sacred they become. From this, I know we shape our own experiences of reality. And we have some deep hard wiring.

The place where everything is sacred is the place I like best. Visitors to Ampersand can sense this in the built environment. I hope to honor and merge with this beautiful canyon by adding to the beauty and functional interconnection that is possible for a human habitat.

Sometimes it takes work to create sacred space. I don’t know anything more worth working for. It’s a place where I belong, and where everyone and everything belongs. It’s not all perfect, but in sacred space we are in a perfect process of becoming who we are. Perhaps the Earth is in a (very uncomfortable) process of finding a new state of health and wholeness. I get to be a part of that. We all get to be a part of that. It involves real sadness to look at all the suffering of beings on this planet right now. That reality makes people turn away. Our culture supports this kind of denial. Some people jump into hopelessness, and our culture supports this too. We are urged to be good consumers and keep up with the trends so that we can belong to our human culture. We are just like all the other gregarious creatures. We want to be accepted as part of the pack/flock/tribe.

It’s important to me too. But I want to be a part of a tribe that revolves around the sacredness of the Earth, and all her inhabitants. Even with all the suffering, the amazingness of life on Earth is overwhelming too. How do we create that tribe? Well that’s what I’ve been working towards, starting with myself. I want my lifestyle and my community to be shaped around the sacred places where we live and get to care for.

That’s why I’ve designed Ampersand around harvesting the sun and the rain. Living that way reinforces their sacredness. That’s one entry point to sacred space. Along with restoring the land, building with earth, growing food, composting, and many other practices. I’ve been working that physical environment angle for many years with my teaching.

But there’s another way that might be a more direct path to creating a tribe that revolves around the sacredness of the Earth. That’s ceremony. Ceremony is a tool and form of expression that I have so far kept separate from my more technical teachings. Elements of ceremony have crept into my classes and public events ever so sightly just in the past year. But after this recent visit from James Skeet when he came to teach the Decolonization and ReIndigenization Workshop I realize that ceremony is a part of my job that I can no longer keep private.

Here’s the truth: when I integrate new design elements within Ampersand’s site, I don’t only use the permaculture design that is second nature to me. Or maybe it’s more correct to say that the observation part of my permaculture design goes not only outward, but deeply inward. I know the feeling in my gut when a design element is right. If everything logically lines up, but the inner knowing is not there, it’s not finished.

There’s that guidance from within that must be acknowledged, but there’s something else too. I experience my inner knowing to be a place of connection with the larger world around me. I usually call it the Earth, but many refer to this connection as being with the universe, or with spirit. And my experience shows that it is facilitated with ceremony.

photo credit: Alicia Fischmeister

During dinner the night before his workshop, James spoke of the purpose of ceremony in a very succinct way. He said some things should not be spoken of without the safety of sacred space. That is what ceremony brings. Issues around decolonization can be very sensitive, and colonization itself is what makes us separate parts of ourselves, like logic and intuition. In the workshop someone asked, How do you sense spirit? Joyce, James’s partner offered that everything is spirit. I have to agree. Everything is clearly Earth, and Earth is intelligent and sensitive and sacred. When I am in sacred space, spirit is clearly saturated through everything.

We are conditioned to ignore our own sensations. There are quiet voices within as well as things we see and hear outside of us that we designate to be separate from what else it happening in that moment. Our colonized and conditioned mind tells us that some things don’t matter, that there is no connection between the physical world and our emotions and our spirituality.

In ceremony, everything becomes sacred, everything in that moment is filled with significance. Sacred space can heal these divisions. I know the more I am in ceremony, the more the time in my life between ceremony feels sacred too. It allows me to notice the messages and patterns that weave through my life. Encounters with wildlife become not just photo opportunities, but communion experiences. Losing one’s way on a trail is no longer a silly mistake, but a reflection that invites a deeper engagement with one’s life path.

