Nestled a stone’s throw from the Rillito River lies an urban farm built by and for youth in Tucson, Arizona. Before Tucson Village Farm broke ground, founder Leza Carter worked at a multitude of school gardens. In January of 2010, armed with a strong understanding of the benefits and constraints of the traditional school garden model, Leza decided to start a new type of youth garden with three goals in mind: to encourage children to experience nature, regardless of where they went to school; to give children a place to stay busy; and to reconnect children to a healthy food system. Now, two years later, approximately 150 school-aged children visit Tucson Village Farm every week. The farm offers year-round, instructional, hands-on programs for youth of all ages. To date Tucson Village Farm has served over 4,800 students.
Leza recalls when Tucson Village Farm first broke ground: “It was on MLK Day. We dug a few holes. I brought three tools from home, a couple of seed packets… We started off with four rows.” Today, Tucson Village Farm is a colorful menagerie: a host of crops and painted signs decorate nearly an acre on the northern side of the farm. Last year additional acreage on the southern side of the farm was covered with a native variety of heirloom popcorn. Children planted, weeded, harvested, and popped these kernels, and ate them for afternoon snacks in the fall.
Tucson Village Farm has had a profound impact upon youth in the Tucson community in a very short time. But, as with farming, success is hard work. Initially funded by grants and donations, Tucson Village Farm is now an all-volunteer venture, with the exception of one part-time manager. The Farm offers scholarships to Farm Camp, thanks to the proceeds from its weekly You-Pick. (“Friend” them on facebook for reminders.) Tucson Village Farm is eager to expand its programs. They need big items (like a commercial kitchen) and small ones (like a few new hay bales). More volunteers are also needed. If you are in the Tucson area, drive down Campbell Avenue and see what the kids are up to. If you have kids, bring them along. And if your pipsqueaks are looking for a summer in the sun, sign them up for Farm Camp, where they will learn farm basics (planting, irrigating, weeding, harvesting) and enjoy eating the fruits of their labor. Kids collect and mill fall-planted wheat, roll their own pizza dough, make cheese, cook omelets, watch chicks hatch, and get a chance to “milk” Gertie, the mechanical cow. And if you’re a young adult who enjoys working with youth and are interested in learning about desert food production and urban agriculture, you’re in luck: Tucson Village Farm is looking for three volunteer interns to assist with Farm Camp. Download an application online.
Last week a kindergartner came to the farm and swore she wouldn’t eat anything green. But when she was served the last of the farm’s winter greens, she polished her salad bowl with her tongue and asked for seconds! Tucson Village Farm is nourishing this community one young person and one fruit and vegetable at a time. See for yourself at 4210 N. Campbell Avenue in Tucson, Arizona.