Spring Speaker Series

Living with the Land, Part 2: Food in the Desert

Building on our 2020 speaker series (which you can revisit on our YouTube channel), we’re excited to showcase content from our 2022 spring speaker series, “Living with the Land Part II: Food in the Desert.”

In March and April 2022, we brought 8 food systems luminaries and hundreds of attendees together to explore traditional, modern, and future solutions for creating thriving food systems in both urban and rural desert environments. This speaker series took place live at Arcosanti on the dates indicated below.

Featuring active practitioners, thought leaders, and experts in fields from permaculture to rainwater harvesting to indigenous agriculture and more, this series was designed to re-examine and expand our understanding of what it means to live sustainably on and with the land. Several of the speakers are also involved with supporting the revitalization of the agricultural program at Arcosanti itself.

To Watch: Visit our YouTube channel, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, too!

Michael Kotutwa Johnson

Indigenous Conservation: Restoration of the American Indian Food System

Saturday, March 5 | 11 AM to 12:15 PM

Since time immemorial Indigenous peoples’ have been practicing a variety of different land management techniques. These placed-based management schemes were based upon survival including the raising and integration of an array of food sources. However, as a result of various U.S. policy including removal Indigenous people have had to adapt to a new way of life. The restoration of the American Indian Food system is the continued integration of customs and traditions to ensure their continued survival for generations to come.

About the Speaker

Dr. Johnson is a traditional Hopi Farmer and a strong advocate of Indigenous conservation land management techniques as well as a supporter of indigenous data and food sovereignty. His recent publications include subject matter on the barriers still facing Indigenous people from participating in United States Department of Agriculture conservation programs, as well as offering solutions to some of the barriers. He is currently a chapter author on the National Climate Assessment 5, as well as a former Program Officer of the Native American Agriculture Fund.  He holds a Ph.D. in Natural Resource Management from the University of Arizona, a Masters in Public Policy from Pepperdine University, a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Cornell University.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-kotutwa-johnson-phd-mpp-16542049/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004004193091

Watch the Recording

Gary Nabhan

Sustainably Growing Food in the Face of Climate Change and Water Scarcity

Saturday, March 5 | 1:30 PM to 2:45 PM

Over the next half century, climate change will dramatically affect which wild food plants can be integrated into edible landscaping and which horticultural crop varieties reach optimum quality in nearly every foodscape in North America. Our plant selection options in each microclimate will be radically reworked by declining chill hours, extreme summer temperatures, the changed frequency of tropical storms, and extended droughts. With 2,300 counties declared drought disaster areas in the US within the last two years, it is time that horticulturists, gardeners, and farmers in every part of the country look more critically at the wealth of traditional desert farmers’ and permaculturists’ adaptations to drought, heat, and water scarcity.

About the Speaker

Gary Nabhan is a Franciscan Brother, agroecologist, desert botanist and nature writer with a half century of fieldwork in the Desert Southwest and Mediterranean. He was inspired to move to Arizona when he saw Paolo Soleri’s first national exhibit on architectural design at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC  in 1970. In the winter of 1971, he met Paolo Soleri and hosted him for a lecture at Prescott College. An Arab-American, he has recently been integrating Soleri’s aesthetics with traditional Mozarabic and Arid American design principles to create contemplative gardens of desert plants and perennial polycultures of arid-adapted food plants for a new agriculture. Author or Editor of more than 30 books, he has been honored with fellowships from the McArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Lannan Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Follow him at garynabhan.com

Watch the Recording

Greg Peterson

How Urban Farming May Be Key to Reclaiming our Food Sovereignty

Saturday, March 19 | 11 AM to 12:15 PM

Greg sheds light on how urban farming may be the answer to addressing the affordability and accessibility of healthy grown foods; why we should get inspired to grow some of our own foods, even if we have the convenience of being close to supermarkets; and more.


About the Speaker

“What if there was a garden and fruit tree in every yard?” This is a question that Greg ponders every day.  For over 30 years he has been working on one of Phoenix’s first environmental showcase homes for urban farming.  His 1/4-acre yard features a primarily edible landscape with over 50 fruit trees, rainwater and greywater harvesting, solar applications, and extensive use of reclaimed and recycled building materials. 

In 2003 UrbanFarm.org was created as an online portal for urban farming education then in 2015 Greg created the UrbanFarmPodcast.com that in just 6 years has released over 650 episodes amassing over 3 million listens to date.  On his days off he hangs out in his garden with Heidi his sweetheart, Kismet their pooch creating new projects and catching some rays.



Watch the Recording

Roxanne Swentzell

The Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute

Saturday, March 19 | 1:30 PM to 2:45 PM

For my presentation, I will talk about our work here at Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute. As a Native American run organization, we focus on the issues and needs of our Pueblo culture here in Northern New Mexico. I will discuss how we are working towards a more sustainable community through relearning traditional ways that are in balance with our environment.  Through farming/gardening, health and foods, traditional building, and cultural crafts, we teach and do research that can help the community move forward with more information and resources in order to live a more thoughtful and meaningful life.

About the Speaker

Roxanne Swentzell is a member of the Santa Clara Pueblo tribe located in Northern New Mexico. She co-founded the non-profit, Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute in 1989 and helped create a permaculture site at her house in Santa Clara Pueblo. Roxanne continues to work with the concepts of permaculture merging them with her own understandings of her culture and how her people survived for thousands of years in the high deserts of the Southwestern United States. She teaches and gives presentations on what she has learned.

