- 100% say the program at Rainshadow Farm changed or enhanced their attitudes about food, sustainable drylands agriculture, and sustainable food systems.
- 100% say they care more about where their food comes from now.
- 80% either are now or plan to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in their diets.
- 100% say they have begun or want to begin planting their own gardens, appropriately sized to their living spaces.
- 95% say they plan to buy more locally sourced foods and grow some of their own.
- 50% are interested in raising and eating their own meat.
- 100% have become interested in ethical meat production, largely through a partnered local organic farm and a Rainshadow Farm group member’s ranch.
- 100% are more comfortable interacting with new people and more open to new experiences due to the farm day activities and workshops.
- 100% have enjoyed working collaboratively.
- 43% felt that there were no drawbacks to working in collaborative workshops and that “trusting the group process” and taking that process seriously, with intent to hear all voices, would bring a viable result in our work.
- 58% had concern that political and religious differences could bring disharmony to the collaborative workshop organizing, yet 100% of this group felt optimistic, from our experience at Rainshadow Farm, that such discord could be solved in the end.
- 92% feel that the collaborative work at Rainshadow Farm has increased their capacity as leaders in an experiential learning situation. This held true even among people who may not have viewed themselves as “leaders” prior to taking part in the learning ecologies
- 92% feel that experiential learning is the most effective way to generate socioecological awareness and foster sociological intelligences.
- 100% say the program of workshop-building and participation at Rainshadow Farm has enhanced their sense of how we are all related to the natural world.
- 100% of the learning ecology organizers and participants felt that one of the most important factors in making the workshop organizing and implementation successful was “having fun.
Often, in modern Western education, the deep and evolutionary value of oral teaching and learning (including, gestural teaching and learning as in storytelling, dance, and communal visual arts) has been ignored, perhaps in ways that damage human relationship with their environments and impoverish our relationships with one another. Ways of including oral teaching and learning at Rainshadow Farm have included making time for people to tell their stories, which are all beneficial to all of us. People then take time to listen to and give value to each other’s stories, and this helps build relationship. We are beginning to incorporate cultural and eco-cultural workshops at the farm to further encourage oral communication. We also have emphasized interacting directly with elements of nature; interactions with animals and other people; emphasized the importance of reflective learning; and taken time to talk to one another about gardening/farming experiences. One of the Rainshadow Farm research co-participants likes to say that “farm talk is a leveler,” indicating that it is one way we have overcome various disagreements during our farm day events. While a lecture format is one way of passing down oral tradition, in a farm setting we have the freedom to engage with both brief lecture and more experiential means of conveying knowledge.
The farm day group, as a whole, was somewhat interested in the place of the arts in an experiential, farm-based collaborative curriculum. In general, the Rainshadow Farm group, at any given time, has consisted of 25% artists: graphic artists of all kinds, dancers, musicians, and performance artists. The artists have been interested in ways that any form of art might be a doorway to community-building and to fostering socioecological intelligences. Several Rainshadow Farm co-participants want to bring more emphasis to “cultural sustainability” as sustainability learning. If re-skilling is a tool for restoring localization and bringing the production of food, energy, and essential goods closer to home, there is a role for local artists to play in the process. The arts – including visual, performance, and musical arts – are as essential for fostering and building thriving local communities as the ability to grow food ecologically, local ethnobotany, and innovative drylands growing practices.
I grew up in a Rust Belt city. In spite of what anyone may think, city kids do follow the turnings of the seasons.
For me autumn moving into winter was about watching the trees in the neighborhood change, the dew on plants outside the door, and eventually the frost patterns on the windows. It was about changes in the appearance of sunrise and sunset. These may be framed against cityscapes, rather than dark shadows of pine trees or Joshua Trees; still the light of a summer sunrise is so very different from that of an icy Great Lakes city winter. The way the snow appeared and felt told me about weather changes. So did the appearance and disappearance of animals. Migrations of birds were apparent and tied to the seasons – which ones show up in your back yard, on your garage eaves, and who is on the wires overhead each month.
