Our Neighbor's Farm
- Up to 120 volunteers working per week in the garden and food bank
- 8 ton of fresh vegetables – 16,621 pounds to be exact in 2013
Feeding Community, Changing the Future
Graham County Cooperative Extension Director William Brandau, faculty member with the University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension (CALS-CE) sees the success of Our Neighbors Farm in Safford, AZ as a model for other Graham County communities. The benefits go beyond providing residents with nutritious locally grown produce and invigorating community collaboration. Children experience planting and harvesting their own lettuce. Families learn how to garden and to grow their own vegetables.
A Ton of Produce Is Just the Beginning
In 2013 Our Neighbors Farm produced more than 8 ton of fresh vegetables – 16,621 pounds to be exact. The food was raised specifically for Our Neighbors Pantry, the community food bank adjacent to the farm.
Last spring this was a bare plot behind a church in this southeastern Arizona agriculture and mining town in Graham County. The soil is salty. So is the water. Temperatures soar into the 100s in the summer and dip below freezing in the winter. It’s not easy to grow crops to help feed the town all year long.
Max Crain is the persistent farm manager. A lifelong gardener, he’s grown produce in Maine, Pennsylvania and Maryland – but never year round in such a challenging climate.
Future production could easily triple. That ton of produce came from just 20 of 60 beds at the farm. The goal is to have all beds and a greenhouse producing every month of the year.
To extend the growing season, they built a hoop house – a tunnel-like structure made with arches of PVC pipe covered with plastic sheeting. During the day the winter sun heats the air inside and plants thrive. Frost cloths protect the crops when night temperatures drop.
Much of the work is done by volunteers – up to 120 a week for large special projects.
Green Fund grant funding from the UA supported two UA agriculture students as summer externs. “They’re wonderful,” Crain said. “They think. They work. They solve problems.”
Winter resident Hank Slotnick had the vision for this farm. The retired professor engaged community partners and wrote a grant for initial funding. The list of partners and donors is long. “This really is a community project,” Crain said.
The farm and the food bank are affiliates of the Graham County Interfaith Care Alliance.