By Allegra Mount, BRLI Fellow
Stacks of pressed plant specimens are piled on the table in front of me, the only space not taken by newsprint and dried foliage occupied by two large volumes of “The Flora of North America”, a brightly lit dissecting scope and a host of small magnifying lenses and tools that look like they belong in a dentist’s office. I pull out a specimen of Quercus that has yet to be IDed and let out a heavy sigh – with around a dozen species in our region that hybridize readily, they are always a particular challenge. The finicky task is made lighter by the scribble on the side of the newsprint in which the leaves are pressed. It’s a scribble that I wrote on one of those hot and humid days in August that I spent crawling through canyons, wading through grassland, and cutting through spiny brush to find the rock structures that were our final destinations. For the past 3 years Natalie R. Wilson of the USGS Western Climate Science Center (Tucson) has taken a lucky research assistant (that’s me) out with her to different restoration sites to collect vegetation monitoring data at restoration projects installed by Borderlands Restoration, Stream Dynamics, and Cuenco Los Ojos.
Each monitoring session involved careful delineation of an axis across the structure, allowing us to recreate almost exactly the orientation and position of a series of plots created using PVC pipe and para-cord. Over multiple monitoring seasons, the change in frequency and density of plant occurences and foliar cover will allow us to ask some questions about the rock structures: what is happening to the vegetative community around the structure? What is happening to annuals and perennials, and to invasive species? So much information can be derived from a simple plot, that while they are beautiful in themselves (see the gallery below), these “nested quadrat” plots therefore took on a sort of elegant simplicity to me.
Most of the land managers whose properties we worked on asked me “What did you find out?” when I came back from monitoring trips, and unfortunately I couldn’t give them an answer beyond general impressions. All of these small pieces of data will come together into a few pieces of paper, densely packed with words describing what we can know when they are all put together. These monitoring trips are the first step in a long process, but unlike other fields that practice science for the sake of science, the analysis rendered from this data will influence on the ground management decisions and future replicable studies.
In this fluorescent lit herbarium on a chilly winter day in Tucson, the lush Monsoon-fed, summer jungles of Madrean grassland and woodlands seem far away, but I know they’re connected by an experimental process that will yield valuable results – and so I return to my Quercus specimens. I’m grateful for the experiences that brought me to this point and for the understanding that all of these small, careful tasks afford us. Thank you to the Borderlands Restoration Leadership Institute Fellowship Program and USGS for affording me these opportunities!
By Kate Tirion, Deep Dirt Farm Institute
In the cool early morning seated on thick wood-mulched paths we gather for “Fog Rise in the Up” − an insider reference to the Chadwick Garden, the nucleus of the farm program embedded within the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, fondly called the “Up Garden.” Dozens of us former and current apprentices, teachers, administrators, neighbors, a community of all colors, all ages, whose creed has food – and not just any food − at its center, gathered for coffee and poetry, for remembrance, gratitude and networking. Ours is a pilgrimage of sorts, a loosely woven, wide-spread community returning to a place that transformed our lives and continues to transform agriculture.
Fog softens the years of those who, five decades ago, dropped out of classes and took up forks and spades, forged in England, beckoned by curiosity at the lone man (Alan Chadwick) who worked a slope devoid of anything resembling topsoil. Further along the main path, a stone wall under construction, holds back the upper two feet of humus-rich topsoil, belying a further two feet or more below. This is a success story on multiple levels. It speaks to us of possibility, of what is real. The 3–acre garden is packed from one living redwood edge to the other. Its diverse collection of annual and perennial food crops, ornamentals, and 120 apple varieties trained in cordoned allées, edged with native tree species, can leave the visitor speechless with wonder.
It was an inspired place then, and for 50 years the USCS Farm and Garden has continued to grow, transforming industrial growers into organic farmers, and inspires thousands to re-engage with their source of food, becoming environmentally aware food-activists. These former apprentices are the pebbles tossed in a pond whose ripples sent waves out into their respective worlds, growing an organic farmer movement from inner cities and across the planet. This morning rapper/poet, David Robles nailed it: “With a bit of love and labor I grow food to feed my neighbor on the same acre where I nurture nature.”
25 years since my apprenticeship at “The Farm,” the significance of global agriculture systems has come into sharp focus: it must shift to an ecological agriculture if we are to continue to thrive, if there is to be sufficient food for humans and nonhumans alike, and to support ecosystems upon which we all depend. The ecological and health costs of our global industrial food system are too high, and the impacts of a shifting climate demand an ecosystem approach to feeding ourselves. And it tastes better!
Growing food is empowering. The beauty and production of the farm is mind blowing, the work there even more so. I am in a break-out session and we sit on benches under the reaching limbs of native oaks dressed in leaves a leathery green. It is cool and the teens in front of us are really cool! These four, two females, two males, gather themselves, sitting quietly and one begins to speak slowly, hesitantly with a deep authenticity that can only come from lived experience. Hesitance shifts to confidence and we are gripped and deeply moved by what we hear. These are stories of transformation, of discovery, of hope and change. This is FOOD WHAT?!, a youth empowerment and food justice program, headquartered at the farm. Listening to heart-rending stories of how these struggling youth and their families have grown strong and resilient through growing, cooking, eating and distributing sustainably raised food; of the impact on their families and neighbors in addressing food justice issues in their communities. These four once living-on-the-edge youth had become leaders, an inspiration to themselves, their families and communities. Now they inspired us.
