In Spring of 2013, a generous donor invited Ecosa students to design and implement a project on his land in Sedona. Last week, we broke ground on the permaculture portion of the design.
Ecosa partnered with Villegas Landscape, LLC owner Joe Villegas, who typically designs and installs high-end (but conventional) residential and commercial landscapes in the Sedona area. Before the economic downturn, Joe aspired to build a subdivision adhering to regenerative, restorative, and sustainable principles. He took part in permaculture workshops and familiarized himself with the latest technologies. However, the market for ecologically designed architecture tanked, and just as his project was finally within reach, it slipped through his fingers. Joe was left with a strong desire to implement his knowledge but with little demand from home and business owners in Arizona.
When Villegas Landscape, LLC, was approached to work on this Ecosa project, Joe was elated! Not only did he squeeze us into his schedule and agree to do the intricate backhoe work himself, but he deeply discounted his usual fee in support of our educational mission.
The original plan developed by the Spring 2013 Ecosa students was critiqued at the end of the term by the owner and professors. Then, Fall 2013 students visited the site with broad-land expert Craig Sponholtz and longtime Ecosa collaborator Brad Lancaster. These experts made recommendations based on their observations, and the plan was again modified. Finally, Joe Villegas worked closely with Ecosa staff to make further revisions to the design based on the capabilities of the heavy equipment and budget restrictions. Because Joe speaks the language of Ecosa, he was able to fully understand our ideas and rational, and most importantly, could make informed decisions based on our philosophy and ethics on the fly.
A tremendous amount of earth was moved last week. An existing drainage ditch, which served to route water off of the property in a fast, erosive straight-away, was reclaimed with rocks and dirt that had been trucked in and deposited by APS on the property over the years. A berm was reconfigured to encourage the natural drainage to flow into an area earmarked to be a ‘resource meadow’. Hopi corn will flourish in the future as the water is slowed, spread, and sunk.
On the final day of excavation, Spring 2014 Ecosa students Mike Gray and Jeff Glessing; friends Rebecca (and alumnus Nicholas deMatties) constructed a rock mulch run-down (as suggested by Craig Sponholtz) to restore the fenceline adjacent to National Forest property. Heavy equipment had mined soil there at a 90-degree angle for other projects on the property in the past, and the area developed major erosion issues. With Joe’s help on the backhoe, the slope was restored to a 1:3 ratio. Fist-to-football sized rocks were collected and the students made quick work of piecing them tightly together along the slope. The area was seeded with Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) in experimental fashion, with half of the slope sprinkled with seed, and the other half with the seed worked into the soil. The seeds were watered-in, and we expect to see a lovely, stable fenceline after a few more rains.
Projects like this are rare in higher education – the experiential learning at Ecosa is a win for the students, a win for the contractor, a win for the donor, a definite win for the environment and really fun for the staff!