Photography ©Gabriella Marks

In Rhythm with the Earth

Following a Simple Philosophy, Dwight And Jenifer Hackett Nurture Gardens, Friendships, and a Sustainable Lifestyle

by Gabriella Marks

February/March 2017

Bundled in a wool cap and bulky down winter coat, Dwight Hackett kneels on the ground behind his Agua Fria home, forming a grid of small impressions in the soil with his fingers. The steady repetitive motion and geometric pattern are reminiscent of a textile design or even a meditative mandala. While winter’s frost is scarcely synonymous with the idea of gardening, it is in fact time to plant the first seeds of the season—and for Dwight Hackett it’s but one of many stages in his annual cycle of gardening.

His main garden is about 30 x 60 feet, plus a small cornfield, an enclosure of beehives his wife Jenifer cultivates, and a collection of young fruit trees taking root in corners of the property. During the peak of the season, the Hacketts source most of their food from the garden. So much so, in fact, that they supply friends on a regular basis as well, a steady harvest that includes chard, spinach, kale, cucumbers, squash, carrots, beets, tomatoes, peas, beans, corn, and honey.

For nearly 45 years, Dwight has performed this ritual in Northern New Mexico, from germination to harvest. It’s a pattern he was born into, growing up on a family farm in the agricultural hub of central California. In addition to the farm’s commercial production, there was always a kitchen garden, which remains to this day on that family homestead; his brother still lives there. And this kitchen garden is really at the heart of Dwight’s gardening practice.

A beehive
Honey is another product of the Hackett garden, where Jenifer cultivates several beehives.
A man rinsing vegetables with a hose
A colorful harvest of vegetables is rinsed off outside before being consumed, put by or shared with friends.

During college, Dwight discovered a passion for documentary photography and subsidized his education with summer work as a soil engineer. After graduation, he arrived in New Mexico to work on the development of Cochiti Dam. And here he stayed. 

Over the following decades, Dwight would move to Nambe, learn the craft of metal casting, first at Nambe Mills, and then in his own foundry. While gardening was a constant in his life throughout that time, it wasn’t until he and Jenifer found their way to their current homestead in historic Agua Fria Village that they returned to the soil in earnest.

The location has a rich agricultural legacy. Whereas Santa Fe proper served as the seat of government and the military stronghold, Agua Fria was pioneered by farmers rather than conquistadors, who raised the food that fed the capital. By sharing their homegrown and homemade bounty with friends, Dwight and Jenifer are contributing in their own way to that legacy.

They also have plenty of advice for budding gardeners. Probably the most important: “Learn to grow what you will eat. Don’t overplant, and plant things you enjoy.” It’s a process they’ve been honing for years. This is as local as it gets; their goal is to feed themselves—if not exclusively then primarily—on what they produce, living seasonally with fresh produce in the summer and fall, then canning, pickling, and freezing to carry them through the winter.

For the Hacketts, gardening has become more than a hobby; it’s central to their lifestyle and philosophy, which is “to live simply, in rhythm with the earth and what’s going on,” Jenifer explains. It’s a lifestyle that is not a driven mission or a strict dogma, but rather the culmination of a series of small choices that create a way of living in the world, “living sunup to sundown, observing ways to mark time, to know where you are in a repeating cycle of seasons”—the weather, the earth, your own. 

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