This year’s BALLE Conference featured four local living economy tours, to introduce attendees to innovative programs across Arizona.
I was blown away by everything I learned on the Desert Urban Agriculture Tour. The tour introduced us to three very different urban agriculture sites in Phoenix and focused on how they survive and thrive through the Sonoran Desert’s heat.
Throughout the tour we had the pleasure of being joined by the Education and Public Programs Director at the Heard Museum, Jaclyn Roessel. While in transit between sites, she told us about some of the history of agriculture among the original people of the Phoenix basin area. She was a fantastic.
Stop 1: PHX Renews Project
The first stop on the tour was the Central & Indian School Phx Renews site, which was founded in 2013. In case you haven’t noticed, Phoenix has a vacant land problem; in fact approximately 43% of the total land in Phoenix is comprised of vacant lots. The initiative sets out to transform these vacant lots into vibrant community spaces to beautify Phoenix. Through these initiatives, PHX Renews brings the community together, establishes a sustainable culture, and teaches the concepts of growing and supporting the economy.PHX Renews also hosts a model solar home through the SHADE (Solar Homes Adapting for a Desert Equilibrium) program, which is led by a team from Arizona State University and The University of New Mexico called ASUNM. Their mission is to educate their communities and stimulate a new direction for affordable, adaptable, solar- powered homes.
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
The Cooperative Extension, which is Arizona’s federally recognized agriculture innovation hub, holds programs for the community to learn about agriculture. The Extension also leases space at the PHX Renews Site, to provide small farmers with support getting started and for well-practiced farmers to test out new growing techniques and strategies. The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension also offers a number of classes to the public, including organic and pesticide-free growing and business model development for new farmers. The extension also curates the popular Master Gardener program.
International Rescue Committee
PHX Renews also leases an incubator space to the International Rescue Committee (IRC).The IRC helps refugees resettle into many cities across the United States. At the PHX Renews site the IRC teaches refugees about growing crops in Phoenix and how they can use these techniques to feed their families or to learn to become full-scale farmers, if they so desire.
Stop 2: Roosevelt Center of Sustainability
The next stop on our tour was the Roosevelt Center of Sustainability’s greenhouse at the George Brooks Sr. Academy. This indoor greenhouse provides space for youth education and for local businesses to grow organic food. The center hosts regular classes where attendees can learn all about aquaponics, hydroponics, and organic growing.
Arizona Microgreens, a local food producer that leases space at the greenhouse, was founded by brothers Joseph Martinez and David Redwood. Microgreens are five to ten times more nutrient dense then full sized plants making them great for your health. Local chefs around the valley also use their microgreens to enhance the beauty, taste, and freshness of their signature dishes. The gents at Arizona Microgreens enthralled attendees with the story of committing their business to be economically meaningful, socially just, and environmentally sustainable.
Stop 3: Maya’s Farm and The Farm at South Mountain
Following the Roosevelt Center the tour made its way to Maya’s Farm and The Farm at South Mountain. We with met Maya herself as she guided us around the farm and she discussed her passion for working with the land and bringing nutritious food to the local community. She told us all about the natural harmony that exists between produce and animals and shared her experience with soil and using different irrigation techniques to best conserve water.