Fall Highlights: The BECY Practicum!
By Caleb Weaver
On a Friday afternoon in early November 2015, 10 students from Patagonia Union High School (PUHS) sat in a circle on the football field, discussing their unique leadership styles through the framework of the leadership compass. These 15 to 17 year-olds were learning how to recognize and utilize their strengths while finding peer support for their weaknesses. The ultimate goal? Build a cohesive team of Youth Business Development Interns as part of the inaugural Borderlands Earth Care Youth (BECY) Practicum.
Borderlands Restoration (BR) has funded youth internships over the past 3 summers through the Borderlands Earth Care Youth (BECY) Institute. Graduates of the BECY Institute developed marketable job skills through hands-on training in watershed restoration, ecosystem restoration, and food system restoration. More than 30 youth have graduated from the BECY Institute, which was founded in Patagonia, AZ in 2013. The US Forest Service funded an expansion of the BECY Institute to Douglas, AZ in the summer of 2015, in collaboration with Sky Island Alliance and Cuenca Los Ojos.
The trend in rural border communities, where unemployment is often double the national average, is for folks coming-of-age to seek opportunities in the city. The opportunities that were once commonplace for teenagers and twenty-somethings are becoming scarce. The median age of ranchers, the long-time backbone of the rural borderland economy, is increasing and small family ranches are being sold – destined to be lumped with neighboring ranches or parsed into housing developments. Livelihoods dependent on the land automatically result in financial systems dependent on land health – what we call a Restoration Economy.
In the dry summer of 2015, three organizations came together to develop a model for grassroots Restoration Economy in the rural borderland region of Southern Arizona. Representatives from BR worked with G.A.R.D.E.N. Inc. and PUHS to build upon the successes of the BECY Institute. The team designed the BECY Practicum to support youth in developing land-based lifestyles during the academic year, and were awarded a Rural Business Development grant from the US Department of Agriculture to pilot the program.
By connecting youth with land-based small business owners within their local community – from farmers and ranchers to restorationists and marketers – youth in the inaugural BECY Practicum have the opportunity to develop the skills and connections necessary to create small businesses of their own. And in the spirit of community, they must rely on one another to see their business plans through. BECY Practicum interns are currently working on their small business plans.