Some city folks grew gardens. This was decades ago, not just the current trend of urban gardening (which I’m solidly in favor of). Some neighbors maintained a few fruit trees in their back yards. I had my own first vegetable garden at age nine. There was a wild grape vine sprouting under and across an old tin shed in my backyard that changed with the seasons and provided snacks and a hiding place for me and my friends and the neighborhood birds. We had some sense of where our food came from. A sense of wonder at the natural world was available to us. Maybe it was presented in odd or out of the way places, but it was there.
I grew up in a river town. The river was polluted and in a sad state, yet, as a child and teenager, it was a region of connection with nature for me. Things happened at the riverside that were different from my land-based life. Sometimes we would find an old rowboat, take it out onto the river, explore river islands, and then bring the boat back. Maybe we’d be seen as delinquents now for doing that? Eventually, one of my friends became the riverman. He bought and patched an old rowboat. He taught me to fish and although the river fish was not safe to eat, there were old water-filled rock quarries near the city that yielded a day’s fishing and simple, delicious food, prepared over a fire at the side of the quarry.
There are so many ways that people in cities can interact with the natural world. Children, especially, are wide open to this.
I live in a rural area now and have a micro-scale drylands farm. My heart is still with city kids and their parents, though, as they look for relationship with the natural world in their own best and most creative ways. I have recently been considering on and off whether I might eventually migrate back to a city. If I do, I have no doubt I’ll still find ways to carry on with extreme gardening and garden/farm education. It’s not an easy choice.
According to the most recent United States Agricultural Census, women are now the principal operators of 14% of the farms throughout the United States. This is an increase from 11% in 2002.
Female principal operators tend to have smaller holdings and net smaller income, but women are more likely to own all of the farmland that they operate. Moreover, women- operated farms tend to be more diverse, more likely to produce vegetable crops, fruits and nuts, horticultural items, poultry and eggs, sheep and goats, and two and a half times as likely to produce “other animals” (which would include horse farms). The percentage of women farmers is highest in the West and lowest in the Midwest. Arizona has more women farmers than any other state at 38.5%. California does not rank in the top five states for numbers of women farmers; however, San Bernardino County, where Rainshadow Farm is located, has over 25% farms with women principal operators, which is higher than the fifth ranked state, Alaska with 24.5% women-operated farms (USDA, 2007).
The most recent USDA Agricultural Census notes that 364 of the 1,405 farmers in San Bernardino County are women who are principal operators. The data does not indicate how many of these are in partnership with men. For instance, at Rainshadow Farm, I have always been the principal operator, but the census from 2007 would have listed joint ownership of the property with my ex-husband. The next farm census would list me as sole owner as well as principal operator. The census is not interested in these sociological details.
What is clear from the farm census is that women as principal owners tend to have small- to mid-scale farms and that they are not getting rich by farming. That 26.1% of the women principal operators continue to farm, while earning less than $2,500/year from their farming and possibly being among the 169 of women operators who work off-farm, either speaks to the strong draw of working with the land or indicates that these women a running a farm, perhaps with some help, while earning a living wage somewhere else, or both.
Guthman (2004) speaks of 79% of California organic farms with part-time growers that bring in under $50,000 a year. It is not possible to tell from the census how many women operators might fall into this category, since the census does not indicate which women principal operators were organic growers in 2007. Guthman (2004) calls farms between 10 and 200 acres mid-sized in California. Thus 13.2% of the women principal operators in San Bernardino County would be mid-sized growers (2004, pp. 175-176). Guthman (2004) comments on “organic midsized farms”…accruing “in the range of $100,000 to $1 million per year” (making them quite large by census standards). These farms came close to Guthman’s agrarian ideal: “viable economically and, often, remarkably independent” (2004, pp. 175-176). She notes that these farmers self-identify as small farmers. This might seem surprising until one considers that in California small farms are larger than those categorized as small in other states, indicating high sales of high-value organic (“value-added”) crops grown in California. A 10-acre farm could possibly operate with agroecological principles in the southern Mojave Desert; it is highly questionable whether a 200-acre farm/ranch could.