These are important times! We are the humans on the Earth right now, during this window where we can respond to the climate crisis and this mass extinction event. Or we can be in denial or hopeless, turning away from the task at hand. All hands on deck, my friends! It’s time to offer what you’ve got. Hence, the last workshop in our Social Permaculture series, that I will be offering with Navona Gallegos. James Skeet had a plan to end the Decolonization and Reindigenization workshop with a ceremony to honor our relationships and agreements with the land. Time got away from us and that didn’t happen. But I can see now it’s time to bring my whole self to my teachings and share the teachings of this magical canyon in a deeper way. For the last workshop in this series, Practicing Reindigenization, we will weave a sacred space by being on the land, deepening our relationships, and merging with the patterns of wildness. I can feel the land’s invitation.

Written by Amanda Bramble

By the way, you can email me at to join Ampersand’s newsletter, and access our radio show archives here. Just in case you want to keep in touch with my work in the lengthening spaces between blog posts!


Mushroom Revival

I have to admit, I needed a bit of a revival. I read the New York Times Magazine article by Nathaniel Rich on climate change and it left me deflated. The story is important (called Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change), but it doesn’t offer any reason for hope. It completely convinced me that politics will never address this issue.

My take-away is that we need to identify and follow the leaders who are pointing in the right direction. It’s up to us. And it’s easy to feel surrounded by folks who just don’t care about reducing their contribution to this time of mass extinction on our planet. At this point, making decisions based on environmental impact in one’s life and business is swimming up stream. Our western culture still has the backwards notion that money and status is more important than addressing the most pressing issues for our environment that we live within and that our future generations will inhabit.

So I was sort of wallowing in a depression around the inability of humans to adapt. But the mushrooms can! I’ve just returned from the Telluride Mushroom Festival. What the mushrooms can do is amazing.


Art Goodtimes opening up the Telluride Mushroom Festival

Did you know that mushrooms have been grown over disposable diapers and the plastic waste was reduced by 80%? Fungus can adapt to digest new substrates. They can even break down components of e-waste. Mycoremediation is the use of fungi for breaking down environmental and industrial pollutants. We are talking PCBs, oil spills, and pathogenic organisms. Mushroom mycelium (the underground part) can be bred to attack specific viruses. The potential for medicine for humans, and for earth healing is amazing. Small doses of psilocybin have been shown to dissociate conditioned fear responses. This holds a lot of promise for treating PTSD. Bees can harvest the mycelium that grows through woodchips and duff to increase their resiliency to mites and viruses.


Presentation by Danielle Stevenson (

Perhaps you have heard some of this before. The restorative aspects of fungi began to be revealed to the modern world decades ago. But doesn’t all that sound so promising? Isn’t that just the kind of research that need to be seriously developed?

That New York Times article gave me a new window into the incompetence of politics. Not just right now, but over the last few decades. For those of us who really care about our planet, enough to change our lives and our habits, the atmosphere of apathy, hypocrisy, and inaction is painfully obvious all around us.


We identified these mushrooms that come up in our compost pile as Coprinopsis atramenteria

And that is why I was inspired at the Telluride Mushroom Festival. It wasn’t just the mushrooms, but the mushroom people. The research on the healing properties of fungi is being done! Citizen scientists are taking up this task and sharing their methodology and encouraging others to join their ranks. Why are the mushroom people so advanced with initiating the collaboration that we so desperately need to evolve humanity and heal our planet? Maybe it’s because of the nature of fungi. The mycelium, the roots of the mushrooms, infiltrate everything. They share information and resources between plants to keep different parts of the forest healthy. Our biological role models show us how to share, how to courageously go forward and keep making new connections and alternate pathways.


Amanita gnomes… why not?

