Day 2 at Borderlands Restoration Network

by Biani, Civic Semester Participant

From Tuesday the 9th till Friday the 12th we did an organization visit with Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN) in Patagonia, Arizona. BRN is a non-profit made up of smaller organizations, like the Deep Dirt Institute and the Native Plant Nursery, that we had the privilege of working with and learning from this week. During our stay in Patagonia, we camped at the Deep Dirt Institute campus. Deep Dirt Institute was founded by Kate Tirion, an all-round inspiring human being that is dedicated to understanding how best we can utilize native materials and believes in the enthusiastic energy of youths, like ourselves, to make these ideas come to life. I will be writing about the day that we spent at the Native Plant Nursery and Borderland Wildlife Reserve (BWR).

It was a sleepless night for the group followed by a chilly morning that made the mood a little somber. But, our spirits were quickly lifted by the cheery aura of Francesca, the director of the Nursery. Francesca took us on a tour of the property, showing us all the greenhouses and pointing out her favorite plants. She shared with us some of her germination recipes, such as chilling the seeds, pouring boiling water on them and squeezing lime on their outsides. We also got to learn a lot about agaves like how they take decades to grow, are mostly pollinated by bats and used to make tequila. Her love for the native plants was infectious and got us excited for the work that we would be doing with agaves later in the day. We got to transfer agaves into larger pots so they had more space to grow, while dancing to Ariana Grande in the background. By the end of the visit, Francesca got us appreciating how sexy plants are and the importance of staying motivated when trying to garden.

After taking a break for class, we got to meet with Cholla who is the Lead Technician and Safety Coordinator for the Borderland Wildlife Reserve. She shared with us the history of the reserve and what it means for land to be a wildlife sanctuary: no hunting takes place as the land is protected and can only be used for light recreational use. We got to learn that the topography of the land (specifically the Sky Islands) is what makes it so special and a biodiversity hotspot. Over 7000 species of plants and animals can be found in the reserve (which I think is pretty cool)! Later Cholla taught us what equipment is necessary to identify the animals that can be found on the reserve, which are wildlife trail cameras and sound scaling equipment. Cholla talked more about the wildlife cameras and showed us pictures of bobcats, bears, barn owls, and silver foxes that had been caught on camera. We ended our meeting by driving down to see one of the camera traps that had been set up by Cholla in the reserve.

The visits that we did on our second day were truly eye-opening and I learnt so much from Francesca and Cholla. I am just so grateful that they were able to take the time to speak to us so that we could learn from them and expand our understanding of wildlife in the borderlands. Will be updating you soon on the other fun visits that we have!

Originally posted here.

Day 1 at Borderlands Restoration Network

by Loey, Civic Semester Participant

This past week we visited Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN) which is an organization based in Patagonia, Arizona. From November 9th to 12th, we worked with various programs and branches of BRN which all focused around preserving and restoring close to 1800 acres of land across the U.S.-Mexico border with a strong foundation of permaculture and sustainability. Throughout our time in the Patagonia region, we camped within land owned by the organization called Deep Dirt Institute.

When we arrived at our campsite in the afternoon, we were greeted by a woman named Juliette who is the education director at Borderlands Restoration Network. We began our time at the organization with an informal tour, where we learned about the history of the Deep Dirt Institute and what BRN does. Where we had the privilege of camping was a project 25 years in the making by a woman named Kate and her husband. While there was no electricity, there was a make-shift kitchen where we could cook, tables where we ate and played cards, and a composting toilet. This system was a great learning opportunity for a lot of us. From traditional urbanite flooring sourced from local projects to plants growing within scattered bathtubs within the boundaries, this place was a beautiful and magical culmination of what Juliette explained to be permaculture. In short, permaculture is a method of cultivating and managing land using whole systems thinking that tries to intertwine all aspects of nature’s being. Examples that Juliette talked about were the way that they source their water from a well, the use of solar energy, regenerative agriculture, and water shed restoration. A water shed is a geographical place where water is collected from different areas to a common outlet, and their protection helps save endangered native species and natural habitats. Continuing, the emphasis on permaculture also had to do with the unbelievable diversity of the land. BRN is home to 350 different species of bees alone, and there is even more population diversity that is just as astonishing. Juliette explained to us that geologically there are at least five different ecosystems converging in this one area. The Borderlands are a migratory pathway in many ways, not only for humans. This land was historically a crossroads for a plethora of different species, human or otherwise, and the impact of the border has been felt negatively by the entire ecosystem. Staying on the land that we were learning from made us feel all the more connected to the people and this experience.

