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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Local Farms in Arizona's Valley of the Sun: Local farms such as Maya's Garden and Agritopia are a model for enabling communities and collaboration, says Natalia Trulsson

Mar 31, 2015 08:11PM ● By Natalia Trulsson

Big agriculture might have bigger competition in years to come from the local food movement, because Phoenix-area farms have been making strides in sustainable farming when it comes to providing Phoenicians with local fruits and veggies: kale people, kale! These local organic farms are educating us in how our food is made and redesigning our urban landscapes and building community by doing so. Cotton, cattle, copper, citrus and climate are the five C's of Arizona we locals learned about in elementary school, but with farms like Maya's Garden at South Mountain and Agritopia, we may have to add community and collaboration to that list.

Maya's Garden sells directly to consumers via a community supported agriculture (CSA) agreement, where people can have membership or a subscription to a weekly food basket of fresh, organic vegetables, herbs and flowers. Owner Maya Dailey has a huge interest in restoring the relationship between the farmer and the community. According to her, food systems no longer have the same communication or relationship as they once did.

"If a customer doesn't have the money, I say, ‘Hey, take the bag, pay me back next time.’ Those systems of trust are really important for the community,” says Dailey. “A handshake isn't a handshake anymore, people need to come back to that through small farming by honoring systems that we have abandoned—trust and honor." About today's commercial food production, Dailey states, “We no longer have the power to pull the carrot out of the ground and serve it in the cafeteria, but we can serve kids Coke and Twinkies; that system has to be reinvented, or we need to find a new/better way.”

Maya’s Garden promotes biodiversity, rotates crops and uses livestock to fertilize the soil to create a closed loop cycle, limiting the need to use pesticides or chemicals. The farm is certified organic, which means little to no chemical-based pesticides, which cause acid rain, topsoil erosion and environmental pollution, are used. "This keeps it safe for my workers and safe for me and the environment. Clean, fair food; that in itself is an environmental perk,” says Dailey.

Agritopia is an urban suburban farm in Gilbert. In 1990s, the Johnston family decided to keep the family-owned farm by building a neighborhood around it, maintaining an element of farming in the community, also bearing the idea in mind that if all Arizona neighborhoods have green space for local golf courses, why not a local farm? A farm could be much more beneficial for a community and they are doing just that.

Joe Johnston, the owner of Agritopia, has a vision for the future of the farm and the restaurants nearby; Joe's Grill and the Coffee Shop at Agritopia. He wants everything to become "hyper local", not just "farm to table", and to have many businesses and local restaurants pull their food from the farm instead of using outside resources.

The Agritopia neighborhood has a unique partnership with the farm and there are community garden beds available for an annual fee so everyone can participate in the growing, and a 24-hour farm stand offers fresh produce. The homeowners’ association fee also includes the price of collecting grass and lawn clippings for compost usage on the farm.

Eric Schultz, an overseer and leader at Agritopia, leases land from the Johnstons where he grows a variety of certified organic fruits and vegetables year-round, along with wheat, olives, dates, orchids, beehives and free-range chickens.

Schultz’s comment on today's current food production is that people don't understand the "true cost" of food. They do not know the externalities that truly go into growing a single carrot or raising a chicken. Such externalities are water overuse, carbon emissions from transportation, cow waste, pesticides, contamination of groundwater and destruction of topsoil, which all contribute to climate change and therefore are unsustainable. Today's mass production of food adds to that true cost, ultimately depreciating our food's ethical and nutritionally based value.

Agritopia and Maya's Garden are familiar with not only the buyers, but their neighbors, too. They are providing healthy options from the fast, commercialized food industry and benefiting the community. Their soil fertilization and pest control techniques are natural and not harmful to the environment, respecting the planet sustainably. Support our local farming economy by signing up for a CSA or going to farmers’ markets to obtain groceries.

Maya's Garden is located at 6106 S. 32nd St., in Phoenix. The farm stand is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wed. through Sun. Agritopia is located at 3000 E. Ray Rd., in Gilbert. There is a 24-hour farm stand along with restaurants like Joe's Grill and The Coffee shop at Agritopia.

Natalia Trulsson is a graduate of the Arizona State University School of Sustainability. Contact her at LifeLivedSustainably.blogspot.com/?m=1.

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