The thriving agricultural and oil industries of the Southern San Joaquin Valley are quickly approaching their limits. Instead of aiming to fix the region’s problems of subsidence, saline soils, contaminated groundwater, poor air quality and vulnerability to drought, we propose a menu of strategies to layer flexibility and complexity into the system as it meets difficult realities. Borrowing from ecological theory, we see this landscape as a dynamic mosaic of patches. First introducing an adaptive menu of economically, ecologically, and socially viable options into the local lexicon, over time the feedback loops between patches and strategies multiply into a living territorial system that responds to the landscape context – climate, hydrology, geology and soil. When layered together the strategies can transform, re-purpose, or hybridize obsolete, static land use types into a responsive system of rotating land patterns and maintenance regimes. We acknowledge the unavoidable obsolescence of infrastructure and contemporary land use and provide an alternate vision for the process of “failing.”

During our field visit we spoke with farmers using both mainstream and alternative practices. We witnessed a landscape on the brink of water-scarcity collapse as a clearly defined mosaic of five types: Orchard, Recharge Pond, Oil Field, Nature Reserve, Ground Crops. This county (Kern) produces both the most oil and the most food crop revenue of any place in the United States. Photo by Chloe Nagraj.

project manifesto

photograph from our field visit by Chloe Nagraj

Mapping vulnerabilities of the Southern San Joaquin Valley (Collaborative map)

Our design was a catalog of strategies using the tools of current practices in new ways, to transition into a shifting mosaic of new and existing landscape forms that could be more responsive to changing conditions. Collaborative list drawn by Chloe Nagraj. 

Catalog of tools and machines: current uses and transition to use in proposed strategies
Current practices tear out almond orchards during droughts or at the end of their production lifecycle. Dead trees are burned in the fields or hauled to incinerators before either being replanted with the same dense orchard, or left fallow to contribute to the dust pollution. We imagine instead a transition using almond trees as pasture brush fencing. Through hay mulching and rotational grazing the soil is slowly rehabilitated, holding more water and nutrients. Eventually the almond trees are reintroduced as a widely spaced silvaculture with little irrigation, in a form that supports a more robust ecology and small levels of food production on much less water. This idea was informed by conversations with farmer Nathanael Siemens.

Drawing by Chloe Nagraj

Project atlas and tools manual

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