Volunteers revitalize Phoenix community garden in fight against food insecurity

Before the volunteers arrived, the garden beds at Chicano Por La Causa’s Community Center in West Phoenix were filled with dying plants and dry, unturned soil. The small community garden was originally designed to provide fresh produce to residents, but the project ran into some challenges.

“The goal is to build our garden up to feed the needs of the community,” said Luis Raygoza, a Program Coordinator with Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC). “We tried it the year before with corn and tomatoes and onions, but unfortunately, due to lack of resources, we didn’t build it up that well,” he said.

With the summer growing season quickly approaching, the time was now to get the gardens back in shape and fresh produce back on the menu. That’s why volunteers from Valley of the Sun United Way (VSUW) partnered with CPLC to rehabilitate its community garden and prepare it for fresh crops.

It’s an important resource in a community where fresh produce may be expensive or otherwise difficult for residents to access, said Francisco Avalos, Director of Engagement with VSUW.

This community here is a limited-supermarket-access area,” he said. “And so here, in a community space at a community center where families can put in their blood, sweat and tears to grow their own food, they can also benefit from that.”

Avalos described food insecurity as a “significant issue” in Maricopa County.

“We know that one in four children goes hungry,” he said, “and so that’s why these community gardens really help out. It’s really increasing that access to fresh produce in the local community.”

Multiple studies have shown that well-maintained community gardens can have a significant effect on the health and well-being of individuals who engage with them. One 2008 study by Michigan State University found that adults who participated in a community garden “consumed fruits and vegetables 1.4 more times per day than those who did not.” Another Colorado-based study found that “56% of community gardeners met national recommendations to consume fruits and vegetables at least 5 times per day”, compared to only 25% of non-gardeners.

But the effects of community gardens can be even broader than encouraging balanced diets; they can also spur small-scale economic opportunities for individuals. Avalos said that when community gardens are big enough—or if there’s a large network of them in an area—some may be able to sustain growers who hope to sell produce locally.

“You really begin to create a network that allows the opportunity for micro-enterprise, for individuals to then grow the food, take that food to market, and then actually be able to sell it to local businesses,” he said.

Because gardening is a skill that can enable individuals to become entrepreneurs—not to mention save money on food for themselves—it has the potential to drastically improve people’s quality of life, Avalos said.

“The pathway out of poverty in a lot of cases is access to a good, high-quality job or income,” he said. “And gardening can do that.”

Nick Serpa

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