“Where language meets the earth, there is the holy, there is the sacred.”
N Scott Momaday
My name is Joel Johnson, and as a practicing writer and farmer, the sacred space that Momaday mentions is my calling and passion. Every place has a story to tell. When we tell them well, these words ground our ideas and actions and lead us into a form of stewardship that encourages the flourishing of all forms of life on earth.
It wasn’t until I left my home in Tucson, Arizona that I began to ask questions about where I came from and what defines a homeland. These are questions I continue to ask as a land manager of a Sonoran Desert garden farm.
The petroglyphs above are inscribed on a rock on Tumamoc Hill, a familiar landmark on the horizon of my childhood and the location of 4,000 years of continuously cultivated agricultural space—the oldest in North America.
I am only a third-generation Tucsonan. The language depicted on this earth speaks of millennia of agricultural stewardship, and it reminds me that this land is not mine, but I am part of it, and our stories shape each other in profound ways.
My goal, as a steward of both stories and seeds, is to serve this land restoratively—in a way that will outlast my own story, and honor the stewardship of the agrarians who came before me, and those who will inherit the impact of my decisions.
I graduated from Messiah College in central Pennsylvania, where my commitment to place-based narrative led me to study both English and Sustainability Studies, with concentrations in Writing and Sustainable Agriculture. I graduated summa cum laude with departmental honors in English and was awarded the Donald and Anna Zook Alumni Merit Award for my undergraduate work.
Recent Work Experience
Conservation Garden Farmer
Native Seeds/SEARCH, Tucson, AZ
- Manage seed saving gardens from planting to harvest, to regenerate seed bank samples and increase seed quantities for conservation and distribution
- Coordinate volunteer work and agricultural site expansion
- Supporting educational outreach, including instructional videos
- Developing new composting infrastructure
- Conducting field research for low-desert agricultural techniques
Trades and Agriculture Interpreter
Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, Tacoma, WA
- Designed yearly agricultural calendar, including garden and crop rotations and care for heritage fruit orchard.
- Interpreted 19th century agricultural practices, researching and leading educational programs and trainings on heritage farming skills for museum staff and public.
- Trained Fort Nisqually Garden Guild to save seeds and maintain kitchen garden
- Lead group educational tours and facilitating Fort Nisqually’s escape room games.
- FN liaison to the ALHFAM Indigenous Interpretation and Issues PIG
- Cultivated fields, aided in woodworking and construction of a period smokehouse, sowed, threshed, and winnowed grain, planted, harvested, and preserved heirloom crops and seeds.
Narratives of Place, Tacoma, WA
- Steward—writing whitepapers, grants, website copy, and newsletters about regenerative agriculture
- Western Ag Life Magazine—contributing quarterly articles about southwestern agriculture
- Next Gen Consulting—researched information for factsheets on CA regenerative agriculture
- Nikki Pava and Alegria Partners—provided ghostwriting, research, and editing for Green Wisdom book and blog posts to drive pre-publication marketing
- GrowGreen—synthesized scientific research into marketing reports on biofertilizer effectiveness
The Center for Public Humanities, Mechanicsburg, PA
- Provided oversight to all public writing, including websites, blog posts, and museum installations.
- Conducted independent research on the tribal and ecological history of the Susquehanna River.
- Designed and implemented environmental education curriculum at Poetry in Place events for inner city Harrisburg school.