Across town, a group of folks at Tucson's Community Food Bank (CFB) had decided to set up a program to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income mothers and children (those qualifying for WIC). The problem was that they didn't have enough donations of fresh produce or a place to grow it themselves. They were looking for land.
The two groups came together and the Marana Farm at the Heritage River Park was born. (Does anyone else have the Brady Bunch theme song in their head?) The 10-acre working organic farm is run by a small staff of young women employed by CFB plus a few interns and AmeriCorps volunteers. The non-profit is supported by a steady stream of donations and grants that supplement sales of the farm's produce at local markets. Maintenance needs are handled by the Park staff. It's a charmed existence, but rather than congratulating themselves on their luck the folks at Marana Farm are eager to share their resources and good fortune with the larger community. (And the community members have been flooding in since Disney started offering free 1-day passes to their parks for folks who volunteer at local charitable organizations. The farm's generally had a steady stream of volunteers prior, but there's been a huge uptick in families coming out to weed the spinach beds lately. I have mixed feelings on the Disney incentive, but it does seem to get a lot of local folks out into their communities and helping out for a few hours. I'm hoping at least a handful return post-Epcot Center.)
What is really exciting to me is the way everything seems to come together here in such a serendipitous way. There is an abundance of donated tools, seeds, and volunteer time. People with needed skills just kind of show up. On our drive to Marana this morning, one of the farmers (Maggie) told me of an when she was given the task of building a greenhouse. She had little construction experience and was feeling anxious about undertaking the project. Into the farm office walked a rather muscular woman needing to fulfill some community service hours (due to a weapons charge) who happened to be a professional greenhouse builder. Presto! -- the greenhouse was built.
[I know: weapons charge?? Right. We are in Arizona, where a startlingly literal interpretation of the right to bear arms just led to legislation permitting weapons to be carried into bars. I wonder if one can exercise his or her second amendment right and bring their weapons into the courtroom for the hearing following the inevitable gunslinging bar brawl.]
The farm is a model of community cooperation, and seems to have great relationships with local businesses, from the Marana WIC clinic to the Cottonwood thrift shop to the Marana food bank (though the farm works out of the Tucson food bank) to area farms. The different entities share extra resources when possible. A few examples: the farm brings boxes of broccoli or turnips not sold at the farm stand to the local (Marana) food bank; the food bank offers use of their computer printer or broken sacks of birdseed donated from Walmart; the farm donates organic seed to home gardeners and struggling farms in the area; the local Rotary Club chapter helps fund the food forest on the farm property. Everybody shares, everybody wins.
There is some discussion of the farm moving in a more education-focused direction (rather than, say, beginning a CSA program or scaling up to grow for more farmers' markets). While there are currently a number of educational programs offered in the form of workshops (and CFB after-school nutrition sessions), the farm staff hope to develop more formal lessons that align with the local school curricula and focus more on school groups. A working educational farm that taps into the various talents and resources within the community? Sounds like something we could use in my own home town....
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