Native Plant Party!

Written By, Lily

Hello family and friends!

We finally arrived in the small border town of Patagonia, Arizona last Wednesday. Following the cold nights we spent in the Grand Canyon, the group is loving the warm weather down here. Once we settled into our accommodations at the old elementary school in town, we were anxious to start working with Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN). I’m Lily, one of the team captions this week, and I will be telling you all about the first half of our week in Patagonia.

Thursday 10/15: Today was our first day working with BRN. We met Juliet, our program coordinator, and discussed our plan for the week ahead. This week, we hope to expand our understanding of sustainability, social justice, and wildlife conservation, while bettering both ourselves and the community we are serving. Today we went to the Patagonia Community Garden where we met Martha, the founder, who explained the garden’s function in allotting community members a place to grow their own food sustainably. Sophie and Rachel picked apples which we then fed to a local pig who was so cute, while other group members cleared plots of land for new crops. After lunch, One of the founders of BRN, Ron, gave us a fascinating talk about his work in Patagonia. He has his Phd in Population Biology, but he decided to start BRN in his retirement out of hopes to leave a more tangible mark by restoring the ecosystems for plants and wildlife here in Patagonia. The discussion really inspired me to focus on what I am passionate about and showed me that success has a different definition for everyone.

Friday 10/16: Another day, another garden. Today we went to the Native Plant Nursery, which is only 10 minutes from our dorm, so it was nice to sleep in a little. We met Francesca who runs the nursery and knows literally everything about plants. It was very impressive. She has the cutest dog named Chiltepin who kept us good company while we worked. We picked seeds for most of the day. Elise, Petar and I had a really cool conversion about our plans for the rest of our gap year (which are pretty nonexistent, but we exchanged some fun ideas). Later, we sorted the seeds that we picked into these huge containers which displayed our days work and the progress we made.

Saturday 10/17: I was a little tired this morning, but Adam’s worldly playlist did the trick and woke me right up. Not the music I would usually choose, but I am definitely expanding my musical horizons. Today was a nice chill day. We had a tour of the San Rafael Valley, led by Glen, who is maybe one of the coolest men I have ever met. He had a ton of really sweet tattoos which sparked some inspiration in my head (don’t worry Mom I won’t actually get one). Anyways, Glen has lived in Patagonia his entire life, and he’s had some really interesting experiences over the years. He explained to us how the land had changed now that mining companies have come in, and the various reactions to such change throughout the community. We also went to the border which was super cool to see in person. It looked like a never ending fence of steel posts and barbed wire. Eli summed it up perfectly, saying, “you can build walls but humans will always find their way back to each other.” Jacob and Elsie also asked really interesting questions about border patrol, and how wildlife is affected by the wall which pushed me to think about topics I hadn’t considered before. This was definitely one of my favorite days because of all of the things we discussed and hearing Glen’s personal stories.

Sunday 10/18: We got to sleep in this morning which was well deserved after a long few days. We went to Walmart to get some snacks and sweatpants for those who wanted, and went to Patagonia Lake. The water was really cold so while some people swam others played volleyball. Mari braided some of the girls hair and it was so pretty. I really gotta improve my hairstyle skills. We ended our night with a salsa lesson from Adam, and Freya and Lelia were thriving with all of the spins and new steps we were learning. They are easily the best salsa dancers of the group. Finally, we all made ice cream sundaes thanks to the planning of our amazing chefs of the week, Rachel and Elsie. This week was so much fun and I learned a ton about native plants and how they live in this environment. I am excited to see what we have planned for the rest of the week.

Monday 10/19: Hey everyone, it’s Sophie, one of the other team captains of the week; here’s my journal entries covering the rest of our time working with Borderlands Restoration Network. After a fun day off, it was back to work for us. We met our next contact today, Caleb, an expert in water harvesting and native plant species, at a private residence in Patagonia. It was a long day in the sun, but our time was filled with a unique project. The work cut out for us today was landscaping, and we collectively planted different species of succulents, grasses, and flowers. Caleb taught us about how to properly plant them by using a variety of tools like pickaxes and tubular shovels. Not gonna lie, the pickaxe, or pickmatic, was definitely my favorite. It felt good to chip away at the rocks and dirt to create holes big enough to put the plants in. Working at the residence was probably my favorite day of the week. From Kerri leading group karaoke to the owners of the house making us cookies, the landscaping didn’t feel like work, it was just us having a good time together as a group. But above all, my highlight of the day has to be the long talk I had with Adam, picking his brain about life and his experiences. All in all, the good vibes and watching the project unfold was amazing to be a part of.

Tuesday 10/20: Whoa. The amount of knowledge I know I have about rock structures is crazy. David, our contact from today was super inspiring because it was evident how passionate he is about his work and protecting Patagonia’s environment. We helped build and repair different rock structures that he and other volunteers constructed to curb erosion where water collects and runs off. My buddy Eli was a natural at seeing where to strategically place new rocks so that the power of the water won’t take the walls of rocks with it. Dinner was me and Leila cooking some bomb fried rice, and Leila was a superstar at the frying pan. We might have accidentally cooked triple the amount of rice needed, but hey, who doesn’t love leftovers?

