Cultivating Gardeners and Urban Farmers
- This program is helping meet the demand for more locally grown food
- By turning unused urban areas into gardens we are decreasing urban blight
- Improving economic opportunities for small urban farmers
- Training first-time farmers and expanding the farm labor pool
- Providing internships for UA agriculture students
- Teaching children where their food comes from and how it’s grown
- Increasing access to fresh produce in city centers
- Promoting overall wellness with nutrition and health lifestyle education
Passion for Locally Sourced Food Leads to Urban Gardens
A half-acre farm has sprouted on a vacant lot across from the light rail station in the heart of the nation’s sixth largest city.
The Phoenix Urban Research Farm is where urbanites – a generation or two removed from the agrarian life – go to learn how to garden or even start a small farm business.
The farm is managed by faculty at the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension, University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“You can’t just plant on a vacant lot and expect it to grow,” said Haley Paul, a UA urban agricultural assistant. “We’re educating people on how to grow food on the low desert.”
Volunteers – from master gardeners to novices – turned this sunbaked lot vacant for 20 years into a productive farm. The research farm is part of a 15-acre urban revitalization project, a partnership of Keep Phoenix Beautiful and landowner Barron Collier Companies.
The first step was planting cover crops of rye, peas and turnips in the hard-packed caliche. “Turnips are amazing at breaking up the soil and crowding out competing weeds.” Those crops were plowed under to further condition the soil. “We spent many hours of volunteer service to get these beds ready for summer crops.”
The next step is recruiting more volunteers for the harvest. “In community gardens the art of cultivating people is as important as cultivating crops,” Paul said.
A new UA Master Farmer Program trains beginning farmers. The 13-week series includes a 20-hour internship working on a farm. “It’s getting the hands-on experience of running a farm, learning from what we’re doing on our farm.”
Participants study soil, irrigation, specialty crops – plus food safety, permits, marketing and risk management – then write a business plan.
“There’s a lot of interest” in urban farming, said Kelly Murray Young, horticulture agent at Maricopa County who developed the program. “We get calls every week: ‘I want to start a farm. What do I need to know?’”