Interview with Craig Sponholtz Watershed Artisan

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What originally inspired you to become a Watershed Artisan? And what continues to inspire you as a renowned Watershed Artisan who has done international restoration work? 

I didn’t originally set out to be an artisan in the field of land restoration.  First I was simply drawn in by the need to heal the degraded land I saw everywhere.  As I gained more experience, I came to understand that the structures and treatments that I was building had to stand the test of time, or nature would simply push them out of the way.  My background in art always gave me an appreciation for craftsmanship and aesthetics, that come out in most of what I do naturally, it’s part of who I am.  Restoration work taught me that craftsmanship meant the difference between necessary repairs or worse after every flood, or a well built structure that needed maybe just some small tweaks.  I began to see that the structures that work the best really had their own sense of beauty, especially when they are artfully blended into the surrounding landscape.  I’ve learned to smooth out edges because in this line of work, the edges of structures often become points of failure.  That smoothing really enhanced the beauty and functionality of what I was doing and I now understand that the two are inextricably linked.  If it’s not beautiful, it probably won’t last.

Unexpected things emerge from that beauty, and that inspires me.  People respond to the beauty.  For example when I help someone make something that they didn’t have any idea of how to and it comes out looking beautiful and they get to feel that pride of healing and of craft, I am extremely gratified that I can share that sense of accomplishment, it’s very inspiring. 

With the 
Land Restoration Training being held here at Quail Springs this October, what unique opportunities does this land offer the students who take the training?

The land restoration training at Quail Springs provides a very unique opportunity to be involved in a long term restoration project that will become part of the identity of the community of folks that live there.  The watershed surrounding Quail Springs has been degraded over time, but the activities of the farm are an excellent attempt to turn that tide and make the land productive again.  In my opinion, the next step is to directly tie the healing of the land into all of the great farming and natural building that is already happening at Quail Springs.  It’s a natural evolution that is at it’s early stages.  That is the exciting opportunity for students.  This class will provide opportunities for students to make meaningful contributions to the health and resilience of Quail Springs, this class isn’t just theory, it’s about putting all of these pieces together and coming up with a solution that becomes part of the Quail Springs community.  Hopefully many students will have similar opportunities in the future or even on their own land.  It helps to see what the process looks like and to be part of weighing all of the possibilities.  It’s a unique opportunity for me as well to be able to form a long-term relationship with a landscape and a community that is committed to setting a beneficial example.

In what ways do you think the Land Restoration Training could benefit those who are interested in or currently exploring Permaculture Design?
Permaculture provides a wonderful array of tools and an ethical context to use those tools within.  In my experience it can often be lacking some of the information regarding natural processes that really imbed the tools and ethics into the landscape.  At the very least, I am confident that all of my students walk away from these course with a new way to look at the landscape and at natural processes that involve moving water.  My hope is that I can provide more context about how water moves through the landscape and the critical functions it performs as it does so in order to help students look at just about any permaculture tool or land management activity and decide for themselves whether or not it fits within a specific landscape or context.  It is a skill that compliments permaculture greatly, but it takes time and some specific training to develop.
What are some of the ways that the Land Restoration Training could benefit people who live in an urban environment? 
Everyone needs a little bit of nature wherever they can get it.  We have pushed most of it out of urban areas and that has created interesting opportunities to bring it back in.  I have done several projects that deal with urban stormwater as a regenerative resource that I use to clean the water, grow shade, food or wildlife habitat.  When I build these rainwater gardens I really bush the artistic elements to the forefront since urban areas can be so devoid of natural beauty.  I have found that people will initially be intrigued by the beauty and that creates an opportunity to bring all of the functional elements such as treating a perceived waste product as a resource, into the conversation.  I live in a small city, but I don’t find this any less important where I live.  Anywhere that we can allow nature to reemerge within our lives and communities, I think we will be the better for it.  The possibilities are limited only by imagination and bureaucracy, so the more demand we create for re-integrating natural processes, the more likely the bureaucracy will follow our lead eventually.  I choose to be on the creative and imaginative side of the equation, so anything one can do to better understand how land healing and natural processes work is likely to open up the imagination and push the limits of what is possible in urban areas.  Land restoration may sound a little more esoteric in the urban context, and for now it probably is, but our work can change that.  So I encourage all interested urbanites to attend these classes as well, even if the application of techniques is a bit beyond yard-scale, we need to be thinking bigger than that anyway.  Besides, it’s really not the watersheds that need fixing, it’s how we relate to them that is broken.
Could you share one of your favorite success stories around your Land Restoration work? 
To learn more about the October 2-5, 2014 Land Restoration Training at Quail Springs with Craig Sponholtz and Brenton Kelly, please visit:

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