My research in the southern Mojave Desert indicates that USDA/CDFA verified and certified growers, as of this writing, are few. Even a single woman certified organic grower in the southern Mojave Desert would comprise less than 0.3% in the San Bernardino County picture. The women farmers/gardeners I have spoken to, whether rural, urban, or exurban, prefer agricultural schemes that are small-scale, biointensive, and agroecological.
One high desert farmer/rancher I talked to works intensively and ecologically with 2.5 acres. Examining land use principles of local women gardeners/farmers indicates they present an agroecological ideal for the southern Mojave Desert. The local water situation and the work necessary to amend initially unproductive soil agroecologically would most likely prohibit a large number of operations that are scaled much beyond 5 to 25 acres and likely would not allow for ecological farming on all of the land, if one considers the larger end of that acreage scale.
Wes Jackson (1996) has called for a new farming economy, essentially a revitalization of place-based and sustainable agricultural practices which he calls the “most important work for the next century – a massive salvage operation to save the vulnerable but necessary pieces of nature and culture and to keep the good and artful examples before us” (Jackson, 1996, p. 103) He maintains that agriculture must be done in the context of community, that it must use an ecological paradigm and that it may best be accomplished on a small scale. The farmers and gardeners in the southern Mojave Desert in this research agree and have begun to investigate, implement, and support the practice of small- and micro-scale, sustainable, local food production, aiming to keep “the good and artful examples before us.”
Guthman, Julie. (2004). Agrarian dreams: The paradox of organic farming in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Jackson, Wes. (1996). Becoming native to this place. New York: Counterpoint.
USDA (2007). Census of Agriculture. California. Retrieved from http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/
Being the principal owner/operator of Rainshadow Farm, and because I have met more women than men engaged with ecological or organic farming/ranching in the southwestern Mojave Desert, I have become quite interested in the plight of women farmers, at all scales of operation. Unfortunately Guthman’s (2004) extensive study of alternative agriculture in California does not deal specifically with gender. Women are currently at the forefront of alternative agriculture in the United States and studies of gender and food-raising have indicated that traditional farmers include women as key participants. Worldwide, women are profoundly involved in food production, particularly small-scale household gardening/farming. The well-studied, worldwide inclination for women to care for human-scale subsistence food production either in partnership with males or as sole proprietors of farms/ranches extends to the southern Mojave Desert as well.
While researching sustainable farming practices in the southwestern Mojave Desert, the commercial growers I have encountered have nearly all been women with few exceptions. The owner/operator of the most stable, longest-running, High Desert Farmers’ Market is a single woman, with a staff of four women. This is not to say that men are not involved in growing and marketing food in the southern Mojave in larger numbers than my research encountered; only that many men did not return my calls or emails.
Like many women I have had the experience of sometimes being marginalized or even ignored in academic situations. I have observed the feeling that women often call “being invisible” when I make a suggestion, only to hear the same idea come from a male colleague and receive confirmation. Is this invisibility applicable in the world of farming? The women farmers I have spoken to have told me that this does not occur with a great deal of frequency around them. These are often, in my opinion, formidable women. One woman, involved deeply in local sustainable food systems told me, “I’ve experienced the attempt to marginalize me, but that lasts about two seconds until they realize I will not be intimidated.” My friend, a local commercial grower, has found her own ways of dealing with the same kind of bias. Both of these women are open, compassionate, and generous women; yet they have found a way to keep their work and ideas from being suppressed.
While I do not frequently feel as fearless as my friends appear to be – I am willing to boldly share “ownership” of ideas that promote sustainable foodways by getting ideas out there both as a teacher and a farmer. Are ideas property? In academia, perhaps to some they are. In farming, particularly sustainable farming, I think it best to open up the gates and let the ideas get out to as many people as possible. Farm pedagogy could be one way of opening those gates of local knowledge and wisdom.
(To be continued…)
Guthman, Julie. (2004). Agrarian dreams: The paradox of organic farming in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.
