By Emma Stahl-Wert
Thursday, October 12, 2017

​Once upon a time ... there was a 21-year-old, recently-graduated-from-Eastern-Mennonite-University, young woman, who had spent the previous four years learning all sorts of fancy things about herself and the world and her passions. She was READY to "go out in the world ... and do things for the good of all ..." And ... she had no idea where to start. So, naturally, like any directionless young person full of good intentions, optimism, and minimal life experience, she applied for Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS). MVS seemed the perfect fit—community living with other passionate young folks, a hook-up with some cool nonprofit doing something cool (farm- or garden-related in her case), and no need to worry about bills or housing for up to three years. Two months later, she was in Tucson, Arizona, learning about gardening in the desert, and working with residents in the Primavera Foundation's Transitional Housing program. Two years later, she was leaving MVS an older, wiser (slightly), aspiring Tucsonian. Six years after first setting foot in this desert city, she's still learning from this place and its people.

Hi! That woman was and is me, Emma Stahl-Wert. Since MVS, I have been incredibly blessed to find work and people that give me purpose and joy in this place I've learned to call home. After a short stint as a barista and another part-time Americorps term on a local farm, I finally landed my dream job, sort of. I landed a quarter-time gig at my favorite Tucson nonprofit.

While running the garden program for Primavera, I became aware of the importance of water in the desert AND of the practice called "water harvesting." Water harvesting includes storing the rain from roofs in tanks, as well as directing greywater out to landscape plants, and also shaping the earth to hold rain onsite where it can soak into the ground, instead of letting it all wash away during our BIG summer monsoon storms. A local nonprofit called Watershed Management Group (WMG) made it their mission to spread water harvesting practices across Tucson, and when they did some projects with Primavera, I got hooked. After growing vegetables in the desert for two years using imported Colorado River water (Arizona pumps water 300+ miles uphill across the desert), I was ready to take a WMG slogan seriously—"Plant the water before you plant the plants!"

It's been three years now and I've worked my way up from a quarter-time assistant position to what is actually my dream job (for now)—teaching and implementing water harvesting practices at local people's homes. I run projects in our co-op program, often referred to as a "Sonoran Barn-Raising," which warms my Mennonite heart. From initial consultation and design to implementation, I can do it all. And the best part is that when we go to install the tank, or dig the holes and plant the plants, we have huge groups of volunteers who come out to help and learn more about water harvesting, just like I once did. The creativity and satisfaction involved in installing a project is fulfilling in one way, and the energy and joy I get from teaching and learning with volunteers puts the icing on the proverbial cake. WMG's newest endeavor is to actually bring our historic rivers (now dry most of the year) back to life through good water policy and widespread rainwater harvesting. We are aiming to achieve this lofty goal within 50 years. I plan to be here to see it happen!





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​Emma Stahl-Wert served with MVS in Tucson, Arizona, from 2011-2013.




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