I’ve learned that for me it’s imperative to take part in the human communities that gather around these important areas of learning. We must treat our water like the sacred element it is, and gathering with the water people to share methods and experiences is necessary. We must find ways to break our addiction to petroleum fuels for our climate. Here in the Southwest US, harvesting the sun is the low hanging fruit. I enjoy sharing techniques and inspiration with the solar community.  But right now, for me, it’s the camaraderie of the mushroom people who feed my need to keep growing.mush2

The mushroom community is a living and growing web of connection with a heart grounded in the healing of our planet. The ability of the mushrooms to do this work is astounding. That must be what keeps the mushroom people so uplifted and hopeful. Like the mycelium, we seek ways to help and connect. The fungus has shown us that constant adaptation and innovation keeps our environment thriving. If the mushrooms can do all that, it’s easy to be convinced that with their partnership, we can too.IMG_0427Written by Amanda Bramble

Look out for Ampersand’s Mushroom Inspiration event at the end of September where we will share more information from the Telluride Mushroom Festival and network between mushroom cultivators in New Mexico. If you are not on Ampersand’s newsletter list, email me at to learn more.

Or check in at our website:

Finding Our Way



The dedication of holding this place that is Ampersand, is to be actively engaged in being what this world needs. Our planet needs us to use our curiosity and creativity to live in a way that is respectful to our place and intricately linked to our lands and waters.

Those drawn here, hear this call too – in different ways. My job as a steward and teacher is to welcome that instinct and point down hallways and offer tools. I cradle my fingers to provide a step along the route to discovering a healthy humanity. As I discover it too.

We humans tend to be gregarious creatures. We certainly need each other. The economics of that are clear. If we are to wholly connect to a place, to our beautiful Earth, we must embrace the needs and gifts of our hearts and souls. When we see ourselves as part of an ecosystem, there is a niche for each need and each gift. Like water, abundance cycles through space and time. Your gift is needed. Give it. And more challenging, your need is a gift as well. It’s an opportunity for someone else to give. To weave an economy that primarily resides within the realm of our daily circles. We must reclaim the ability to provide for ourselves within the contours of our own landscapes and watersheds. It can begin with friendship.

And not just between people. Making friends with a place. Making friends with the plants and birds and soil. A well-timed quote, a lost button on the sidewalk, the wind’s way of answering questions: these are all the reciprocity of living within an ecosystem.

I enjoy sharing about how to harvest the sun and how to restore the land. But anytime I feel like I’ve got something really important to say lately, it’s about this: taking the risk. Risk scarcity, risk vulnerability – to be humbly present, to be fully connected. To really live as an active expression of your caring and your curiosity. I think that’s an avenue for humanity to find our way.

Written by Amanda Bramble


Blooming in Drought


A flower, she spoke to me. Blooming from a rock crevice.

We’ve only had an inch of rain since the beginning of December. The level in our supply tanks is lowering every day. Since we want to have gardens, guests, and community, this just might have to be a year that we haul it in. It’s been seven hears since we have done that. The last time, we only got four inches the whole year.

It’s ridiculously inexpensive to truck water in. But that’s not the point. When you live off the rain, that relationship of dependence and connection with your environment is precious. Also, with just the rain, we have the best water.073

What the flower said to me is, “Even now, I can bloom.” The brilliant golden petals glow against a bubble of dark sandstone. In these conditions, this ordinary blossom has more power, more influence. I can certainly feel it. And by witnessing this strength, I share in it.

Looking up, I scan the desert hills. They glow a tinge of green. No one can stop the Earth from waking in the Spring. She will use whatever water she has to grow, to clothe the land in tiny blades of grass. We can all be so resourceful. So resilient. To just go ahead and bloom anyway.069

When I open my attention to the news that concerns our lands, the lands and waters of this beautiful continent, I see another kind of drought. An absence of concern from those who have the power to set policy. This absence of care for the health of our lands and waters is paired with a concern for short term gain- for what can translate to money, right now.

Yet the power each of us has to enlist a leadership of care, includes our decisions of who we choose to follow. This land is also filled with creatures who share their messages and wise ways with each other. The coyote, the cottontail, the tarantula, the saltbush, and sage. They are all one. And we are all one. Can we see that? Can we act like it?076

Perhaps we can even bloom in the midst of our drought. And have more power for it.