In a semi-arid region like the southwestern Mojave, the presence of water and climate variations influence where biotic communities flourish. Human impact on plant communities may create barriers to natural plant community development and migration. Related plant and animal extinctions may then occur, creating a loss in all-around biodiversity, as formerly established species are eliminated and new species coming into a region simply don’t provide habitat for keystone species. As long-term plant communities are exterminated, invasive species tend to establish themselves. In the southern Mojave Desert this has led to increase in wildfires and loss of habitat for many native animal species. We’ve watched parts of the Mojave burn over the last ten years that will take a hundred years to recover.
Cycles of wildfires encouraging the growth of nonnative invasive plants has been shown to be related to establishment of nonnative invasive species which then provide more biomass for future fires and even fewer amenable habitats for established Mojave Desert animal communities.
There were USGS studies a decade ago indicating slight overall increase in precipitation in the desert between 1892 and 1996. Now, in 2012, these numbers are less promising than they sounded back then. We’ve had a monumental increase in human population over the last twenty years particularly along the highly populated Interstate 15 corridor which bisects the southern Mojave Desert and the Highway 14 corridor, at the northern edge of our region, thus draining any excess precipitation that occurs due to human need for water.
I don’t know anyone living here, who has been here a while (I’ve been here since 1981), who hasn’t been talking about regional climate change over the last five to ten years. The talk is increasing. I don’t think this is some kind of Millennium Fever (or maybe I should say 2012 Fever). It is talk based on long-time residents noticing changes in climate that may be more extreme than subtle year to year variations. Here at Rainshadow Farm the rainfall patterns are changing. And the winds are not only intensifying but they are becoming more frequent. Yes, the high desert is windy. However, even five years ago, the winds at Rainshadow Farm had a different ebb and flow to them, seasonally.
The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change predicted in 2007 that in the Western portion of the United States there would likely be increased drying with a likelihood of longer wildfire seasons and more intense fires. In California we have observed over the last decade that this already seems to be occurring.
Changes in wind patterns and decreased snowpack and snow cover in mountainous regions in the western United States have also been predicted. Annual-mean precipitation is been projected to decrease in the Southwest of the United States, with increase over the rest of the continent. No models have been done specifically for the Mojave Desert and, while it is good to bear in mind that weather patterns are among the most complex of earth systems, those of us who want to raise small amounts of food here may be wise to also bear in mind that we’ve begun in semi-arid conditions. Food producers in the southern Mojave Desert, particularly those of us close to the mountain ranges, on the piedmont, like Rainshadow Farm, would be wise to plan for growing with no more than 6-9 inches of rain annually in such unpredictable times. This is especially a consideration given the currently lack of coherent water planning along with few constraints on development in the region.
What some local people are interested in doing on the farm. This is the original list, created by the Rainshadow Farm Collaborative Group:
- How to grow a garden in the high desert
- How to grow and use herbs
- How to ecologically harvest herbs and regional plants
- Backyard chickens and goats
- Beekeeping in the high desert
- How to milk goats and make cheese
- Help with zoning regulations
- Carpentry, farm and garden related or otherwise
- Practical adobe construction, including building an adobe oven.
- Building a safe and useful firepit
- Bike and auto mechanics and repair
- Culinary skills including breadmaking, making tortillas and other flatbreads.
- Healthful and affordable cooking including vegetarian and vegan cooking
- Transformation of vegan and vegetarian cooking into various cultural food traditions.
- How to make soap and candles.
- Alternative power generation
- Biodiesel and conversion of autos
- Community education nights – films, speakers, local farmers, and discussion with dinner.
- How to advertize and market products
- Clothing swap
- Book swap
- Fabric swap
- Knitting and crocheting
- Putting up (canning)
- Organizing local seed saving and sharing
- Plant-based fabrics
- Fabric arts
- Visual Arts
- Decorative arts including flower arranging
- Tactile Arts like sculpture, wood carving, stone carving, plaster molding
- Calligraphy from various cultural traditions
- Japanese tea ceremony
- Performance Art including Storytelling: cultural stories have been suggested including Sufi storytelling and musical tales, Native American stories, stories from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, old Europe (“fairy tales”), Latin American traditional tales, and other storytelling including contemporary stories. This list is not comprehensive: these are suggestions by collaborative group members who have experience with these traditions that they would be willing to share with the community.
