Agroecology from A to Z

Adventures in Agroecology and Food Systems

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Natural beekeeping in the SW – ReZoNation needs your support

I met Jaime DeZubeldia at the Border Food Summit this week in beautiful Rio Rico, AZ. Jaime gives beekeeping workshops and I’m hoping to host one at Jenner Farm in the future.
His farm, ReZoNation Farm, is running a Kickstarter campaign to crowd source finance natural beekeeping projects in the SW. Check out his slideshow and please help spread the word!

Newly established beeyard at Deep Dirt Farm Institute, Patagonia, AZ

I thought about Jaime when I saw this amazing natural beehive at Montezuma’s Castle

Here’s another, you can see the natural comb hanging from the ceiling of this opening in the limestone.

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Dung fungi and earthworms, oh my!

Moving to the desert from the soggy Northeast (via the soggy Northwest), I had a horrible feeling that I would never see a mushroom growing out of the ground or a wild earthworm again. It turns out I was wrong! Especially during a heavy monsoon season.

I TAed the Cornell Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology course “Magical Molds Mischievous Mushrooms” in 2011 and we had a fun unit on dung fungi. Based on the amazing dung fungi I saw at Jenner Farm last week, I’m really looking forward to developing a soil microbiology course in the future that includes these fascinating organisms and their role in decomposition and soil nutrient cycling.

Just a note, I really can’t mention mushrooms without pointing everyone to my friend and mentor, Kathie Hodge’s, Mushroom Blog.

Dung fungi in horse manure
More dung fungi on horse manure
Coprinus spp. or “Inky cap”

And now, on to the earthworm casts. The earthworms at Jenner Farm are really loving the monsoon season. They have been surfacing and doing some serious construction and remodeling on their burrows.

I had always seen earthworm casts in my mom’s garden, but I didn’t get interested in them scientifically until I read Darwin’s classic “The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits” in 2000. Check out this etching from the original publication (courtesy of the American Philosophical Society’s museum in Philadelphia).


Earthworm casts at the entrance of a burrow

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Rabbit Run Farm at the Prescott Farmer’s Market

Matt Hyde and Sarah Wertz of Rabbit Run Farms

Congrats to Matt and Sarah of Rabbit Run Farm for this great August cover photo in Mountain Living magazine!

Matt and Sarah farm commercially at Prescott College’s Jenner Farm as part of a land sharing agreement. In addition to running their business, they manage the campus farm and take care of our research plots throughout the summer agroecology course.

I had the pleasure of helping out at the Rabbit Run stand at the Prescott Farmer’s Market earlier in the summer. It’s a lovely outdoor market with a nice variety of vegetables, grains/pastas, preserved foods and prepared food. The steady stream of customers were definitely fresh food enthusiasts and it was fun to hear their cooking plans for different crops. One couple even brought some canned bread and butter pickles as a gift for their favorite farmers! They made the pickles from cucumbers they had bought at the stand the week before. Now that’s farmer appreciation!

The market in full swing

Armenian cucumbers


Eleanore, a student in the summer agroecology course, spent the day helping out at market too.

I’m considering having students work a stand at the market at least once during the summer course as a way to gain a deeper understanding of the economics of small-scale farming. Rebekah Doyle had the students carry out rapid farmer’s market assessments this summer and I learned a lot from their final reports and presentations.

The first box from the Prescott College CSA share, grown by Rabbit Run Farm

My husband and I are enjoying the Prescott College CSA, managed by Erin Lingo. Each week is just the right amount to last us until the next pick up. The perfect option when you can’t garden for yourself. I’m in food heaven in the desert!

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Buen Viaje to Tim Crews!

Well, it’s official. Tim gave me the key to the mesquite hammer mill trailer on Saturday and he and Sarah headed out for Kansas yesterday. Safe travels and agroecological adventures to you both!

Read the full article with comments.


Sarah and Tim Crews and their dog, Trucha, spend a snowy day in the Prescott National Forest a year ago. Tim is leaving his job of 18 years as director of the agroecology program at Prescott College.

9/3/2012 9:47:00 PM
Long-time Prescott College professor pulls up stakes

Ken Hedler
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT – Tim Crews arrived at Prescott College 18 years ago to start the agroecology program, and left Monday to become research director at the Land Institute in Salina, Kan.

Defining agroecology, Crews said, “It is looking at farms as ecosystems with insects and nutrient cycling, trying to manage them more as ecosystems than factories.”

Crews, who earned a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., recalled that Prescott College appealed to him by offering a commitment to “field-based studies, bridging with rigorous academics.”

Besides establishing an off-campus farm, Crews helped to found the Prescott Farmers Market in 1997 and the community supported agriculture (farm co-op) program on campus three years later.

Crews, 51, regards launching the agroecology program as his biggest accomplishment because it has gained a national reputation for the small private college. The program now offers master’s degrees.

Crews said he has become acquainted over the years with the Land Institute, a nonprofit organization and research center housed on the banks of the Smoky Hill River.

The institute’s website states, “We are creating a new agriculture informed by nature. It produces food while preserving biodiversity. It minimizes the inevitable damage associated with annual crops: soil loss and degradation, water fouled with toxins and drained of its oxygen, and high greenhouse gas emissions.”

That mission meshes with Crews’ values.

“I have been collaborating with them for about 12 years, and I believe very strongly in their goal of developing farming systems that function much more like the native ecosystems they replaced,” Crews said.

The institute’s managing director, Scott Seirer, said, “We have known him for several years. He’s an ecologist, and we have to add that role to our science mix. … He will also be research director, so he will supervise the science staff.”

Scientists at the institute conduct research to find perennial grain crops.

“Tim’s role as an ecologist will help us look at the concept of growing more than one crop in the field at the same time,” Seirer said.

While looking forward to his new challenge, Crews said he and his wife of 23 years, Sarah, will miss Prescott and walking their dog, Trucha, in the Prescott National Forest.

Sarah Crews works in the hospice field.

She and Tim have two daughters: Ruby, 21, and Claire, 18, who attend Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., and Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., respectively.

Crews’ former students will miss him as well.

“I would definitely say he was my favorite professor,” said Shanti Rade, a 2001 graduate who operates a small farm with husband Cory in Paulden. “He was an inspiring teacher. He is just a dynamic teacher. He really got his students excited about the subject matter.”

Crews said Prescott College hired an “excellent replacement,” Allison Jack, who earned a doctorate at Cornell from the Department of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology.

Referring to his former employer, Crews said, “It’s a gem. I’ll miss it.”

p.s. I just found this photo of Tim and I at Tim and Sarah’s farewell party.

The passing of the agroecological torch