Meet Some of the Farmers from Spaces of Opportunity | Desert Botanical Garden


In Phoenix, overlooked by South Mountain, farmers are growing rows of vegetables, citrus trees and nopals, or prickly pear cactus, on a 19-acre urban farm.

In the heart of south Phoenix lies Spaces of Opportunity, a collaboration of Desert Botanical Garden, Tiger Mountain Foundation, Unlimited Potential, Orchard Community Learning Center and Roosevelt Elementary School District to provide sustainable, fresh produce and farming opportunities. The urban farm also serves a vital resource to the community, which is in the middle of a food desert.

Since its inception in 2015, Spaces has been transforming a vacant plot of land into a food oasis with the help of more than 70 farmers who tend the land and grow and sell vegetables, fruits and herbs. Guests can find their produce at Space’s farmers market held on the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m

Each year, the Garden hosts its Fund the Farm celebration to honor and support Spaces and its farmers. This year, the event will take place March 24. Tickets are on sale at now.

In preparation for the event, the Garden would like to highlight a few of those farmers who have made their mark and been a part of Spaces for several years now. Read more about them below.

Diana Apresa

Elaine Atwood, Steam Donkey Farms

Atwood is a farmer at Spaces who conducts business under Steam Donkey Farms. She has been growing a variety of vegetables for four years on a quarter acre and will add another quarter acre this year.

Q: What do you grow at Spaces?

A: I grow what is in season year-round. Some items such as moringa I turn into a variety of teas and powder that help support farmer’s markets and community programs to extend the season. My favorite items to grow are perennials, such as moringa, artichoke, and lavender. For annual produce, my favorites are a variety of greens, salad accessories and edible flowers for salad kits, making life easier for customers with busy schedules. A variety of watermelon is my all-time favorite in the summer.

Q: What does Spaces means to you?

A: Family is the first thing that comes to mind. Spaces has offered me the opportunity to meet and work with people from all over the world like Hussain Al Hamka and his family from Iraq, Rodney Machokoto and his family from Zimbabwe, Abdelgabar Mohamdian from Sudan, and Jesus and his family from Mexico. Where else can one work with such diversity? Learning different cultures, farming techniques and respecting these people for where they come from. It is amazing!

Spaces also means opportunity. Spaces has connected me to different types of markets and programs that serve the community. Helping both myself while helping others achieve what we all need to live both financially and health-wise. Many of the farmers at Spaces are local to the area, and some of us drive a few miles to get to work each day. But our goal is the same: To serve the community of South Mountain.

I do not know a farmer at Spaces who does not work their hearts out to serve someone they do not know the name of. Valley residents who purchase products from the sweat of the farmer’s brow, is giving that farmer a reason to move on to the next day, next week, next year. It is a way of life growing what the public so richly needs, and filling the heart of a farmer who does what they were meant to do.

Jesus Spaces

Jesus Najera Rueda

Najera Rueda is a 60-year-old farmer at Spaces who has been working here for about seven years. He is from Mexico and has farming roots. Najera Rueda grew up watching his father work in the field, which has fueled his passion for growing his own vegetables and greens.

Q: What do you grow at Spaces?

A: Spaces had been a great opportunity for me to play my skills. Coming from another country you would never imagine that you would have the opportunity here to find an opportunity to work as a farmer, developing your own values and knowledge, spaces brings me that opportunity. I grow vegetables like garlic, onion, carrots, beets as well as cilantro, parley and fava beans. I grew up watching my father work in the fields and have always been passionate about everything related to it. I like what I do, it’s like a seed of love where what you have inside your soul grows.

Q: What does Spaces means to you?

A: I hope to achieve great things, like expanding and improving my area and skills, have more produce and help people who need it, so that all people can have food in their homes. All people should come to know more about this place, to try the product that we generate. A product with better quality and better flavor because we try to put our best effort to have an organic product. Like to help small businesses and help farmers who work hard so that people have the best product.