Community Garden Network: Growing our Roots

messages-image1423734405 Photo courtesy of Escalante Community Garden

 

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the first Community Garden Retreat of Maricopa County. I wanted to share that experience because I think there is nothing more exciting than getting to partake in the creation of something awesome!

 

How it all began...

The Maricopa County Food System Coalition Urban Agriculture Work Group held their first community garden meeting in March 2016. The Coalition wanted to revitalize the outdated University of Arizona Cooperative Extension document that listed community gardens in the county and create a group that would grow the budding potential of a network of gardeners. Meanwhile, the city of Phoenix set a goal to double the number of community gardens by 2020- though there was reluctance to support those gardens financially because from prior experience, many gardens did not have the momentum to survive more than a few years. So, the Coalition came together to address the dilemma of how to tie together their common goals.

Photo courtesy of The Crazy Chile Farm

Photo courtesy of The Crazy Chile Farm

 

What is a community garden?

In case you were wondering just what exactly a community garden is, The Vitalyst 2015 definition states that it is any piece of land either public or privately owned where “participants share in the maintenance and products of the garden including healthful and affordable fresh fruits and vegetable” (vitalysthealth.org).

Photo courtesy of Ahwatukee Community Garden

Photo courtesy of Ahwatukee Community Garden

 

Community gardens play a key role in enhancing the well being of the community through food production, health, cultural opportunities, crime prevention, youth, and green spaces. For those familiar with the gardening technique of “dense planting,” metaphorically this Community Garden Network acts the same way. With a mutualistic relationship, each member supports one another and each community garden helps to build up other gardens and related programs.

Photo courtesy of Ahwatukee Community Garden

Photo courtesy of Ahwatukee Community Garden

 

Building momentum

The passion and energy was infectious from 8 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon, and we barely stopped for lunch (delicious and locally sourced of course). To start, we shared some of the stories about being community gardens- transformations like that of Tempe Community Action Agency’s Escalante Community Garden that began as Tempe’s first community garden in 2010. We learned that the average family of four spends $56 a month on produce, and today community gardeners can pay $120 year for a 4x8 plot that produces at a rate far beyond that investment. This is not the only model--other gardens operate solely via participation and labor, but it's clear what an amazing opportunity a community garden can be for families to eat fresh food at a low cost.

 

It was a warm day, but as the day went on, the room caught on fire! Gardeners began to share their wishes, groups began to articulate their shared visions, and themes such as youth education, sustainability, and accessibility began to emerge. Before long, the walls of the Desert Botanical Garden room were covered in posters and sticky notes brimming with ideas for the future of the Maricopa County Community Garden Network. Finally, an activity which brought forth immense enthusiasm was when groups imagined news headlines about what the success of the Community Garden Network could look like. Summing up in one phrase the energy and potential for this amazing network, one group suggested the bold headline: “Arizona becomes model for successful community gardens worldwide."

 

Join the movement!

If you would like to find out more about how to get involved with the Community Gardeners of Phoenix-Maricopa Country they will have a booth at Phoenix Food Day on October 29th from 9 am to 2 pm at the Pilgrim Rest Church and Eastlake Park at 15th and Jefferson Streets in Phoenix. Come out for cooking demos, a farmers’ market, live music, and other events fun for the whole family!

 

Photo courtesy of Linda Cook

Photo courtesy of Linda Cook