I kissed the flower and we walked on, to find the place of the tall grasses, where the deer bed down. This is a place made by humans. An earthen dam allows the water to pool and the grasses to create a dense thatch. The vegetation tells us it was constructed long ago. We don’t know more than that, and that the dry hollowed stems pile up to provide a warm mat for the deer to cluster their bodies together on a winter day, sharing warmth in a valley rarely visited by humans anymore.055

On the way back home, Andy and I decide that it’s best to act like this awkward adolescence of humanity can be grown through. Because it’s more fun that way. And to act otherwise would be to prevent it. We dedicate ourselves to blooming despite it all.

Our golden petals glowing against the sandstone cliffs might have their own power.

Written by Amanda Bramble

Check out our Spring Events and Plant Sale at

Leave a comment

The Synchronicity of Service

The first Ampersand apprenticeship is complete! So much has happened in these last six months and the apprenticeship has woven through everything. But there are a couple of things I really need to say.

First of all, Janus Herrera is a great role model for directing one’s own path of self-education.

If you want to learn more about living sustainably and gain more hands-on skills, there are programs out there. Classes, internships, programs you pay for- and with good reason. It takes a lot of time and effort to offer an educational program. I know, of course, because I’ve been doing this at Ampersand for some time.

But there is another valuable item of exchange not to be overlooked. It’s your own attention, dedication, and elbow grease. We would not have offered the apprenticeship at all without Janus’s request to get more involved in Ampersand. She offered her interest and some consistent help. She had already proved her responsibility and dedication during the time she spent in an Ampersand work-trade position during October of 2016, when she lived on site for three weeks. Because I knew she was the kind of person who would honor an agreement, communicate about her needs, and dive into whatever task was scheduled for the day, we created this apprenticeship opportunity. Her ability to pull off an amazing ensemble from the costume box for Halloween was duly noted.

Our main project over the winter was to erect a hoop house and outfit it as a propagation environment. We called it a Greenhouse Apprenticeship, and it culminated with our two Spring Fundraiser Plant Sales.

From November to May, our weekly work days progressed from getting the hoop house up, to making propagation tables, painting water tanks and installing gutters, planting and transplanting, and tending to the plants in the mature greywater greenhouse. We now have three different greenhouse spaces that have different ranges of temperatures and qualities of light. Turns out there is a lot we can learn from it all.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a plant person. After falling in and out of love with farming in my younger years, and settling for a life of rainwater supply, I’m surprised now to re-discover myself as a teacher in the realm of quantity plant production (quality goes without saying). I’ve been overjoyed as well as a bit overwhelmed. And so grateful for Janus’s dependable and intelligent help. Her participation has definitely been crucial to the success we have had with the plant sales.

Meanwhile, on other days of the week Janus was out following her path of self-education wherever it led her. She volunteered at the NM Organic Farming Conference. She attended a Veteran Farmers Project workshop, and volunteered with the Albuquerque Library Seed Savers group. She was also taking a welding course which she now helps instruct. Many Fridays Janus would show up at Ampersand full of information she had learned, wanting to talk about it. We all benefited from this dialogue and outside inspiration.

Janus has already had a career as a process engineer. She quit that job of security and surety of days spent indoors, wanting to be closer to the Earth. She has a drive to be in service, and that guides her life’s path. She needed a bit of free time, but not much money to navigate her own education in a world she discovered full of teachers and learning opportunities. An attitude of service and desire to connect opens many doors. When someone demonstrates a dedication to a project or place, they inevitably reap rewards. Relationship is everything.

Janus expressed her apprenticeship experience as being about relationship as well.

-A Day in the Life of an Ampersand Apprentice-

Four women outside

The greenhouse harvesting smiles

Cultured in a jar.

The haiku poem above was inspired by one of countless memorable experiences at Ampersand in the six months of my Apprenticeship there. On that Friday we worked together, Amanda, Grace, Ren, and I, emptying myceliated grain from Pleurotus Ostreatus into large tubs where the fungus will soon fruit with tender oyster mushrooms. Amanda expertly instructed us to layer the mycelia with growing medium of coffee grounds and recycled cardboard, alternating layers. We laughed riotously, eating chunks of the clumpy, nutritious harvest with our hands. I had watched the thread-like hyphae spread over several weeks inside their delicate ecosystem – a sterile mason jar that Andy had inoculated with liquid spores. Now checking on our progress, Andy invited us up the hill to view the mycelia under a microscope as he captured the images on his laptop. Did someone inform these beautiful people that I have been fascinated by the magical medicine of mycology for years? Adjusting the focus of the image, it appeared as though we were traveling deeper into the microscopic network; it was a complex, three-dimensional web. I was completely entranced. It is a wonderful challenge to try to distill the essence of Ampersand into a few sentences – I hope I have captured a snapshot of the delightful enrichment that Amanda and Andy were so generous to share with me!

