By Perin Hailey McNelis
The Borderlands Restoration Leadership Institute (BRLI) kicked off its Mexico programming this May by co-sponsoring a field course through The Southwest Center at the University of Arizona led by Gary Nabhan and Bill Steen. The five day agro-ecology short course was held in the farm-ranch-riparian corridor mosaic of the Rio Sonora and was attended by BRLI fellows, Allegra Mount, Caleb Weaver, Perin McNelis, and Francesca Claverie. The pilot workshop focused on field methods for surveying & documenting the ecosystem services provided by living fencerows of cottonwoods & willows planted between agricultural fields and the banks of the river. The agroecological tradition of installing living fencerows is recognized by farmers and ranchers along the flood plains of the Rio Sonora as a necessity for buffering fields from damaging floodwaters and debris during the monsoon storms, while still allowing nutrients and moisture (or “el abono del rio,” literally translated to “manure of the river”) to nourish the cultivated areas.
From May 20-24th the workshop participants, comprised of stellar scientists, anthropologists and restoration practitioners, worked in groups to examine the social, cultural and ecological dimensions of the living fencerows. The groups conducted early morning surveys of plants, wildlife, and river geomorphology in these restored agro-riparian landscapes and enjoyed afternoon field trips to other sites of ecological, ethnobotanical & cultural interest… Some highlights included presentations and discussions led by Chiltepin producers and scientists studying the impact of the Cananea mine spill on the Rio Sonora. In addition, participants enjoyed visiting various bacanora home-distilleries and witnessed some of the best Folklorico dancing in all of Sonora.
The big take-away was to consider the Santa Cruz river, which no longer flows and has suffered much habitat loss, and the Rio Sonora which still flows and maintains a higher level of biodiversity and overall riparian ecosystem health. Is there something to be learned from the traditional agroecological practices of farmers in Sonora that could potentially be applied in threatened riparian areas North of the border? Could restoration practitioners and ranchers experiment with living fencerows to help bridge restoration ecology and agro-ecology in Arizona?
The Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation works to preserve and restore the biodiversity of the US/Mexican borderlands through land protection, habitat restoration and wildlife reintroduction.
In an effort to reconcile ecological restoration and cattle ranching, CLO is experimenting holistic grazing in the ranch el Valle, in Northern Sonora, MX. In the ranch, land had been resting without grazing for 20 years but clumps of grasses were dying out and the overall grass to bare soil ratio was not improving. CLO is trying a new form of grazing to see if by disturbing and fertilizing the surface of the soil, the situation can be improved.
The cattle are used as a tool: the hoof action breaks the soil’s crust, manure adds nutrients and the cows’ saliva while eating stimulates plant growth. In order to prevent overgrazing, the cattle are moved 4 times a day and each section grazed rest for two rainy season (18 months). Many areas of the ranch are kept for wildlife only.
By Terry Allan, Published in the N O M A D I C O R G A N I C B L O G
Extract: Kate adds extra salt to the fresh duck eggs we fry for breakfast in the outdoor kitchen. Like four times more salt than I usually use, and I am not on a low salt diet. This daughter of a Welsh farming family traded her verdant wet birthplace for the desert long ago, and her body craves salt to help her retain the precious moisture sucked out by the dry desert air. Kate has been on a mission to conserve moisture and live resiliently in the desert for more than three decades and her 30 acre property in Patagonia, Arizona serves as a demonstration site for ecological restoration, food production, water management strategies and dancing with the sacred feminine.
The duck eggs are a great example of the abundance that comes from thoughtful integration with the environment. The ducks thrive on the plagues of grasshoppers and other insects that would destroy the tender garden plants if not kept in check. They weed and fertilize as they play and, contrary to the concept of 'work', reward the gardeners with eggs in exchange for the priveledge.
Standing on a ridge overlooking Deep Dirt Farm and the broad watershed in which it is nestled challenges my preconceived notion of 'desert'. The ridges and valleys form a ruffled pattern that has obviously been created by the forces of water and erosion over millennia. Clumping native grasses cover the land in soft green waves that blur in and out of focus as they rustle in the breezes beneath the thin shade of widely spaced oak and mesquite trees. Read More...
"Isn't this lovely?", coos Kate. Most of these structures were built by young people from the area through a partnership with Borderlands Earth Care Youth Institute (BECY) that provides summer training and employment opportunities in ecological restoration. Each structure supports the others in slowing down and spreading out the flow during rain storms.© Terry Allan, Nomadic Organics
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