Emma Stahl-Wert

When I moved to Tucson in 2011, fresh out of my Mennonite liberal arts college in my mother’s hometown in the Shenandoah Valley, with my newly acquired ‘BA in Environmental Sustainability’ and a passion for urban agriculture that I hoped would allow me to do meaningful work that also paid the bills, I had no idea what an impact the Sonoran Desert would have on my life trajectory, worldview, or vocational interests. This “desert” blew me away with its fascinating and diverse native plants, wild-er wildlife than I had ever encountered in my east coast upbringing, and a summer monsoon season that inspires awe and gratitude in equal measure.  

My first few years here were spent absorbing any and every thing I could about growing crops in this new and foreign environment. Very quickly, I learned that ‘water is life,’ is not just a catchy slogan, but an urgent reality that cannot be ignored if we hope to grow food and live here. I learned about the Sonoran Permaculture Guild and took the Sonoran PDC in 2012 while still working in urban agriculture with a local non-profit. Soon thereafter, my growing understanding of this place and deepening love and respect for native plants, led me to seek out learning opportunities and employment within the rainwater harvesting field. 

I spent 5 years learning and working with Watershed Management Group, leading volunteer groups on water harvesting installations in commercial and residential spaces all over Tucson. I also acquired the ISA Arborist Certification in 2015. Since 2020 I have run a small, collaborative Water Harvesting Design and Install company in Tucson. I frequently lead volunteer groups, teach classes, and collaborate with other installers and city government to expand and improve our water harvesting practices city-wide.

It’s safe to say, I’ve put down roots here in the Sonoran Desert. Currently, I live with my beloved pup, River, 25 chickens, 3 goats, and my Designer-Craftsperson partner, Peter, and we are in the middle of building an adobe home right by downtown. My home will be the first new construction in Tucson to rely entirely on compost toilets and greywater with no sewer connection. I have been looking forward to closing some of the resource loops in my life ever since I took the PDC over a decade ago and am incredibly grateful to be able to put some of the skills and ethics I’ve learned over the last 13 years into practice in my own home/project…