The web-like growth of the mycelium in this passage describes the network of relationships that we must grow to create a resilient and regenerative world. The synchronicity that unfolds is not really too mysterious – it emerges from planting one’s care and offering one’s service. Thanks Janus for this reminder and blessings on your next adventure!

Written by Amanda Bramble

PS Look into our work-trade positions and our Volunteer Camp-Out Weekend June 2nd through 4th.

Leave a comment

Spring Fever- How to Choose a Plant


Spring fever really can be a problem.  You go to the nursery and want them all! As I prepare for Ampersand’s Fundraiser Plant Sale on May 6th, I find myself assessing how well I have done with each species.  I’ve really tried my best to plant each seed at the right time and give them the right growing conditions.  Each variety of plant needs it’s own kind of care to be at the perfect stage for transplanting in your garden.  Officially we plan to wait till May 15th to avoid danger of frost, but after having had a late winter storm yesterday and a warm spring day today, I’m wondering if we can get the frost sensitive plants in the garden a bit earlier. Often we can, especially if we are prepared to cover them at night if we get a stray frost.

I’m growing over 40 different varieties of seedlings.   Sadly, I don’t have the garden space to even plant one of each to see it reach maturity, so I’m counting on my babies going to good homes.  This post is dedicated to sharing with you a few important factors that go into seedling selection for your garden, whether you get them from me or someone else.083

The first one is the plant variety.  Gardeners like me get a bit crazy with the seed catalogs in January.  I love befriending new food plants that are native to or grow well in the Southwest US. So I have ended up with some enchanting oddballs like Tarahumara Chia and Desert Huckleberry or Chichiquelites.  When I find an heirloom variety that has been grown for generations within 100 miles or so of my location, I’m all over it.  Which is why I have Santo Domingo Ceremonial Tobacco and Corrales Azafran (used as a dye, a saffron substitute, and for dry flower arrangements). 167

But I know most of you are eyeing my tomatoes and basil. I’m excited to offer seven different varieties of tomatoes, most of them specifically chosen for their ability to grow well in our desert climate and produce fruit before you give up on them. I also offer five varieties of Basil so you will 133never get bored with pesto.   Both of these summer faves need a head start in the greenhouse, so knowing what to look for in a seedling is important.  Many tomatoes need a long growing season so you want to get plants that are ready to produce tomatoes as soon as the soil temperature in your garden allows. If they are grown too close together in the nursery they may get spindly stems to compete for light.  Ideally they will have some experience with wind before you purchase them.  A leggy weak-stemmed tomato plant is a sorry sight being battered in your garden by the Spring winds of New Mexico141.  Look for side shoots emerging from the nodes in the body of your plant. Those will produce a full sturdy plant that will be prepared to produce many flowers early on.  You want a nice squat basil plant as well. Those full top leaves are hypnotizing but remember to look for those little leaves sprouting from the stem to know they are ready to make lots of leaves for your pesto!143

171Now this is not a nice thing to do while you are selecting plants in the nursery (at least not while anyone is looking) but the roots of your plant really should be fully grown through the soil. The soil should hold together when you remove the plant from it’s pot. When it gets put in the garden, the roots will be happy to spread into the surrounding moist soil. A root-bound plant will look all knotted up with roots winding around the shape of the pot. The root mass will need some extra massaging (maybe even a bit of tearing) to loosen the root structure before planting.152

