Local Opinion: 'Steward In Place' during COVID-19 and learn to grow food, conserve at home

Local Opinion: 'Steward In Place' during COVID-19 and learn to grow food, conserve at home

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

With the extension of the stay-home order by Gov. Doug Ducey and other similar extensions across the U.S., it’s becoming clear that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on our daily lives.

During this period when we are stripped down to our most basic needs, we are forced to deeply self reflect. Do we spend time on activities that really bring us joy, health and long-term satisfaction? With social connections cut off, how connected are we to our environment? Our yard? Our neighborhood green space? Our local arroyo, creek or river?

Just imagine if during this time we all make changes at home that have a positive impact on our personal health and our planet. Researchers found it takes an average of 66 days for people to form a new habit. With many of us at home with more time on our hands, we have fertile ground for forming new habits that stick.

I was fortunate to have an opportunity to take a sabbatical at the beginning of the year from my position as executive director of a local nonprofit. After two and a half months away with ample downtime, I came home with one really strong desire: to garden and grow more food. I love gardening but haven’t consistently made time for it in my busy schedule with work, sports and social engagements.

During my first week back to work in March, we switched to working from home. My jam-packed weekend sports schedule was entirely canceled for the spring. My desire was now possible – I immediately started expanding our veggie garden with recycled containers and home-made potting soil.

I used a sheet mulching technique to create garden soil out of weeds, tree trimmings, compost and desert soil. I planted seeds and watered the new garden with stored rainwater. My sense of urgency to grow food increased as the grocery store shelves were cleared out.

My nonprofit, Watershed Management Group, responded to the pandemic by launching a new effort, Steward In Place, at the beginning of April. Our message is simple: What you do in your yard and in your neighborhood does impact your local creek, river, lake or ocean.

So let’s use that power for good to enhance our watershed together. We’re helping people channel their energy into backyard conservation projects through providing weekly virtual workshops and how-to videos.

Many of us want to connect deeper with nature and be a better steward of our environment. Now is our golden opportunity. Let’s challenge ourselves to do these projects with resources at home.

We’re all flushing water down the drain, creating food and yard waste, and putting lots of stuff in the trash. So let’s turn that waste into resources and create compost, mulch, grey water for irrigation, and new planters. No trips to the store needed!

With gyms closed, it’s time to grab a shovel and dig a basin. Get your rain garden prepped to harvest the monsoon rains, which will be here sooner than we know it.

Growing more food has been on my bucket list for over a decade. Instead of being paralyzed by COVID-19, I’ve dived into daily gardening, which I aspire to become a life-long habit.

The virus is a wake-up call for us, and I hope we can all take this opportunity to form new habitats to steward in place and do something good for our local environment now and for many years to come.

Lisa Shipek is the executive director and co-founder of local nonprofit Watershed Management Group and leads community engagement and collaborative partnerships to achieve their 50-year vision to restore Tucson’s heritage of flowing rivers. Learn more at watershedmg.org

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