Ecological selves are adaptable

I am convinced that an attitude of ecological emplacement may be transferred from one region to another. Working at Rainshadow Farm has shown me this. About one-fourth of the people involved with the workshops at Rainshadow Farm have lived in this region for five or fewer years. Many lived in the Los Angeles basin before moving to the high desert.  My own experience would reflect that. I grew up in northwestern Ohio, in a rust belt city.  I became familiar with an industrial cityscape and its river banks. I spent much of my childhood and youth exploring streamside, riverbank and the Lake Erie shoreline. I saw steam rising from the water on summer evenings and forested ravines.  I saw fish, dead, floating in the pollution of the Maumee River. This was the era when the next watershed over, to the east, had terrible pollution problems. The Cuyahoga River spontaneously burst into flames from industrial toxins. Still, there was an ecological bond with the region. I hiked remnants of ancient wet prairie land, dry oak savanna, and forested ravines. After my college years, my immediate desire was to live in a California beach town which I did for over a decade. I learned what ecosystems underlay the commercial development of the South Bay beach cities and the area’s past cultural and natural history. I also began to scuba dive to spend time in and around the Pacific Ocean learning personally about the ocean biome. I nearly drowned myself in a stupid scuba accident. Still, the area around the ocean became my life. I also became involved in gardening and community life there with no desire to move.

However, I did relocate to southern California’s “inland Empire” with my former husband when his employment changed locations to the southern Mojave Desert. Initially I had no interest in living in the desert; it seemed foreign and a bit daunting to me, environmentally, coming from regions where there was ample water. We relocated for a decade to a mountain town. The forest environment in the San Gabriel Mountains was not unfamiliar to me, having lived part of my life in the oak savanna and forested regions of northwestern Ohio and in the forests of Connecticut, also having spent time in the wooded hill country in West Virginia.

As our family grew from one to eight children, we realized that it might be beneficial to consider high desert life: five miles down the hillside, properties were larger and small-scale farming was possible. The land, while semi-arid, was more amenable to gardening than the very shady Yellow Pine forest of the mountains.

That move became my opportunity to test my own ecological sensibilities. I discovered that I was able to love the land in its seemingly desolate character. I found myself exploring possibilities in small-scale farming and ecological agriculture in a drylands region. Moreover, I began to reach out to the community. With so many children, there were always more children around with various families interested in what we were doing, what we were growing, and what kinds of animals we were keeping. Our first farm became an unofficial resource center for local families, and particularly local home educating families. The farm became a casual clearinghouse for information about experiential and learner-directed home education, state laws and regulations surrounding homeschooling, and “fun on the farm.”

When we had to give up this farm due to financial issues, initially I thought I was seeing the death of a dream. Instead, over the years, I learned to become an intensive drylands exurban gardener, while I began completed graduate school. I still advised and collaborated with other home educating families, experimented with public speaking and presenting workshops, and took on a college teaching job. Eventually I purchased land for a new farm and found myself a single mother. Throughout all of these changes I feel as though my environment has sustained me, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Rainshadow Farm as it exists today would not be possible without the foregoing experiences. The desert land that intimidated me at first has become a close companion and teacher to me.

Learning on the land with other people can be a way of healing, not only environmentally, but socially. Reflecting the pathway of many other educators, my own experiences became the core of my research into learning/teaching and sustainable lifeways. Rainshadow Farm itself has become a gathering place for socioecological learning and healing.

Summer Sunset at Rainshadow Farm by Erin Ward

Summer Sunset at Rainshadow Farm by Erin Ward



About rainshadowfarm

I teach anthropology, am an archaeologist, a drylands agroecologist, community educator, and a single mother of eight grown kids. I currently own and operate an educational and research farm in the southern Mojave Desert, Rainshadow Farm. I'm 100% West Virginia hillbilly. Not necessarily in that order.
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