The plants do look really sweet with flowers on them. But keep in mind that the transplanting process can be traumatic. Many gardeners pick off the flowers and buds (even small fruits sometimes) when transplanting to allow the plant to focus on establishing it’s root structure right away. When the plant feels comfortable in it’s new environment it will be ready to fully focus on making the flowers and fruits you so want. We manipulate the lives of our little plant friends so much. It feels good to respect their process and allow them to focus on building a good foundation before expecting so much production out of them.107

While I’ve been growing vegetables and seedlings for 25 years or so, this is my first time utilizing my three current greenhouse spaces to full capacity. I’ve found they have different qualities that complement each other quite well to provide the various habitats I need. 161All spring I’ve had seeds starting in flats that need constant warmth and moisture, newly transplanted seedlings that need at least partial shade, and potted starts that may need different amounts of sun and space. Sometimes I’ll locate smaller plants in warmer places to speed up growth, or bigger plants in cooler places to slow it down. I find myself rearranging the babies nearly every day- within and between the greenhouses.

Sure, I’m showing you all my favorite seedlings. Since you have read this far, I’ll reward you with one of Ampersand’s dirty little secrets. Look at this kal162e plant. Here’s an example of a seedling past it’s prime. It’s got a yellowing leaf and roots hanging out the bottom. It was perfect during the April 2nd plant sale but they didn’t all find new homes. Looks like there is not enough drainage in the tray that is holding the pots and that’s why the roots have started exploring. I would have been happy to have sold them all in April. But I also think there will be gardeners happy to buy them in May. Kale is so resilient, with a little root massage this plant will start producing abundant leaves once you get it in your garden.

Or maybe you would rather plant a more drought tolerant green like Chamisal Quelites Verdes or Purple Mountain Spinach. These readily reseed in your garden (and sometimes even in your driveway) to provide tender greens much of the year.075

I recently showed a nursery expert friend my growing scene. Everywhere is overflowing with plants. When I postulated that in the next years I might be able to match my supply with the needs of local gardeners, she said “Well that would be amazing, because no one else can!” Thanks, that made me feel better. Meanwhile, come get my plants on May 6th outside the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid, New Mexico. 10am to 3pm.

Here’s the full list of plants I’m offering:

Tomato Varieties: Flamenco, Yellow Pear, Marvel Striped, Stupice, Ace 55, Yellow Perfection, Punta Banda
Peppers and Chilies: Early Jalapeno, Padron, Shishito, Anaheim
Tomatillo:  Verde, De Milpa (purple)
Herbs: Tarahumara Chia, Sweet Marjoram, Flat Leaf and Moss Curled Parsley, Epazote, Sorrel, 080Corrales Azafran, Santo Domingo Ceremonial Tobacco, Catnip
Di Cicco Broccoli and Wakefield Early Cabbage and Tohono O’odham Iítoi Bunching Onion

Squash: Chimayo Calabaza, Navajo Cushaw ‘Tail Squash’
Armenian Cucumbers
Greens: Chamisal Quelites Verdes, Purple Mountain Spinach, Red Russian Kale, Chichiquelite (or Garden Huckleberry), Southern Giant Curled Mustard, Tatsoi, Rainbow Chard
Flowers: Cosmos, Calendula, Corrales Azafran, Edible Viola (Johnny-Jump-Up), Shungiku Edible Chrysanthemum
Basil: Lettuce Leaf, Genovese, Sweet Italian, Anise, Lemon

And here’s my latest video showing the greenhouses and many of these plant varieties!

Written by Amanda Bramble


Water is Life

This is true in North Dakota, New Mexico, as well as within our own bodies. We are now getting a close look at oppression, heartlessness and violence against the Native People of these lands. It’s been happening for 500 years, but we have not been able to see it in live video streams like we can now.

