Market garden in central Tucson

By Brandon Merchant, with Tres English

The most recent gathering of the Feeding Tucson Champions’ Network took place on July 20 at Dreamflower Gardens located in the heart mid-town Tucson. Nearly two dozen peoplDreamflower Gardens - Urban market garden in Central Tucsone gathered for the tour guided by proprietors Lorien and Dale Teresy. Lorien and Dale have taken advantage of their ¾ acre location by creating a thriving market garden where they grow vegetables that they sell at farmer’s markets and at their own food stand located at the rear of their property. In addition to fresh produce, Dreamflower also grows and sells a variety of herbs and potted plants as well as seasonal flower arrangements. Some highlights of the tour included the newly expanded vegetable growing area located on the western edge of the property, both Lorien and Dale say that this added space will allow them to bring even more produce to market.

After the tour concluded the small group gathered indoors to escape the heat and to begin to recommend ideas for food policies that Tucson could develop that would create a strong local food economy in southern Arizona. The diverse group of individuals included local business owners, urban market growers, teachers, and homeowners, each bringing a unique perspective to the discussion of how to create a more sustainable food system in southern Arizona. Although the discussion was just a start, many solid proposals were brought forward that could help Tucson become a food oasis in the southwest. A few of the more notable suggestions included:

  • Expanding youth farm and high school agriculture programs in Tucson schools. Currently only five schools in Tucson run agriculture programs, if sustainable ag programs were extended into all city high schools, It would help to foster a new generation of urban farmers and entrepreneurs that would aid in creating a vibrant local food economy. Current student run ag programs require that students operate and maintain a profitable market food stand, these are valuable vocational skills with the benefit of real world context.
  • Allow food sharing in public places such as neighborhood parks or common areas. Currently, there is no central location(s) where excess produce can be shared or sold. The Community Food Bank will take produce from certified urban growers and sell it on consignment, however at this point consignment produce is only available at the one farmer’s market and therefore the supply far exceeds the demand. The CFB model of consignment could possibly be adapted at the neighborhood level. Certified growers, or those individuals that have been determined to practice sustainable and safe gardening practices, would be able to share or sell produce either privately or by consignment at farmers markets or food stands located in neighborhood common areas, such as parks.
  • Educate the public on the preparation and preservation of foods while making subsidizing commercial kitchens and making them available to the public. Programs like The Garden Kitchen have discovered that it is just as important to teach their clients cooking fundamentals and not just gardening skills. Because of this they have also emphasized cooking lessons into their seed to table food program. However, even if an individual posses all the necessary skills to prepare and preserve their harvest, it is often the case that they don’t have the necessary equipment to perform the task. In the past community kitchens were a gathering point where families could come together to prepare and share excess harvest. The city could work with local neighborhood churches, many of which already posses large kitchens that could be used for cooking and preservation of food.

One observation by both Lorien and Cris & Don Breckenfeld is that the CFB consignment program allowed them both to “get their feet wet” before they committed to investing a lot of time and money in developing their market gardens.  One possible target for expanding our existing food system would be to create a self-funding, consignment service, in cooperation with the Community Food Bank.  This would allow people who are interested in growing more food, to “try it out” and see if urban food production is right for them.

Currently, the city is in process of rewriting the urban agriculture zoning regulations. There have already been 2 community meetings designed to gather input for the public on the proposed new regulations, with more meetings to be scheduled in the future. If you’d like to learn more about the proposed zoning regulations, or if you have your own suggestions for how Tucson can create a sustainable local food economy, please join us at our next meeting or contact us for more information.