Desert Botanical Garden has a vision to become a leader in promoting community gardens in the Phoenix area and to create a model that demonstrates vegetable gardening best practices in a desert environment. In 2010, a task force of Garden staff, volunteers, board members and community experts assessed community gardens throughout the Valley to understand the challenges and opportunities. A 2012 grant from The Steele Foundation made the Community Garden a reality.
“The idea was to practice growing vegetables in the low desert in a community garden format with the hope of sharing best practices with other Valley gardeners,” says David Hill, Community Garden onsite coordinator.
The Community Garden was built on a remote quarter acre of land located in the northeast corner of the Garden’s property. Through an application process to determine the level of skills and commitment of interested participants, it was determined 24 plots would suffice. The design consisted of 18 individual plots and 6 communal plots. The space was initially used by more than 50 staff and volunteers to master the skill of community gardening.
Throughout the first year, the gardeners encountered many challenges, including extreme frost and summer heat, broken water lines, and an animal infiltration of the perimeter fencing. Having these experiences and overcoming the obstacles began to build the institutional knowledge the Garden had hoped for. To introduce the process of sharing best practices, the Community Garden transitioned to a co-operative style, inviting members of the community to participate.
“We decided to change our management style to a co-operative format and were able to welcome the general public. Now, 24 to 40 co-op gardeners maintain almost all of the raised beds in the garden,” says Hill. “We welcome anyone and everyone to join our co-op gardening crew. We love having children in the garden too, so families are encouraged to join.”
As the gardeners learned what vegetables and herbs grow well, harvests became more successful, producing an excess of produce. The Community Garden established a partnership with the local food bank at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Since 2015, about 1,000 pounds of organic produce has been donated to the food bank. In addition to provided fresh fruit and vegetables to those in need, the benefits of the garden can be seen throughout the community.
“Community gardening allows people to know everything about the vegetables they eat. Participating in a community garden also strengthens the important sense of community while working alongside other gardeners. The activities in the community garden connect us to the rhythms of nature and facilitate a time-honored form of therapy, so important in our hectic lifestyles,” says Hill.
Due to the remote location of the Community Garden, it is unavailable for guests to visit on their own. Special tours can be arranged. If you are interested in touring or volunteering at the Community Garden, contact David Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out more photos on the Community Garden Facebook page