Come on Down to the Farm
Gary Nabhan and his wife Laurie Monti have recently purchased a five and a half acre farmstead above the Native Seeds/SEARCH growout farm, where they are demonstrating how desert-adapted agro-biodiversity can be integrated into water-conserving farming systems for climate-friendly food production. Their farmstead is named Almuniya de los Zopilotes—Private Experimental Farm of the Turkey Vultures— to connect to the thousand year legacy of such biodiverse farms in Andalucia Spain, North Africa and the Middle East. You are invited to come and visit—or reserve the guest house for a work/study home-stay—to learn not only the heritage food plant and animal varieties being produced, but the water-harvesting strategies being used to reduce on-farm groundwater and fossil fuel uses.
More than a thousand years ago in Moorish Spain, farmer-scholars developed private experimental farms called almuniya to introduce new crop varieties, adapt and select ancient ones for new uses, and implement water- and energy-saving cropping strategies. Today, inspired by his friend Juan Estevan Arrellano’s book, Ancient Agriculture, Gary is developing the first-ever almuniya on Arizona soil. It will eventually produce enough heritage fruits and nuts to supply Gary and Laurie’s canning kitchen, which will market value-added heritage food products in the proposed Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area.
Farm Biodiversity Products
In less than one year of residence in Patagonia, Gary and Laurie have no doubt doubled the one-farm biodiversity of their five acres of land and ¾ acre pond. Their goal is to combine traditional ecological of desert farmers with agroecological and permacultural strategies to produce more biodiverse food on less external inputs than any private farm in the desert borderlands. Already, they have initiated the first three phases of agro-landscape development at their 4000 foot site in the shadow of Patagonia’s Red Mountain:
- An Orchard with a Mission: Gary collaborated with former grad student Nate O’Meara of Kitchen Gardens, Inc. to design a water-harvesting based orchard of some of the rarest but prolific Mission-era heritage fruit and nut varieties remaining in the Americas. To date, they have planted Mission olives, Mission figs, Mission grapes, Texas Mission almonds, Santa Barbara Mission pears, Sonoran pomegranates, Sonoran quinces, Indian cling peaches, Black Sphinx dates, Baja California Mission guavas, in addition to Kanal Sinap, Black Oxford, Yellow Bellflower and Winter Banana apples, pistachios and apricots. Using the theory of nurse plant ecology these tree crops shelter an understory of globe artichokes, perennial chile peppers, onions, shallots, bay leaves, rhubarb, purslane, amaranth and asparagus.
- A Succulent Slope: Gary designed water micro-catchments integrated with cobble terraces for the low-maintenance production of three mescal species and eight prickly-pear cactus species, in addition to coppiced mesquite trees that provide both edible pods and bio-char for soil improvements.
- Healing Gardens at Our Doorstep: Laurie, a trained herbalist and medical anthropologist guided Gary and Nate’s selections of medicinal plants for the dooryard garden in their front and side courtyards. It includes creosotebush, candeliila, wild oregano’s, aloes, lavenders, sages, bushmints, angelica, rosemaries, chilepequins, corianders, jojoba, mescal beans, pomegranates and figs.
On-Farm Training Opportunities
Hoping to soon follow through on an invitation from WWOOF to host for homestays students interns interested in organic farming, Gary has begun the laborious process of getting the farm certified organic. WWOOF- World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and other programs such as Earlham College’s Borderlands Studies Program have contacted Gary about regularly placing students at the farm, so Gary and Laurie have dedicated their two-room guest house for prospective visitors, whether affiliated with such programs or on their own. Gary can mentor students in desert agro-ecology, agro-biodiversity, seed-saving, water-harvesting, on-farm pollination enhancement or climate-friendly strategies for local food production. All training opportunities are customized and personalized for individuals or small groups.