Around the corner, the non-profit Life Lab, spilling-with- abundance-garden/classroom, invites the curious to learn about earthworms, chickens, food growing, native plants and pollinators. Garden-based science and nutrition curricula at Life Lab supports teachers and student engagement in a dynamic living lab and in the classrooms. A theme of the farm reflected here is integration: Agriculture is not separate from wild nature. Nor are we.
Building food resilience into local communities is ever more urgent. Dependence on far-flung farmers’ crops leaves us vulnerable, as does the exportation of food from hungry landscapes to well-fed ones. In this age of diminishing fossil fuels, we would be wise to look to our own landscapes as much as possible. The soils and elevational micro-climates that support regional cropping diversity can also support enhanced wildlife habitat, watershed to watershed.
As we work toward un-fogging our food cultivating instincts, it is good to heed a voice of wisdom. Steve Gleisman, Director at the Center during my apprenticeship, has this to say:
“Ecology has always been the foundation of agroecology. We hope to encourage more ecologists to engage in ecological research that can impact food system change. Their expertise in the science of ecology can show how an ecological understanding of the design and management of food systems can help us take major steps toward sustainability.”
Restoration as an Embodied Arts Practice: a Collaboration with the University of New Mexico's Land Arts of the American West Program.
Land Arts of the American West, at the University of New Mexico, is an ongoing experiment and interdisciplinary model for creative and critical arts pedagogy based in place. This program puts students in direct contact with place of the American Southwest through Field Investigations, Research, Creative Production, and Public Presentation/Dissemination. During the program, students travel extensively throughout the Southwest for up to 50 days, while camping and investigating environmental sites, human habitation systems, and questions facing the region. Methodologies include the melding of direct experience, critical research, creative inquiry, interdisciplinary collaboration, and artistic production. Recent topics of investigations have focused on Watershed, US/Mexico Border, Foodshed, Utopian Architecture, Land Use, Eminent Domain, Resource Extraction and Rights of Nature.
In October 2017, Land Arts students will visit Patagonia, AZ for one week to consider Rights of Nature in the U.S./Mexico borderlands. Students will collaborate with Borderlands Restoration to investigate the various forces of movement that have a hand in shaping both the physical and cultural landscapes of this unique region- from hydrology and population fluctuations, to migrations of flora and fauna, and other human activities that impact land (i.e. extractive industries or the increased presence of Border Patrol). The group will examine how humans inevitably have a hand in impacting these natural movements, such as altering geomorphology or causing loss of habitat through building projects, and will inquire about ways to intentionally make this impact restorative rather than degenerative. Finally, students will investigate the role
of land stewardship work as a means of giving visibility and voice to life which cannot demand its rights in a language intelligible to humans. Active engagement in a collaborative habitat and watershed restoration project will provide an embodied experience of the landscape and experimentation with ecological restoration as a form of site specific art.
Photos by: Collin Treiber
This month Borderlands Restoration Leadership Institute launched its inaugural Institute Forum, an open community meeting for sharing ideas, creativity, and vision towards advancing the creation of a restoration economy in the bi-national Borderlands. The forum is open to all community members, visitors, and practitioners alike with the aim of advancing the mission, vision, and principles of the institute, exploring possibilities for creative collaborations, community-based partnerships, and as a way for community members to inspire, shape, and participate in the great work happening across the region.
Held up at the Institute offices at Old Main, the first Forum brought together a diverse group of people including institute members and community members from the Patagonia area, Nogales, other border towns in Mexico, and around the United States and Canada. It was a much needed chance for those who gathered to celebrate the formal launching of the Institute Forum, reflect upon successes to date, and explore ways to advance the field-based work of the institute.
The meeting began by Joshua Cubista, Interim Institute Director, providing an overview of the development of the institute thus far, including the recent launch of the first Ecological Restoration & Applied Restoration Economy Field School. Ron Pulliam, BRLI Board Member and Institute Sr.Fellow, then provided a visionary talk on the aims of a restoration economy, followed by dynamic and engaging small group discussions focused upon a variety of questions to help shape future forum meetings, advance projects and programs across the region, and explore key elements of the vision of a restoration economy in action.
An unavoidable reality of the Borderlands, a wall spanning 700 miles of the US-Mexico border and costing an average of $16 million USD per mile. Its primary objectives - inhibiting terrorism, drug trafficking, and human migration, but its collateral impacts have been are the devastation of wildlife, families, and the land.
Driving from Nogales to Janos, we looked at the North with Southern eyes and enjoyed honest discussions with our counterparts. We learned about the challenges of conservation work in Mexico - a lack of funding, law enforcement, a depressed (eco)-tourism industry and competing land uses. Despite this reality, the people and organizations we met and learned from demonstrated a great deal of ingenuity and generosity. With them, we explored ways to align economic and ecologic aims while offering dignified livelihoods to people.
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