"I remember those early years in my grandmother's garden. All the neighbors would come by and get fresh fruits and vegetables. In those early days it didn't seem to matter… gangsters, men, women, kids… would appear. It was a like a safe haven where people could come and vent about disciplining kids, money problems, neighborhood politics, down-home cooking recipes. That garden was the greatest icebreaker in the world."
That's how Darren Chapman recalls his youth – and that's what inspired him to use community gardens to improve his old South Phoenix neighborhood.
Chapman founded the Tigermountain Foundation in 2005 which today has four community gardens, five University of Arizona-trained Master Gardeners and seven revenue streams – "just from putting together a garden," he said.
Early on Chapman met Kristen Wagner who coordinates the urban horticulture classes and UACE Master Gardener program at the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension office.
"The University of Arizona (UA) was instrumental in showing a group of guys who were very interested in gardening a better way of gardening, a better idea of being more water efficient, especially in the desert. The first part of the program was to actually learn what to grow in a particular season. Then we started to learn a lot of other stuff – about composting, the constitution of your soil (very important in the science of growing) and that containers are not as good an idea as sunken beds."
"When you create a garden you have a safe zone," he said. It starts with providing affordable fruits and vegetables to a low-income community. Yet a community garden is a seed that grows so much more.
Tigermountain currently impacts more than 1,000 people every month, engaging all ages and partnering with community organizations.
"The University of Arizona has been a very important part of what we do."