Being someone who deeply loves the land, I have searched high and low for land-based knowledge and wisdom. Native cultures have developed this through centuries of relationship. My home ispdc-visit-036 tucked into a slope that mirrors the ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan home from the 12th century. Discovering this has enabled me to see how I am in a continuum of people of all ages and times drawing on the same resources. We plan for the same natural events in order to construct our lives. Below and between our home and the ancestral sister site, two arroyos converge. This is a place where water meets water and the land flattens to absorb it into the earth. This is a place that can grow food when moisture comes in the spring. I have grown corn in this place. I dry farmed it, meaning the corn grew only with the water from the earth and sky. No extra irrigation was used. In the mirror image historic home site, we found a mano; a stone shaped and used for grinding corn. We and the ancient people, we all planted ourselves near this growing niche, but above the floodplain. We overlook our place of water.img_5896

In the desert, water is obvious in the landscape. That’s where the green is. We see beauty there. We are attracted. Water comes to water in arid climates. We (the collective water within all wildness) share the moisture, the coolness, the green that grows from it and the soil that it builds. This is a refuge that grows and shrinks as the seasons change, as climates change. This is a sacred place of water we must protect.

My heart reaches out to the water protectors at Standing Rock. My spirit cries in outrage and despair at the injustice. And my heart is lifted by the courage and dedication that the people display in standing in this place of protection aimg_3305t all costs. And those of us who can not join in on the front lines of this struggle to protect our earth, our waters, our children’s lives, we can instead choose to participate in the many other places where a commitment to the same relatives is needed. These places are numerous.

We need to not only protect our water and land but we need to divest ourimg_2834 lives from the corporate fossil fuel industry, as much as we can. There is much work to do. We can not do it in isolation. And it’s just not wise to wait for our ‘leaders’ to lead the way. It has become more obvious than ever now, we are the leaders. And the paths are numerous.

The solutions are physical and tangible. Physical solutions begin with vision. The vision arises from a place of caring, of dedication, a place of deep connection. Now we must align our lives, our visions, and our physical realities with our place of caring and commitment. Is there any other way?

The three foundational permaculture ethics are: Care for People, Care for the Earth, and Fair Distribution of Surplus. This is not a bad touchstone. It seems so simple and obvious, but when we investigate our lives rooted in a corporate capitalist economic and social structure, we sometimes find our actions are far from the mark. So it takes a discipline and mindfulness to stay true to ourselves and our principles. The attention moves deeper, from North Dakota to our inner attention. We must care for our spirits to be strong. It takes strength to not be distracted in this world.


The Standing Rock Sioux call for support, for winter structures, for bodies, for wood to stay warm and alive as they maintain their role of water protectors through the winter. They also call for prayer. p5aaWith prayer, with intention and discipline, we speak to Spirit. For me a part of this dialogue with That Which Is Greater Than Me To Which I Belong, is physical practice with the elements of life. The home and lifestyle I create is a place of refuge. Water is life here. I track and cherish each collected rain drop just like I would a field of newly sprouted corn plants. If protected, these relatives will nourish my family for the next year, through the next dry spell. This practice of living off rainwater has guided me into a place of deep reverence. My sanctuary includes the green places where water enlivens the img_5715earth and the burrows that keep my family warm through the winter. Most of all my sanctuary is my cultivated place of reverence and gratitude which is where all my work and all my contributions spring from.

Ampersand’s first workshop for 2017 will be Water is Life. It speaks to these intersecting levels of intention, action and embodiment.  We wish to share our place of refuge for the day and offer support for your own path. Recognizing your own sanctuary allows you to be on the front lines in your own life. Honor the Water Protectors by meeting that place of commitment. Let’s come together.  All proceeds will be donated to Standing Rock. Date is yet to be determined. Feel free to contact us if you are interested.


Written by Amanda Bramble

1 Comment

Inspiration- The In Breath

“Did you have a vision for all this when you started?” I get this question a lot when people see Ampersand for the first time. How did we create all these structures and systems in 12 years? The answer has always been that I can only envision a few years ahead, like when this house, this cottage, or this shop will be finished and we can start using the space. My mind is very pragmatic that that can limit what I’m able to dream. But my overactive will and motivation has Ampersand constantly upgrading and adding onto the dreams and visions as the manifestation takes place.

Recently I’ve been experiencing a lull in motivation. I hear some people call this”taking a break.” Along with physical indications of growing older, I have found it both disturbing and refreshing. But Mother Earth models for us seasons of expansion and rest. All of creation breathes in and out in cycles and spirals of growth. I’ve been getting a lesson in breathing in, nourishing myself, and receiving.