Wednesday 10/21: Today we saw our queen Francesca again! Hopefully my repotting of the seedlings at her plant nursery was adequate enough not to kill her meticulously grown native plants. The nursery is so impressive because of the sheer amount of plants and seeds they work with on a daily basis. Francesca is literally the Wonder Woman of all things plants. She even took the time to teach us about the bat crisis here. There are two species of bats of the forty in the area that feed on nectar. Agave farmers who make tequila and mezcal out of the plant have to harvest the cores before they can flower in order to get the sugar reservoir. To combat this, agaves need to be planted in the wild so that they can flower and bats will have nectar to eat. I got a little lost while trying to follow her explanation, but good thing Freya had great questions that engaged Francesca and got her to go more into depth. Today we were in touch with another contact named Cholla. She called and explained about how she’s in charge of tracking the local wildlife such as javelins, jaguars, and different species of birds. It was sweet how much Mari, with her love of animals, enjoyed Cholla’s talk and clips of footage of the animals that were shared.

Thursday 10/22: Another day with Caleb! He’s the man. He got more into depth about how building rock basins help capture water so it can sink into the ground and return to Patagonia’s watershed. It’s never occurred to me how counterproductive water flow from rains can be when there is nothing to slow down its force and harvest it effectively. Caleb’s structures can currently capture 60,000 gallons of rainwater at a time! Anne, another new contact we met today, talked a lot about how the region we were in, Huachuca, is a poverty-ridden food desert. With around 30% of the town under the poverty line, the community garden we worked at is vital to the people of Huachuca. Anne and the other volunteers at the community garden will feed up to 900 people at the peak of their harvest. Elsie, Adam, and I worked together to build a rock berm, a half crescent rock wall around a tree that captures rainwater. It looked pretty fire but I have to admit that the berm Kerri, Mari, and Leila worked on together was top notch. We went back to the dorms to watch the presidential debate together and ate tacos. Good day.

Friday 10/23: It was our last day of work before prepping for our backpacking trek. We went back to the native plant nursery with Francesca. The morning was spent watering agaves that were planted in the wild to feed the bats. While we were all scouting for agaves that survived, Eli got stung by a wasp! Dude was such a trooper; he just shook it off and kept on working. Respect. I was watering an agave when I looked up and saw Petar in the distance, literally at the top of this huge ridge. Wild dude. Turns out he was admiring the view and even found a wild agave that wasn’t put there by Francesca! Once the group returned we did a little more transplanting, and some of us sorted pots. Kate and I were sorting the test-tube-shaped ones, and made a game out of dropping the tubes into the holding trays from a distance. Kate crushed me with four in a row. It was a fun day to wrap up our work with Borderlands Restoration Network. We learned a lot throughout the week while working with Ron, Francesca, Glen, David, Cholla, and Caleb. A big thanks to them and a huge thank you to Juliet for organizing this whole week for us, especially during these complicated COVID times. Can’t wait to see how our trekking expeditions go!

Here are the groups favorite moments from the week:

Petar: Playing the piano at the Patagonia museum.

Eli: Watching the presidential debate while drinking a Coke.

Elsie: Going to the border wall and learning about border patrol and immigration issues.

Freya: Learning about agave plants and bats. And talking to Francesca about what it’s like to live in a border town.

Rachel: Ice cream Sundaes night.

Lelia: When we all cooked chili together while listening to music.

Kerri: Wilderness tracking discussion and joking with Adam all the time.

Jacob: Salsa dancing lesson with Adam.

Mari: Watering the dying agave plants and saving their lives.

Sophie: Loved the talk Ron gave to the group because of how inspiring it was.

Lily: Planting grass at a locals home and going to the border wall.

Kate: Loved our time at the nursery learning about all of their plants, seeds, frequency of collection, and was astounded by all of the information.

Adam: Loved the morning circle meeting with David because of his jokes and his hilarious life experiences enriched the experience.

From left, Lily, Elise,Freya, and Lelia clearing a plot of land at community garden.
Mari, Lelia, and Kerri diligently working to build rock Berns for the trees.
Group listening to Caleb talk about rock basins and water harvesting.
Incredibly strong Kerri holding a tree that agave plants grow for their flowers.
Group in front of the days work at Patagonia private residence after working with Caleb.
Sophie in power stance while pickaxing soil.
Team building activity about goals with Freya and the rest of the group working together to complete activity.
Group photo at border wall while listening to Glen and Denisse talk about animal migration and border control issues.
Elsie, Lily, and Peter mid conversation while collecting seeds.
The group listening to Francesca talk about the seedlings at the plant nursery.