On a grassy slope in the hills above Patagonia, a series of rock gabions have gathered sediments from a recent rain. Carlos—a wiry young musician with short black hair, a baseball cap and an earring—explains that these lines of rock slow the water down “so that it isn’t as destructive.” The idea was to make a “water filter,” allowing runoff to permeate the soil, reduce erosion and foster the growth of young plants on the steep hills.
Carlos is one of four high school students from Patagonia who participated in the five-week Earth Care Youth Corps pilot program this summer, and this is Deep Dirt Farm, one of many locations where the youth spent sweltering mornings, reshaping the landscape with their hands, heart, sweat and new ideas.
Anita Clovesko Wharton, one of the local organizers, explained that the project focused on offering young adults—many of whom struggle to find even seasonal employment or dream of seeking higher education—a chance to experience the land-based side of restoring habitats and participating in a local food system. For many of the local mentors who worked with the youth, agriculture and ecological restoration are part of the same vision, one that includes teaching youth how to make a difference in the world as land stewards.
Local mentors included Ron Pulliam and David Seibert of the Borderlands Habitat Restoration Initiative—who taught the students how to make and disperse “seed balls” to jumpstart range and arroyo restoration—and Caleb Weaver, who brought the students onto a Bureau of Land Management-sponsored native plant preservation and restoration project. “They figured out what we were doing incredibly quickly,” said Weaver.
Whether it was sweating in the high erosion channels above the Patagonia valley, or pounding metal stakes into the solid rock for a greenhouse, the four students worked to make a difference in their community. They wrote about their experiences in daily journals, keeping a record of everything from sore muscles to profound epiphanies.
“We started off the day by pulling ambrosias out of the garden beds,” wrote Carlos. “It was hard for me to tell apart the weeds from the plants. They all looked the same to me. We also helped David build a rock filter which was a pain in the everywhere.” Jodie Quiroga wrote, “I think schools need to serve local food to support our local economy.” Felix Clovesko Wharton wrote of his “joy building rock filters, hoop houses, seed balls and flats, as well as learning the importance of watersheds and the water table.”
Carlos said that the thing that struck him most was Evan Sofro’s tour of the Native Seeds/SEARCH farm. “He explained how the industry is messing with the foods using chemicals and harmful pesticide and how it affects our food,” said Carlos. “The other part was the ways we can grow our food without having to use so many chemicals or any at all. Down there they don’t really use that much water, and look at what they are growing.”
Project mentor Kate Tirion of Deep Dirt Farm Institute said, “If we do things with our hands, we realize the power we have as individuals. We use our hands to support ourselves and other people. We need to engage people in the community and give them a sense of ownership in the process, in the place and the landscape.”
These students might continue to pursue employment or education in agriculture and environmental restoration, or the experience might only be one summer memory of exposure and hard work. Whatever their future direction, they’re one step closer to spanning the ever deepening arroyo between those who work as land stewards and the youth who will inherit it. ✜
This project was supported by the W.K. Kellogg Program at the University of Arizona, G.a.r.d.e.n. Inc., the Borderlands Habitat Restoration Initiative, and donors from Santa Cruz County.