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  • Writer's pictureBRN Staff

Harvesting Rainwater & Sustainable Gardens for Youth

As daylight waned and winter came into its own, the Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center (PYEC) began planning for the summer 2022 monsoon season building upon prior efforts to harvest rainwater, build vegetable gardens, and plan future crops. Through collaborations with BRN programs including Borderlands Earth Care Youth (BECY), and Ṣu:dagī ‘O Wuḍ Doakag (Water is Life) the youth center is creating a sustainable and rich landscape that creates opportunities for youth to learn and care for the land while growing sustainable food crops.


Ṣu:dagĭ ‘O Wuḍ Doakag interns check out the rain-fed vegetable garden at Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center.
Ṣu:dagĭ ‘O Wuḍ Doakag interns check out the rain-fed vegetable garden at Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center.

During the summer of 2021, BECY installed a 2,500-gallon cistern to gather rainwater from the youth center roof. A full cistern and a gravity-fed irrigation system now allows rainwater to support a verdant garden of peas, carrots, onions, lettuce, kale, chard, and broccoli, which is tended to by youth center attendees. Additionally, BRN has developed a landscape plan with the intention of expanding the food gardens, building a food forest, adding pollinator gardens, and providing a passive rainwater chicken coop. When it rains, a small cistern in the coop will fill with water accessible to chickens. ​


Snap peas and carrots growing solely on rainwater from the cistern at Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center.
Snap peas and carrots growing solely on rainwater from the cistern at Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center.

As part of this expansion, students visiting BRN from The Webb School in California and participants from our Ṣu:dagī ‘O Wuḍ Doakag (Water is Life) program from Baboquivari High School on the Tohono O’odham Nation, came together to install rain basins and a berry patch. The rain basins are connected to the roof with gutters and PVC piping, allowing water to trickle in when it rains. Next, they installed an irrigation system that will be connected to a new cistern generously donated by PYEC parent, Matthew Hendricks of Hendricks Sewer & Drain. Unlike many native plants that require less water, the berries will need supplemental watering during dry times of the year. ​


Ṣu:dagĭ ‘O Wuḍ Doakag interns plant a pineapple guava at the berry patch.
Ṣu:dagĭ ‘O Wuḍ Doakag interns plant a pineapple guava at the berry patch.

Through a series of collaborative workshops led by BRN and PYEC, and funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society, New York Community Trust, and generous PYEC donors, Patagonia youth have since planted six blueberry bushes, three raspberry and blackberry bushes, two pineapple guava trees, and two kiwi vines. These plants were inoculated with compost and compost tea from Deep Dirt Farm. PYEC youth are now completing their finishing touches on the berry patch, removing excess soil and stabilizing the basins with rock. Feel free to peek over the fence across from the Patagonia Volunteer Fire Department to see their progress!


Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center youth mulch blueberry bushes at the berry patch.
Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center youth mulch blueberry bushes at the berry patch.

Youth are already planning what they’ll do with the bounty from the berry patch – jam, blueberry muffins, and gobbling fresh raspberries off the bush. Some of the youth have never tasted the fruit that is now growing at the PYEC. The berry patch rain garden and the cistern-fed veggie garden will continue to sustain Patagonia families long into the future. ​


Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center youth and volunteers in front of the berry patch.
Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center youth and volunteers in front of the berry patch.

If you’re interested in learning more about harvesting rainwater in rain gardens or cisterns, sign up for our upcoming free Rainwater Harvesting Workshop series on Saturdays in April, with in-person classes both in Patagonia and Huachuca City.

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