After speaking with Juliette and receiving a wealth of background and information, we met with a woman named Tess who manages the water restoration branch of BRN. She taught us about just a fraction of some of the harm that humans have done to this planet, including mining and the overgrazing of land due to cattle. What I enjoyed most from Tess was that she approached nature and conservancy through ideas of reciprocity and mutual respect. For the rest of the day, we worked on building rock structures incrementally through streams in order to prevent erosion. At this site we met Eduardo, Zach, and Nicole, who taught us the intricate work of creating these structures. We were shown how pivotal these erosion control structures are to the water shed’s preservation, and how closely these engineering projects can work and intertwine with human-made art within natural habitats.

Originally posted here.

No Mas Muertes, No More Deaths

by Lily, Civic Semester Participant

“The antithesis of [the] border is genuine connection with people”

 Finn, No More Deaths Volunteer 

Saturday, November 6th, 2021 marks the Civic Semester’s second site visit in this portion of our trip in the Southern New Mexico and Arizona area. The cohort had another early morning (well worth it to see the beautiful sunrise on the mountains!) as we left Rodeo, New Mexico around 6:30 AM to make our way to the small town of Irovaca, Arizona, population size 700. There, we were introduced to No More Deaths volunteers, Finn, Hannah, Juliana and Ry (and last, but certainly not least, Finn’s dog June Bug!!) who started out the day by giving us a presentation on the historical and current context behind the U.S-Mexico Border Crisis. No More Deaths operates as a humanitarian-aid organization dedicated to ending death and suffering in the Mexico-US borderlands through a multitude of projects such as aid in the desert, search and rescue, and providing medical aid, food and water and other guidance. They also explained No More Death’s horizontal organizational structure, as opposed to the more traditional hierarchical distribution of power, something our cohort has been especially interested in learning about in terms of community activism. Acknowledging the increased time it takes to make decisions—everyone must reach consensus!—it allows NMD liberty in freeing their minds to more radical ideas of organizing and creates a capacity for each individual to continuously reevaluate their reason and motivation for doing this work, as well as holding themselves accountable to each other and their mission. Additionally, it means a constant need to improve on the organization’s communications, collaboration and transparency—something the Civic Semester is working on as well!

While sitting in the extreme, desolating heat of the Sonoran Desert during this conversation, our cohort was hit by the immensity and gravity of such a complex issue like the Border Wall,  the economic, political, historic and ethical crises that it encompasses, and the inhumanity and violence that those who travel between must endure. After our discussion, we went on a water drop where volunteers hike along trails and leave water, food, blankets and other supplies for those traveling through the desert. Heavy in our backpacks were an assortment of beans, gallons of water, snacks and blankets as we started our long trek toward the water drop site. Working our way through lots of thorny brush, rocky inclines, and the intense heat of the sun, we successfully made it to the site with June Bug leading the way! During our strenuous hike, we were once again hit with the realization of the truly impossible and extremely dangerous task of walking across the desert for survival, shelter, and safety and the weight of the situation and work we were doing.

“How do you reconcile with the work that you are doing on a day-to-day basis with an issue that extends beyond any individual, any organization, any nation-state?” In other words, “ Where do you find the strength and hope within this work?” This question sat heavy on my mind, our discussion and the day.

“ …This work is for my ancestors, and for my future ancestors regardless of what happens, and what is happening now”

Ry, NMD Volunteer 

“ The antithesis of the border is genuine connection with people.”

Finn, NMD Volunteer 

These responses, coupled with the clear, vulnerable, and beautiful relationships that these individuals held for each other and for the community of Irovaca, made clear the dedication, perseverance and determination each of them possessed to maintain an internal strength and hope. A hope that was profoundly inspiring to our own conversations of this struggle to tackle these anchored, institutional powers. As Finn reminded us, as many bad days as there are, it is vital to remember the really, really good days and the people you meet and create genuine connection with. And our visit with No Mas Muertes was a really, really good day to say at the very least. We will forever be grateful to those at No More Deaths and their vulnerability, transparency, and the opportunity to work with them.

With all our love and gratitude to NMD,

Tufts Civic Semester 2021

Originally posted here.

Canyon Creek Hike

by Ben, Civic Semester Participant

On November 5th, we got up early, ate some breakfast, and drove to Arizona. The air was cool and crisp, and as our cars climbed into the mountains, it began to feel like fall again. Since coming further south, we’ve gotten accustomed to the earthy greens and browns of the desert, but seeing the vibrant reds and yellows of the leaves reminded us of Truchas, or even of home. As we stepped out, our hiking boots hitting the rocks and dust beneath our feet, we were hit by a wave of smells: sage, rosemary, mint, and pine. Birds were chirping in celebration of the new day and we started working our way up the trail in a loose single file.

