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Friday, November 16, 2018

Spaces of Opportunity ‘Growing’ South Phoenix

During the first part of the past century, the South Mountain area was made up of small ranches and farms growing cotton, oranges, alfalfa, flowers and even a couple of ostrich ranches.

As the years passed, development started overtaking the farmland. The rural farming community has become almost a thing of the past.

Now a group of citizens is bringing farming back to the area.
Thanks to the Roosevelt School District, the Desert Botanical Garden and Cultivate South Phoenix, 18 acres at 12th Avenue and Vineyard Rd. is now a thriving farm that teaches children about how food is grown and the wellness aspects of growing healthy food, as well as a place for children to participate in art activities.

It’s not so much an urban garden but rather “Spaces of Opportunity,” said Lawrence Robinson, a Roosevelt School District board member.

“It is really a community garden, but much more than that,” he said. “A couple of community organizations came together and formed the backbone that initiated this project about three years ago,” he said.

What followed was the participation of more than 400 students and parents who wanted to learn about farming and nutritional food, and six farmers working the land.

“We have 18 schools within the district and the garden is right in the middle of them,” he said. “What we want to do is not just grow food, we are trying to grow the community, get our families involved and have kids out there on weekends learning from master gardeners. We want artistic performances.”

But it all costs money.

On May 4, there will be a fundraiser called “Fund the Farm.” Tickets will cost $100 each which will get the event-goer a hosted bar and some hor d’oeurves, made hopefully from what is grown on the farm and live music, said Robinson.

“The vendor we are using is Santa Barbara Catering, a local caterer,” he said.

The event will be held at the site, where needed items on the organization’s wish list, including a tractor, will be on display. Also needed by the gardeners are a rototiller, composting equipment and hand tools.

“We don’t want to take that tractor back,” said Nick de la Fuente of the Desert Botanical Garden and the director of Spaces of Opportunity.
“There is a lot going on with the project, but we are still in our infancy. So far there are incubator farms worked by refugees from Iran, Lebanon, Mexico as well as residents from the Midwest and South Phoenix, he said.

John Wann-Angeles is the incubator farm coordinator who supervises the six farmers on nine acres.

“These are people with farming experience who farm for an income in a market garden style,” said Wann-Angeles. “They sell a certain percentage to our harvest (farmers) market,” he said.

Because of these farmers, a Community Supported Agriculture market has also been established in that people pay a certain amount of money each week or month, to supply funds for the famer to farm and in turn, is given a box of whatever is being grown at the time.

“I want to break the myth that South Phoenix could not support a farmers market, that residents do not understand wellness or that they could support a CSA,” Wann-Angeles said.

The farmers market opened a month ago,” Wann-Angeles said. “People are driving by and stopping. The neighbors are excited because they watched this empty lot–which was empty for a lot of years. They are happy there are not more houses there, but something they can participate in and feel connected.”

The land had sat empty for so long that homes and schools developed around it, Robinson said.

“People will see the crops grown and going to market,” Robinson said.

The farmers market is from 8 a.m. to noon at the site.

The farm is at 1198 W. Vineyard Rd. on land owned by the Roosevelt School District.

Wann-Angeles said, having lived in the area for 40 years, he knows the community pretty well and that many chronic health problems, such as obesity it is not because the people don’t know about wellness, one of the reasons is because there are no nearby supermarkets much less markets with organically grown food.

“Yes, we are making kids healthier, but at the end of the day we hoping to work side by side. We want people to come together on that space,” Robinson said.

So far there are 400 men, women and children taking advantage of the garden.

“This program is only getting off the ground this year, we hope to double that next year and the year after,” Robinson said.

Robinson said that every other Saturday, which are work days, at least 200 people turn out.

Not too far in the future, Robinson hopes that what is grown goes directly into the cafeterias of the schools in the district.

“They learn how to grow it – the farm to table concept,” Robinson said. “What we are doing
is one more way to lead innovative ideas that might not have been on the table to begin with such as chefs and restaurant owners.”

“What I am trying to do is bring back rural farming,” he said. SMDN

To learn more about the fundraiser or the Spaces of Opportunity call Robinson at 602-663-0247 or visit cultivatephx.com/spaces-of-opportunity.




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