'Let's go make change on the planet': Working with youth in permaculture

Did you know that nearly 4,000 students and other youth have visited Deep Dirt Farm, now Deep Dirt Institute, over the last 14 years? Kate Tirion mentors, teaches and inspires hundreds of young people from Arizona and around the world who come to experience successful permaculture practice here at the Institute every year. Youth have been fundamental to our growth and success, from planting grasses and trees to building watershed management structures, making adobe bricks and planting garden beds. At Deep Dirt Institute our product is education and our curriculum is taught through dozens of on-site structures and projects. Much like the mutualistic relationship between honey bee and flower, youth learn from the Deep Dirt Institute model while simultaneously benefitting and helping shape both the land and the curriculum during their visits.

Since [2012], Deep Dirt Institute has partnered with Borderlands Restoration Network’s Earth Care Youth Institute (BECY) to connect local [high school] students with the principles and practices of permaculture. So far this year we have welcomed two BECY groups, one from Douglas, AZ and another from here in Patagonia, AZ. Each group spent a morning touring the Institute with Kate, then working on a team restoration project. It is a priority this year to restore the fruit and nut orchard from its somewhat neglected and very gopher-challenged state. With the Douglas group we began by redefining paths, pulling Ambrosia artemisiifolia (a noxious, invasive weed antithetical to its Latin name) from beneath trees, removing mesquite stumps and other dead material, and mulching bare soil with native grass hay. When the Patagonia group arrived a few weeks later, they were tasked with adding rock to orchard paths, and augering 30"-deep post holes for railroad ties that will support 4 gates and steel remesh fencing to enclose the orchard.

Aside from the substantial physical work accomplished, important aspects of these visits are the opening and closing sessions, in which Kate encourages BECY participants to reflect and share in discussions of society's most pressing challenges. This summer BECY youth consistently voiced fear for both their personal and planetary future--including career options--as well as anger over forced family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border and our political leaders taking the planet for granted. The vulnerability in their answers is itself an inspiration. While it is evident that many young people today are anticipating the loss of a bright future, the fact that they are keenly aware of the environmental, social, and political crises we are facing incites hope. It is today's young people who can make the most noise now to effect change on our planet, so that the generations who follow can envision and experience a future that is not so dim.

Here is how a few BECY participants responded when asked to reflect on their time at Deep Dirt Institute:

By coming back every year with BECY, I see what works [in the environment] and what doesn't.

(4th year participant)

When I hear from [Kate] I feel inspired. I get a lot of motivation from this place and I see how I can do something. (BECY facilitator)

Visiting Deep Dirt Institute has opened my mind. (1st year participant)

Visiting Deep Dirt Institute has changed my career path - I was inspired to be a wildlife filmographer. (4th year participant)

When I come here I am reminded of what a good system looks like and how it is interdisciplinary. (BECY facilitator).

If you are a young person yourself or you are a concerned adult, the Deep Dirt Institute team invites you to join us and the BECY crews in our efforts to make positive change on the planet. You might join the climate strike movement inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg that has spread across the world, support the Green New Deal, pick up Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Harari from your local library, even plan a visit to Deep Dirt Institute! Whatever it is, large or small, take action.

What will you put into action today? Let us know in a comment.

To learn more about our partner organization, Borderlands Restoration Network and their BECY program, visit https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/

To see youth taking action in response to the climate crisis, visit http://thisiszerohour.org/.

And to learn more about 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, visit https://www.theguardian.com/profile/greta-thunberg.

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