- Learning another language
- Music from a variety of traditions
- Construction of musical instruments
- Martial arts
- How to deliver a baby (animal or human)
- Rainshadow Farm Café!!! (Bonnie’s Brainstorm – what a concept!)
Since this list was created, we have accomplished many of these workshops. Many more have been added.
Ecological literacy is a means of incorporating or embodying ecological intelligence. It is an ability to sustainably connect and merge the natural world with human communities embedded in the natural world. The term “literacy” is perhaps a regrettable expression for intelligences that have to do with socio-ecological issues. In fact, it may be best to use the term “intelligences,” thinking in terms of Gardner’s multiple intelligences, rather than “literacies.” Gardner’s several intelligences are biocultural phenomena, with his theory demonstrating that people are apt to learn based upon their own propensities, the instruction available to them in their environments, and the emphasis that their particular cultures may place upon a given activity.
Since individuals have varying talents and aptitude for different skills – any may be useful in envisioning and creation of sustainable societies. By thinking in terms of fostering various socio-ecological intelligences, rather than socio-ecological literacies, preeminence is not given to an epistemology of literacy over an epistemology of orality in natural resource management and in ethical and just social relationships.
Primarily oral cultures have frequently been sustainable societies, cultivating lifeways that have enabled them to live sustainably with the land they inhabit, with resilient lifestyle and resource management practices.
Through traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), indigenous and traditional societies have cultivated lifeways that have generally enabled them to live sustainably with the land they inhabit, developing lifestyle and resource management practices that are resilient.
Traditional knowledge holders exhibit socio-ecological intelligences that encourage respect for plant and animal spirits and taking no more than one need from the environment. In addition, in such systems, lavish use and over-consumption of natural resources are discouraged; legends and stories often recount misfortune following waves of over-hunting, which is equated with taking more than needed to sustain one’s family or immediate social group.
Various researchers have taken into account a need for modern Western ecologists, resource managers, and agriculturalists to deeply consider and learn from TEK, bringing a new ethic into their study and practice, along with an informed, intelligent human emotion and sense of place. Traditional knowledge holders frequently operate from cultures that may be literate but do not hold literacy above orality in constructing eco-social intelligences.
While both orality and literacy are important for constructing ecological and social knowledge in the modern world, oral societies appear, in general, more attuned to communal life, deep ecological awareness, and relationship with the natural world and with other humans.
In constructing effective farm pedagogy for fostering eco-social intelligences it may be vital to give attention to the socio-ecological practices of primarily oral cultures, both in land use practices and in teaching and learning situations. Human thought, consciousness, and intelligences are more deeply and evolutionarily nested in emotion and speech than in text/literacy.
While farm pedagogies can hardly ignore literacy, it may be wise to accord place to orality for all that it offers in fostering and maintaining socio-ecological intelligences; for its ancient and evolutionary presence in human consciousness, and its bioculturally effective patterns of teaching and learning. Human adaptation is biocultural: it is composed of a variety of biological and cultural elements. The capacity of humans for culture is deeply grounded in biological conditions, both within our bodies and within our environments. Both biological circumstances and our ability to create and transmit culture have mutually influenced each other for millions of years.
Human culture has functioned within an oral framework for as long as humans have been languaging creatures, certainly far longer than we have had written language as an auxiliary means of communication. Exactly how much longer we have been involved in the world of orality than the world of written language remains controversial. Some contemporary societies maintain close ties with the oral past. Human thought, in fact, is likely nested more in speech than in text: certainly oral expression can exist apart from written language, while reading and writing do not exist without orality of some sort, verbal or gestural, as in sign languages. Often, in modern Western education the deep and evolutionary value of oral teaching and learning has been ignored, perhaps in ways that damage human relationship with their environments.