Roxanne created a cook book, “The Pueblo Food Experience”, and also helped create a community newsletter, “droppings”.  Roxanne is a world re-known sculptor who has used her artistic skills to add aesthetics to the implementation of permaculture. Whether building, gardening or making a basket, Roxanne strives to create beauty that has meaning connected to place-based communities and homes. As a mother, grandmother and now an elder within her community, she continues to do what she can to teach and set up sites that will help the next generations live healthier lives.

For more information on Roxanne Swentzell go to: www.roxanneswentzelltowergallery.net

For more information on Flowering Tree go to: www.floweringtreepermaculture.org

Watch the Recording

James Allen

What Is a Food Forest and Why Should You Want One?

Saturday, April 16 | 11 AM to 12:15 PM

Jim will discuss what food forests are, what types of settings they might fit into especially well, and how they can work specifically in Southwestern and other dry climates. He will also be providing a complimentary guided tour of the Arcosanti Food Forest following the afternoon presentation by Kat Thompson.

About the Speaker

James (Jim) Allen is a Professor in the School of Forestry at Northern Arizona University (NAU) and served as its Executive Director from 2007 to 2021. Prior to his arrival at NAU in 2006, he served for six years as the Dean of the Forestry Division at Paul Smith’s College, in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. He also worked as a research ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Louisiana and for the U.S. Forest Service in Hawaii.

Dr. Allen’s interest in agroforestry dates to his work as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland, where he also carried out M.S. thesis fieldwork that was agroforestry related. His involvement in agroforestry in the Southwest began in 2017, when he took a sabbatical and spent part of it investigating current practices in this region. Dr. Allen recently completed a survey of urban and peri-urban food forests in the Four Corners region, with a primary focus on Arizona, and has published both peer-reviewed and non-technical publications on food forests and other agroforestry topics. He is a founding member and immediate past chair of the Southwest Agroforestry Action Network.

Watch the Recording
Kat Thompson

Kat Thompson

Edible Landscaping

Saturday, April 16 | 1:30 PM to 2:45 PM

Our modern farming practices and food security are becoming increasingly unsustainable.  This presentation will provide examples of ancestral and current Indigenous practices that have sustained communities and cultures in the Southwest for thousands of years. These agricultural practices can revitalize a local landscape into an edible landscape that is reflective of our bioregion and our diets.


About the Speaker

Greetings, my name is Kat Alicia Thompson.  I have had the privilege of growing up in Flagstaff, Arizona at the base of the beautiful and sacred San Francisco Peaks. Just before the pandemic, I completed my graduate degree in Forestry, with a graduate certificate in Applied Indigenous Studies, from Northern Arizona University.  My studies focused on how tribes can secure food sovereignty through environmental land management practices. Additionally, I have been training in high elevation gardening, Indigenous dry farming practices and permaculture methods. I am currently working towards establishing my own food forest and permaculture projects in Arizona and New Mexico.

Watch the Recording

Don Titmus

Rain Water Harvesting

Saturday, April 23 | 11 AM to 12:15 PM

Don’s presentation will be focused on the basics of rain water harvesting and the many methods of urban and rural harvesting for the benefit of the plant life and subsequently for our benefit. I will show examples of both urban and rural projects,  explain the math behind the installations, and connect all this to food production.

About the Speaker

Don’s love for nature and outdoor recreation began in his teens. This led to his career path of horticulture and subsequently to permaculture. Don began his permaculture path in 2003, where he quickly became aware that water was critical for life in the arid lands of the Southwest, and to achieve any level of a sustainable life water must come first.

Don developed his homesite in Mesa, AZ to harvest the rain, using many strategies to slow, spread, and sink the rainwater. Named the Bee Oasis, Don has developed this urban space into an outdoor sustainability tour destination, where he conducts tours seasonally, holds classes, and work experience opportunities.  Don quickly became the lead water harvester in the metro Phoenix area, learning from many that came before, and adapting that knowledge to the Valley needs.

Watch the Recording

Kristin Parsons

Successfully Integrating Regenerative Agriculture Practices, Education, and Scale into Homestead Design

Saturday, April 23 | 1:30 PM to 2:45 PM

The explosive shift of people wanting to add food growing, sustainable living, and even raising small livestock to their current life while working a full time day job one that will surely lead to burn out and failure without supportive and localized education and design. More than any other moment in my lifetime, the public is taking note of the fragilities of the current system and are looking to adjust their lifestyle to include homestead practices into an existing architectural landscape. But most who jump in and try and do both quickly find how difficult that can become! This talk will showcase the permaculture-based strategies I utilize to assist in a successful outcome for my clients, and the immense need for more designers in this rapidly growing field.

About the Speaker

My passion is homestead design with a focus on outdoor living and growing food. I utilize a holistic approach including regenerative agriculture and permaculture principles to create custom designs appropriate to my clients specific needs and abilities. With my ongoing support I build my clients confidence and get them growing their own food and creating their dream property!

I’ve got a 17-year professional career with combined experience in architecture, interior design, construction and permaculture. This multifaceted knowledge base sets me apart from the competition.




Watch the Recording

Comments are closed.