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Day one of the Tucson/Canelo permaculture field trip consisted of visiting Native Seeds Search and Avalon Ecovillage. While these settings provided critical insight, I found the physical journey to arrive in Tucson was of similar importance. Heading south of Flagstaff, our caravan descended the Mogollon rim. As the road spiraled downwards in elevation, I noticed several amendments in temperature, moisture, and vegetation. Temperature levels and spring budding in vegetation became more prevalent the lower we went. Between the initial 7,000 feet to 6,000 feet, the seasonal cold and frozen snow slowed the growth of the Ponderosa Pine. I saw limited understory and no signs of spring blooms. Between 6,000 feet and 3,500 feet, I noticed a shift: –snow coverage was sparse and less dormant vegetation became present. Scrub Oak, Pinon Pine, Juniper and Manzanita thrived the lower we went. As we approached Tucson, I noticed the largest shift in temperature and vegetation. Between 3,500 feet and the valley floor, the signs of spring became present; Mesquite, Palo Verde, Agave, Yucca, Barrel cactus, Saguaro, Cholla were all beginning to thrive. I even noticed the California poppy and Desert Lupine flowering.
Although this descent may seem obsolete to many, I learned that elevation is a critical factor that affects temperature and moisture. Both of which affect plant growth. Hence, when looking to garden at any elevation, one should review the gradient changes.
Once our caravan stropped in Tucson, I happily shed my strange layers to prance around in a t-shirt. Here, we visited the Native Seeds Search: https://www.nativeseeds.org/
Our tour guide Hannah discussed the importance of conserving agricultural biodiversity through a variety of methods. These included: Open pollination, maintaining native heirlooms, practicing organic growing principles, using no GMO’s, and mitigating the use of seed patents. While these methods were discussed, I realized that a precedent was being set. The Native Seeds Search has found a venue within a capitalistic system to incentivize the preservation of native seed types. This preservation has allowed for seeds to be grown and donated to local tribes, families in need, and other organizations that usually do not have this access.
While this organization profits monetarily, they conserve native biodiversity. Cultural growing heritage found in this region is continued through the preservation of these endemic seed types. However, the commodification of seeds adds discontent to my heart – since seeds in the past have been dispersed in a less sterile and more harmonious way. I do however understand that in today’s way of business, this module helps push for the greater good – to preserve the native seeds and culture of yesterday and provide for tomorrow's abundance.
Directly after visiting Native Seed's Search, our group visited Avalon Eco Village. This organization can be found at https://avalongardens.org/
Avalon is a spiritual eco-village with 120 on-campus residents located outside of Tucson, Arizona. Avalon’s 200-acre property is cared for through permaculture principles and design. The beauty of earthen material homes, orchards, and wetlands make for an oasis in the hot Sonoran Desert. As soon as our crew entered the property, our permaculture whirlwind began; we were but mear tumbleweeds in what was to come next.
Avolon water’s the entire property's agricultural system (3 greenhouses, aquaponics, multi-acre orchard, and agricultural fields) through the rain-water catchment. Buried below ground, specifically under fruit trees and around dwellings, are water infiltration tunnels that capture rainwater and greywater, and slowly disperse to the fruiting trees and lawns. This system, in the permaculture way, is an intensive set-up, but passive once going requiring very minimal input. The rainwater catchment system on the dwellings is channeled off the gutters with a first-flush system that diverts clean water into a cistern and muck water onto the nearby flora. The water catchment capacity for the entire property is 2.5 million gallons. Avalon’s drinking water is sourced from an on-property well, making its entire water system self-sufficient.
Avalon treats most of its waste through an onsite treatment. The waste is gravity fed from the main housing into a three-tank system. The first two tanks filter the waste and the third tank adds Effective Microorganisms (EM). This mixture of EM and filtered waste is then pumped underground through lined underground tubing into an artificial wetland. This artificial wetland is a migratory stopover for many insects, birds, and mammals. The waste treatment is up to the Tucson city code. The waste from other onsite facilities is pumped into a septic tank.
The community has been cultivating an orchard and several agricultural fields for the past 10 years. Currently, 30% of the community’s diet is sourced from the property. They cultivate a combination of food crops, cash crops, and horticultural crops. They recently worked with Native Seed SEARCH to bring back an Indigenous grain, local to the region, which they seed-save as well as mill into flour. Avalon also has a growing food forest on the property, where members collect the fresh fruit and chicken and pigs collect the fallen fruit.
Avalon’s water catchment capacity is epic in scale. The community shared lots of wisdom on how to start small or go all the way. The permaculture principles and design of the property are inspiring for how to scale-up many examples we have learned about.
About the author
This entry was jointly written by Molly Carney and Andrew Volz. Both students have an affinity for bioregional food and riparian ecosystem conservation.