Ways of including the value of oral teaching at Rainshadow Farm have included making time for people to tell their stories about being in the natural world, or their stories in general which are all valuable to the general community and community relationship. We include stories of interacting with elements of nature, along with interactions with animals and other people in the natural world. In the future I’d like to see us emphasize even more the importance of reflective learning; taking time to talk to one another about our interactions with nature and gardens.
- Beginning small is okay.
- Sit with and begin to really know (be in relationship with) the land.
- LISTEN TO the land you are on.
- Listen to the people around you. Really listen deeply.
- Let things grow incrementally.
- Stay the course — let things take root!
I am becoming more and more interested in the aspects of agroliteracy that emphasize the “cultural.” People seem to be very interested in re-skilling that includes not only how to grow food in a semi-arid region, but also includes a variety of practical and expressive skills. Along with wanting to know how to grow a family garden, how to grow and use herbs, how to harvest wild regional foods (yes, there are some in the Mojave Desert!), how to raise chickens and goats, how to compost, how to raise bees for local honey — people I have talked to want to learn skills like carpentry and other construction skills, breadmaking, canning or “putting up” as my aunts used to say, bicycle and auto repair, cooking and various ARTS! Some people turn to youtube to learn some of these skills, or visit various great websites with detailed descriptions, but there is nothing like learning in community that is face-to-face.
I am also interested in seeing how to incorporate workshops on skills like these learning ecologies on my micro-farm. In addition, I am thinking about including workshops on the almost-lost art of story-telling (more on that later), music (maybe even construction of musical instrumetns, eventually), dance, visual arts, fabric arts, all kinds of arts!
My vision for the southern Mojave is an interconnected mosaic of regional household gardens, human-scale farms and ranches that desire to work together for the basic human right to healthy food while advancing social, agricultural, and environmental justice. This can all be done anywhere with some community organizing, a movement toward place-based thinking, and a relational outlook toward the community of all beings.
Why agricultural literacy might be important in the liberal arts:
Food is essential to the human condition.
Fiber and construction materials are important to humans.
Agriculture has had both positive and negative effects on human societies and ecosystems.
Agriculture has a long history.
Agriculture has a long prehistory.
Agriculture may be a science.
Agriculture often is included in ethnoscience.
Indigenous and traditional agricultural systems exist. They are vitally important to human survival.
Agriculture is bound to economics.
Agriculture is bound to politics.
People need to be informed to formulate agricultural policy – we can all see where the alternative has gotten us.
Demographic transitions from rural to urban societies need to be understood.
Rural life and rural issues are a part of the liberal arts. No?
Transitions from rural life to industrial development (in agriculture as well as other ways) need to be understood.
Ecological impact of different sorts of agricultural endeavors needs to be understood.
Local plant and animal indigenous taxonomies are particularly important in light of culture and language extinction proceeding at an unfathomable rate.
The rapid enclosure of the cultural commons in our own regions and around the world needs to be understood and addressed.
Community structure and subsistence requirements are deeply related. Both are related to how we acquire our food.
Horticulture and small-scale household gardening increase food security and food justice. So do seeds and seed-saving
How is agriculture connected to community? Any community?
What is a landscape?
Why does it matter?
Is it natural? Is it cultural? Who cares?
How do people connect to their varied landscapes? Why does it matter?
The following appear often in liberal arts curricula:
- Personal identity
- Community identity
- Sense of place
- Intergenerational knowledge
- Ecological knowledge, western, indigenous, and traditional
Are these connected with…agriculture?
Let’s not forget that aesthetics of agriculture is a reality.
Biotechnologies are a huge part of our current agricultural systems. Does anyone care? Beyond those who are making enormous batches of money from these?
Should the liberal arts encompass land use, water use, soil condition, food systems, food justice? Sustainable agriculture? Agroecosystems, including conservation practices in agriculture? Any or all of the above?
Attitudes, opinions, and perceptions of agriculture in much of academia are discouraging right now.