Colorado8.16 091_renamed_17246

Breathing in and out. Inspiration and expiration. My latest inspiration has involved gazing upon fields and mountains all day by a stream, finding and eating wild foods from the forest, and discovering the creations of another dreamer who began long before I did.

Colorado8.16 160_renamed_9659

Colorado8.16 165_renamed_22508

Enter Jerome Osentowski and Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute (CRMPI) in Basalt, Co. He led Andy and I on a tour of the permaculture site that he’s been cultivating for 40 years. This place is in a little crook in the mountain that gives him a warmer climate than the surrounding area. And he’s been further tinkering with the climate with his many greenhouses on site. At 8000 feet elevation, Jerome grows papayas and bananas and countless other fruits we grazed on as we walked through the forest gardens inside and out.



My greenhouse home at Arcosanti 1997

Jerome’s site took me back to my time at Arcosanti when I was living in and managing a large experimental greenhouse. Now I realize that I lived with an early incarnation of what has been fully explored at CRMPI, the climate battery. It’s a way of capturing heat from the air at the top of the greenhouse and storing it in the soil of the greenhouse beds with the use of a fan and various sized tubing.

It’s interesting having been created in the 1970s myself. In the DIY low-tech sustainable lifestyle education work I do, I draw on so much that began in the 70’s- having studied with John and Nancy Todd and learned about the New Alchemy Institute, after hearing stories from passive solar inventor Steve Baer and others about the old days in Drop City and the other communes and projects in the Southwest where young scientific brains were exploring how to make the world sane again with energy right from the sun and adobe bricks right from the earth. And having lived at Arcosanti where there was an explosion of interest in creating a new way of living back when it began in 1970. Some of the folks who were part of that time and that surge of exploration have gone back to civilized society. Some have further refined their work and gone on to contribute amazing things toward humanity’s evolution into an integrated life with the ecosystems that surround us.

Jerome with the giant Pasture Puffball mushroom I found in the mountains

Jerome with the giant Pasture Puffball mushroom I found in the mountains

And here we are at Ampersand gleaning the knowledge we can from the past and using the materials and opportunities of the present.  We continue in the spirit of adventure for self-reliance and creating abundance and beauty with what the earth and our community provides, and what can be harvested from the ever present waste-stream. We recently received a donation of a High Tunnel greenhouse kit. That, along with the inspiration of the work of Jerome and others at CRMPI, has given me a whole new percolating vision.

I see an earth-bermed sauna built into the side of this large hoop house, with figs and pomegranates and a whole slew of other edibles cycling through the soil and our bodies. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I’m able to envision many years into the

Jerome's great book and my first design sketches for the latest inspiration

Jerome’s great book and my first design sketches for the latest inspiration

future for Ampersand and my life. I see myself stretching my active and cared for body under a large fig tree in the winter after a long sauna session.

I have a completely different climate and resources than Jerome and CRMPI and my new living environment will develop Ampersand-style, with rain catchment, careful water budgeting and following a natural succession of annuals to perennials, pots to planters. Many thanks to Jerome and others who began this sort of work when I was busy being born. I’m grateful to be a part of and inspired by this creative community who make me feel like I’m just getting started. What a gift!

But First… This weekend we embark upon our natural building extravaganza to erect an entry room and napnest for our earth bermed solar home. Join us! We are still accepting work-trade positions and hosting local folks to volunteer for a weekend or two.

Here’s to all of our dreams! I honor the experimentation of those in past and present, and the cycles that keep us breathing inspiration for our visions of the future.

Onward and beyond words!Colorado8.16 012_renamed_27329

Written by Amanda Bramble

Join us for a Water Systems Walk-Through at Ampersand: October 1st Saturday 3 to 5 with potluck after. It’s our only other organized event at Ampersand this fall.  But I will be presenting at the Master Gardener’s Conference as well as teaching at the Santa Fe Community College in the next few months.