Agroecology from A to Z

Adventures in Agroecology and Food Systems

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Native Seeds/SEARCH, Patagonia, AZ

As part of the 2012 Border Food Summit, I had the opportunity to visit the Native Seeds/SEARCH conservation farm in Patagonia, AZ. Fun fact, Native Seeds/SEARCH was co-founded by Prescott College alum and prominent food systems scholar and advocate, Gary Nabhan, now at the Southwest Center  (University of Arizona).

On this tour with NSS staff Chris Schmidt, we learned about Native Seeds/SEARCH’s crop conservation work where they manage and curate a collection of traditional landraces in the Southwest. Corn, panic grass and chia seed are crops covered in the video along with basic seed saving practices. We also enjoyed the music of Aztral Folk and the tasty catering of Muñueca Mexicana.

Later in the fall, I assigned a Robin Kimmerer piece to my Land Stewards students that had a nice profile of Native Seeds/SEARCH and their role in conserving traditional ecological knowledge. The paper is Weaving Traditional Ecological Knowledge into Biological Education: A Call to Action. I had the pleasure of meeting Robin at a talk she gave for the American Indian Program at Cornell a few years back. I highly recommend this paper for all educators who cover traditional ecological knowledge in their courses.


Chris Schmidt gives a tour of the Native Seeds/SEARCH Patagonia farm


Panic grass


Conserving traditional landraces of corn


Erin Lingo (former Prescott College CSA Coordinator – Prescott Farmers’ Market manager), Gary Nabhan (U of A, Native Seeds/SEARCH) and me. Who wears white pants to a farm tour? Lesson learned.


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Tierra Y Libertad Organization (TYLO), Tucson, AZ

During the 2012 Border Food Summit, I got to take an urban agriculture tour of Tucson where we visited the Tierra Y Libertad Organization and learned about their urban agriculture center and neighborhood projects. At the time, they were just starting up a tilapia aquaculture project.

From their Facebook page:

“Since 2001 TYLO has focused on building multiple examples of positive social change and community transformation in the barrios where we live. Work of the organization is carried out through a multi-tier model of grassroots community organizing and popular education that consists of four key programs: Barrio Sustainability Project, TYLO Freedom School, MAIZ, and the Migrant Rights Organizing Campaign!”

Recent projects include campaigns against liquor licenses (There are currently 41 permits in a 1 mile radius) and the creation of a Barrio Food Processing Center. I look forward to finding ways that Prescott College students can collaborate with TYLO in the future.


Mural from the alley behind TYLO


Mural from the alley behind TYLO


Mural from the alley behind TYLO


TYLO collaborates on this nearby garden at a church


TYLO collaborates on this nearby garden at a church

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Las Milpitas de Cottonwood Farm, Tucson, AZ

While attending the 2012 Border Food Summit in Rio Rico, AZ, I got to participate in an urban agriculture tour of Tuscon, where we visited Las Milpitas de Cottonwood Farm, a project of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. I’m so thrilled to see this innovative project featured on NPR today! You can learn more about the farm on their Facebook page and view some video I took of the tour where we learned about management of desert soils for vegetable production, chicken keeping, composting and a composting toilet pilot project.

As a manure-o-phile I’ll be closely following the news on the composting toilet project that Las Milpitas is participating in. Check out the urban agriculture blog [chik-uh n dik-shuh n] for more detail on this exciting project. I think making well-designed composting toilets legal in Pima County will provide a huge benefit in both water and soil conservation. My friend Sasha Kramer co-founded a non-profit in Haiti focused on composting human waste and using the finished compost for food production. If SOIL can safely compost human waste during a cholera epidemic, then composting toilets should be a viable option everywhere!

Las Milpitas de Cottonwood Farm September 2012

Las Milpitas de Cottonwood Farm September 2012

Urban chickens, a creative use of 5 gallon buckets

Urban chickens, a creative use of 5 gallon buckets


Keyhole bed preparation in desert soils (rain catchment in background)

Composting toilet pilot project, initial construction phase

Composting toilet pilot project, initial construction phase



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River Road Gardens, Tucson, AZ

River Road Gardens was one of a few fascinating stops on the 2012 Border Food Summit urban agriculture – local foods tour. This small CSA urban farm is located on the campus of a Waldorf School, which in turn is located on the site of a former horse stables. Co-owner, Jon McNamara, is fighting a valiant battle against Bermuda grass, who’s seed bank may be extensive due to the previous presence of horses on the site. Bermuda grass is a popular feed for horses in Arizona, but the seeds are still viable after passing through the horse’s digestive tract and the established plants have rhizomes that are almost impossible to get rid of.

Even with high weed pressure, River Road Gardens produced a wide variety of vegetables this season and is an important component of Tucson’s urban agriculture scene. I had never seen vegetables under shade cloth before. Apparently the solar intensity is so high in this area that many crops, even peppers and tomatoes, actually need to be under shade cloth or they will roast in the sun. I certainly roasted under the Tucson sun!

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Food Conspiracy Co-op, Tucson, AZ

At the Border Food Summit in Rio Rico, AZ I got a chance to tour Food Conspiracy Co-op. Kelley Kriner walked us through their remodeling project and their brand new (shiny and organized!) certified kitchen. I was so impressed, I bought a T-shirt. I miss my co-ops in Portland, OR (People’s) and Ithaca, NY (GreenStar) and I’m sad there isn’t one in Prescott.

Food Conspiracy Co-op T-shirts (photo from their website)

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Tucson Village Farm: Farm based education for children

The recent Border Food Summit in Rio Rico, AZ included a full day tour. Erin Lingo and I chose the urban agriculture and local foods tour and visited a bunch of interesting projects in and around Tucson. I was really impressed with the Tucson Village Farm, check out what we learned from Leza Carter on the tour!


Leza Carter giving a tour of Tucson Village Farm
Photo credit: Erin Lingo


Student-made sign at Tucson Village Farm
Photo credit: Erin Lingo (that’s me photobombing)


Milk education cow (with working udder!) at Tucson Village farm
Photo credit: Erin Lingo


Tile mosaic fresco on healthy eating at Tucson Village Farm
Photo credit: Erin Lingo