By Colleen Sparks
While Earth Day is April 22, growing vegetables and fruits, along with raising chickens and worms are year-round passions that promote healthy living, sustainability and cost savings in North Central.
There are several public gardens where residents can dig in the dirt to grow food and plants, as well as individual residents with lush yards with fruits and vegetables frequently sprouting. Some local schools bring students to on-campus or public gardens to explore going green and learn about enjoying the fruits of their labor.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further fueled the love of urban farming among North Central residents as it provides a source of nourishment when grocery stores might run out of the produce they want. They also enjoy the camaraderie of working on land with others and the stress relief that comes with exercise.
Keep Phoenix Beautiful runs two community gardens – Pierson Street Community Garden at 1822 W. Pierson St. and one at Mountain View Park at 9901 N. 7th Ave. Native Health, an organization that provides holistic healthcare, partners with Keep Phoenix Beautiful to operate the Pierson Street garden, where tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash, eggplant, spinach, kale, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and other foods are grown. Chickens, bees and worms also live in the garden, which is on land where two abandoned houses used to be. Anyone can grow items and take gardening classes there.
Eggs and honey, as well as powder made from moringa grown in the garden are sold for fundraisers. Native Health provides the produce to clients.
“It brings the neighborhood together,” said Terry Gellenbeck of Keep Phoenix Beautiful, who manages the Pierson Street garden and is director of recycling. “It’s also health reasons. A lot of people come out there because they need to come outside.”
The garden at Mountain View Park also hosts classes and corporate group outings and grows the same fruits and vegetables as are planted at the Pierson Street garden. It also has fruit trees and worms eat scraps and help fertilize the soil, said Gail Latour, co-manager of the Mountain View garden with Mary Lu Nunley. Some vegetables grown there are donated to HonorHealth Desert Mission Food Bank.
“One of the things gardeners do is they do a lot of exchange with each other on produce and ideas,” Latour said.
Midtown Primary School brings 35 students in its after-school program to the Pierson Street garden twice a week to watch cooking and science demonstrations. They also look at plants and bugs and water and harvest their own plants, as well as learn about composting, said Tiedra Vargas, kindergarten teacher and Shazam! Club coordinator/director.
To learn more about Keep Phoenix Beautiful’s gardens, visit https://keepphxbeautiful.org.
Longview Elementary School has gardens, where families can obtain freshly harvested vegetables, said Alexandra Menendez, 21st Century Community Learning Centers After School Coordinator, instructional assistant and 21st Century Site Coordinator. Through a partnership with the Blue Watermelon Project, kits with a coordinated planting and cooking activity will be sent to a class.
Elsewhere in North Central, The Urban Farm provides free online classes. Greg Peterson, founder and owner of The Urban Farm, grows apples, peaches, apricots, mulberries, grapes, kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, beets, squash, and other produce in his home’s yards. He also does a weekly podcast. Fruit trees are sold in a rented space at Seventh Street and Camelback Road through The Urban Farm Nursery. Peterson also raises 13 hens, mostly using their eggs for personal consumption.
“The business part is online education and fruit trees,” he said. “My hobby is a one-third acre of dirt. I’ve created my yard into a food forest, which basically means I plant open, pollinated seed. Since the pandemic hit, the interest in gardening has exploded all over the place, all over Maricopa County and the world.”
Growing your own food means you know it is organic and fresh, Peterson said.
To learn more about The Urban Farm, visit www.urbanfarm.org.
Project Roots, a non-profit organization that WNBA champion and former assistant coach of Chicago Sky Bridget Pettis started, has been planting fruits and vegetables and feeding families in need for more than a year. The organization receives much support from volunteers, said Pettis, co-founder of Project Roots with her partner, Dionne Washington, who is the organization’s director.
Pettis wanted to provide access to nutritious food and to promote a healthier, more sustainable way of living for urban neighborhoods. Produce is sold at Uptown Farmers Market at North Phoenix Baptist Church and at Spaces of Opportunity Farmers Market. Residents can buy plots to grow produce.
“We really want to get the knowledge of living a more sustainable life in the consciousness of our community,” Pettis said.
To learn more, visit www.projectrootsaz.org.