This was our fourth hike we’ve done as a group, and our first in Arizona. During each trek, our conversations ebb and flow, constantly changing focus and character. One moment we’re joking about fake business ideas and the next we’re discussing the importance of mental health. Throughout the line, a chorus of conversations might occur, with different social atmospheres being formed based on who is in earshot. These tend to shift often, especially as we pause for water or break file to cross a river bed, leading to new combinations of people. Alternatively, sometimes there are no conversations. Instead, we climb meditatively, listening to our own breathing and the rustling of the leaves. It’s this variety that I think I love the most. In a group of 11 people, it can be difficult to find space for different kinds of interactions among ourselves. When we hike, connections are more fluid, and we can choose to focus on the whole group, a few people, one person, or just ourselves. Ultimately, despite any spoken words, we complete the climb together, and that creates a bond. This program is teaching me the importance of movement and the body not only for health, but for community as well. A relationship is created and felt when you push each other to reach a peak. There’s something special about that moment, about seeing ourselves clearly as a group.

November 5th also marked one month until the program ends, and nearly two months since it began. My perception of time is not the same here as it was in Truchas. Some of that is because we’re taking a different pace, but a lot of it is because I can feel the finish line approaching. As a result, I’ve been finding it difficult to stay completely present and engaged in the group and our visits.

But there are moments that pull me back and remind me why I’m here. Our hike was one of those. I’m so grateful for these moments and I have so much love for everyone in the cohort. Here’s to an amazing final month 🙂

Talk soon – Ben

Originally posted here.

Flowers and Bullets

by Biani, Tufts Civic Semester Participant

Greeting friends and family, we had our first organization visit in Tucson, Arizona and I will start by saying that it was truly inspiring!

On October 29th, we set off bright and early at 6 am for our long awaited visit with our first organization in Arizona called Flowers and Bullets (F&B)! Flowers and Bullets is a community-based organization in Barrio Centro/Julia Keen that focuses on counteracting the effects of systemic economic and environmental racism by creating healthy alternatives for the neighborhood, such as art, rain water harvesting, and farming.

The organization was started by Tito Romero and Jacob Robles after the Mexican American Studies department at a local high school in Tucson was shutdown for promoting “ethnic chauvanism” and “discrimination towards Americans of European descent.” After being exposed to youth organizing around the U.S, Jacob and Tito decided to create Flowers and Bullets, which started off as a T-shirt line. The name ‘Flowers and Bullets’ represents a push back against society as well as their upbringing in the community as it was both influenced by art, but also a struggle. A year later, the organization began to grow when Dora Martinez joined as they were able to incorporate gardening and farming into their work.

The farm space that they work out now (Midtown Farm) is an old elementary school that was shutdown by the city. This was heartbreaking for the community as the school was the heart of the neighborhood filled with celebrations, art and laughter. F&B is trying to fill that gap by bringing the community into the work that they do, through their BSA (Barrio Supported Agriculture) program, rainwater harvesting, and organizing neighborhood fiestas. Something great that they do in their BSA program is prioritizing locals, elders, and pregnant women for who gets to be selected to receive their fresh goods. They are also very involved in painting murals around the community because they understand the importance of creating a welcoming space, especially for people of color and so they try to incorporate black and brown faces into their art to represent the people in the community. Beyond growing fruits and vegetables, Midtown Farm also raises chickens and goats. Fun fact, the chicken coupe at the farm was actually built by high school students as a project. Flowers and Bullets truly prioritizes incorporating education into the work that they do and using things like farming and cooking as opportunities for learning. The organization has realized that there is a disconnect between consumers and the food industry, and are trying to bridge that gap through their farm, which I think is very admirable.

We were lucky enough to spend the day with them. We started off the morning learning about the organization and taking a tour of the farm, where we got to hang out and pet the goats. Next, we started working on the farm and did a bunch of different jobs like raking, plucking green beans, and cutting corn stems. After that we took a lunch break and played with the goats some more (this time we got to feed them!). In the afternoon we began canvassing in groups of two or three and spread flyers that had to do with a Barrio Fiesta happening soon. We ended the day reflecting and sharing gratitude about the time we had spent with Tito, Jacob, Brandon, and Silvia and our overall thoughts on the neighborhood. Listening to the work that they do and the positive impact that they are having on Barrio Centro is motivating and inspiring because despite being such a small group, they are making great progress and creating a safe space for community members to turn to. The work that they are doing has encouraged me to stay motivated while community organizing and understand there are different ways to support a neighborhood and you do not only have to specialize in one area.

Thank you Flowers and Bullets for sharing your community with us, and we will be sure to take everything we have learned from you on community organizing back to Tufts!

Originally posted here.

Dreams, Soaked in Pink

by Empress, Tufts Civic Semester Participant

( based on experiences in Big Bend State Park)

If you lay on your back,

And throw your hands to the sky,

Between every finger is a star you can find!

If you close your eyes,

Just for a second,

You’ll find a place for your dreams to fly!

And when you choose,

To open your eyes,

Your visions will be met by the pink sky!

Deep in your being,

And deep in your mind,

You’ll find a view as sweet as pie,

You may find a world where your heart can thrive,

But you’ll always be grounded by the pink in the sky.

Originally posted here.