Oatman Flats Ranch has a rich cultural and natural history. Dax Hansen, its current owner, is committed to reimagining agriculture based on a view of the farmer as steward and the farm as an integral part of a shared and evolving landscape. In an effort to adapt to our changing world, the farm is transitioning from practices that deplete and despoil the land to those that heal and restore it, and from approaches that ignore the cultural historical contexts of farms to those that embrace and celebrate them. In so doing, farm owner Dax hopes to honor his ancestors, and the indigenous inhabitants who preceded them on the land. And he aims to bequeath to future generations a resilient and thriving oasis in the desert.
The farm site called Oatman Flats Ranch has been an anchor of the Hansen family for four generations. Dax’s grandfather Ray Judd Hansen raised quarter horses, and grew cotton at Oatman Flats Ranch for 50 years. Like so many other families, the Hansens were on the verge of losing their farm, so Dax set out to find a means to keep it. What began as a search for a viable business model soon evolved into a journey of discovery, and a well-nigh quixotic mission. Along the way, he has gained a newfound passion for the uniquely delicious and diverse flavors of the Sonoran Desert.
Once a fertile floodplain of the Gila River, an ancient crossroads of human habitation, worship and travel, the landscape surrounding the farm when Dax took the reins had become much degraded. The river has been damned and diverted upstream, the groundwater overdrawn, the desiccated watercourses choked with invasive species of plants, and the farm soils depleted and overrun with weeds. The already extremely high temperatures are on the rise, and the already scant rainfall is on the decline.
It’s hard to imagine a more challenging place to grow a large-scale farm. And yet, Dax and team have endeavored to combine ancient traditional knowledge and cutting edge agro-ecological principles to restore fertility to his farm’s soils, while also replenishing water resources and boosting soil carbon sequestration. The farm is a case study of agricultural methods for arid lands that may sustain healthy ecosystems, including people, crops and domesticated animals, as well as native flora and fauna.