Located in the heart of the city off of an extremely busy Camelback Road is a small plot of agricultural paradise known as CamelBackyard. As cars whoosh by, the urban farm run by New Roots Phoenix takes a slower approach to life — because anyone who has ever grown food knows that one of the keys to success is patience.
CamelBackyard was established in 2017 after New Roots relocated from its home at the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road.
“The New Roots program is a part of International Rescue Committee, which is a humanitarian aid relief organization and here in Phoenix,” explained Isaac Jensen on a recent tour of the space. Jensen is the New Roots development coordinator for International Rescue Committee Phoenix.
“We focus on resettlement and helping families get access to housing and schools, medical appointments and find jobs. Our program, New Roots, helps them with their ties to agriculture, and to the land. So, we help people get access to land to grow food. We teach them about nutrition, reading food labels, we teach classes around nutrition and growing food. We operate this site, CamelBackyard, at Camelback Road and 16th Avenue, as well as another site on Dunlap and 39th Avenue.”
There is a broad diversity represented at CamelBackyard. They receive referrals from the IRC and serve individuals from different parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa — there are seven or eight different languages and cultures represented currently.
“We serve anybody that wants to grow food or learn how to grow food,” Jensen said. “We can give you the skills and tools you need to do that.”
Farmers can rent or purchase a row or bed for a small amount, “but it’s meant to be a small token so they feel they have some ownership” Jensen added. “And it helps to cover the water and electricity needed to run the site.”
Why is agriculture an important part of the IRC outreach? Connection, says Jensen.
“In every culture and every country, food is a big part of culture and tradition. And so, we encourage people that may not be able to find the foods that they’re familiar with, if they’re able to grow here, to grow them here. Also, it’s a way to transition into life in America.
“We serve people that are citizens, we serve elderly that live next door. There’s a daycare, they bring children over. So, it’s a really a mix of ages and cultures, and it’s a chance to work on language development, and to learn how to grow food in Arizona.”
The garden is currently in transition to the winter growing season, but they have quite a few cucumbers still growing, along with melons, gourds, okra, a broad variety of herbs as well as flowers — they even have a tilapia farm onsite, which helps feed their aquaponics garden.
The garden also offers a monthly farm stand where residents can purchase assorted fruits and vegetables grown organically and locally by its Phoenix farmers. The market accepts cash and Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) — shoppers receive a 50 percent discount on their produce purchase when using their EBT card. They also accept Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) coupons.
The fall season at the farm stand kicked off Oct. 21 and markets will be held Nov. 18, and Dec. 16, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Shoppers can enter through the front gate (Camelback Road side) or the back gate (Pasadena side).
Another option is the weekly or biweekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription produce box. Boxes typically include herbs, greens and a variety of seasonal vegetables. The Winter CSA program will run from Jan. 3 to Feb. 21.
Volunteers are always needed and welcomed at this community space, and upcoming volunteer days are Nov. 18 and Dec. 16, 9 a.m. to noon. The garden needs help planting seeds, pulling weeds, planting trees and a variety of other projects.
“We need people to show up. People who want to get their hands dirty and work with us. And even people who have skills and experience in gardening here in Arizona,” Jensen said.
CamelBackyard is located at 1616 W. Camelback Road. For additional information, visit www.newrootsphx.org. Learn more about IRC Phoenix at www.rescue.org/phoenix.