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Becoming community at “Garden of Tomorrow”

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

December 3, 2021

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On the corner of 18th Place and Broadway in South Phoenix, Garden of Tomorrow invites the local community to gather and grow food together. Friday mornings are community garden days. Unlike most community gardens, this community garden is more like a farm - a shared asset of growing spaces where neighbors and friends from all walks and ages gather to learn how to bring forth abundance. Brightly painted pastel panels welcome all.

At 7:50 am before Farmer Brandon arrived, there were several already lined up ready to get started. Bruce, community garden manager, has been a friend of the garden since 2015. He’s loved learning about the plants and providing the food they have grown for the community. He loves the feeling of working shoulder to shoulder with amazing people who love to share. On an average community garden day, 40 show up. Why? Because they feel a part of the amazing work going on here.

TigerMountain’s Mission

TigerMountain Foundation’s mission is to “provide our community with a place to come together to educate all ages: kids, those coming out of prison, those without work, those employed, those who want to give back to the community.” Everyone has talents and stories to share.

They located a place to build community thanks to the generous Tanner Living Centers which serves seniors. Tanner owned the property on the corner and had no specific plans for it. Rather than having to pay for its upkeep, they offered it to TigerMountain. They could claim donations to support a non-profit as well as provide restroom facilities just one block away. That also means TigerMountain is able to use the water at “Garden of Tomorrow” free of charge!

The farm includes a variety of growing boxes and fruit trees. Peaches, plums, figs, pomegranates, apples, pecans, orange, and grapefruit trees have grown considerably since transplanting them here. Bruce showed me a moringa tree from India. The whole plant is edible. The dried leaves can be powdered and added to coffee or a favorite drink as a nutrient supplement. It’s an amazing plant! Mulberry trees help provide shade and a place for birds to perch. In their raised beds, Garden of Tomorrow grows greens like mustard, collards, lettuce, peas, herbs, and onions. When in doubt, weeding is the task at hand. By the time we were done, the beds looked so orderly and beautiful!

What is Community? Neighborhood?

At our opening circle, Farmer Brandon talked just about that. “What does it mean to be a neighbor? What is a neighborhood?” He declared, “We are an asset-based community who serve each other.” We are an amalgamation of information. Everyone shares what they know. “A book can’t tell us how we are experiencing life, how we are feeling. Life is about getting out there to experience - to plan, to do, and to renew. All people are human beings who deserve respect. We live here in the ‘Garden of Tomorrow’”.

Farmer Brandon further explained the farm’s plan to supply boxes of fresh produce to residents of Scottsdale. “It is our gesture of kindness to help us connect with the people there. For me, these are just the basics of life. Sharing thoughts and kindness will have a ripple effect. When we share our thoughts with each other, we learn so much. We build a bond of friendship. As we meet in the garden, we dispel our own myths. By creating this physical space together, we also find spiritual and emotional success as well. We want to include others in our community.”

“South Phoenix is known to many as ‘The Hood’. Yes, it is a food desert. What is it missing? Yes, ‘Neighbor’ - Neighbors who care for each other. Some who don’t live in our community have taken ‘neighbor’ out of where we live. We want to be those friendly neighbors who reach out to Scottsdale and other resourced communities. We are attempting to build a bridge.” As he shared these remarks, we continued to stretch and breathe. He invited everyone to share their thoughts as well.

Farmer Brandon introduced me, Farmer Karl, to the group and invited everyone to share their stories with me. I really felt welcomed and empowered by this garden community. “That’s the key to our success. That’s why we have so many volunteers to show up each week. It’s about feeling included and valued.” Farmer Brandon concluded. I experienced that directly when I was weeding the aloe vera and learned how to use it for burns and wounds. I learned that camphor tree repels gophers even at long distances, and that citrus peels contain terpenes that make them useful as mulch around plants getting attacked by insects.

A Feeling of Accomplishment

“Everyone has a job at ‘Garden of Tomorrow’. That’s part of my job as farm manager,” Farmer Brandon explained. Harold’s job has been watering for quite some time. He’s great at it - so dependable, and he lives right next door. At 79 years old, Harold explained, “Someone asked me to help. So I came out here to water. That was twelve years ago. I’ve got six kids. I just love being here!”

Working with Nature

There’s plenty of space to do experimental gardening. A year ago they built a “hugelkultur” raised bed. The plants growing there seem to be doing quite well. I noticed ducks and chickens in the same pen. When I asked why Carol explained, “The ducks seem to survive better in our climate. The chickens tend to disappear…” She told me her story. “My son’s school project got me started years ago. I discovered composting and symbiotic relationships in nature. Now I’m all about promoting food access and eliminating waste and hunger. I am a student of permaculture. There’s so much to learn from animals. For example, I use ducks and chickens in our composting process. When you understand ecosystems, you can let nature take care of itself.” With a grant, Carol was able to purchase two micro-shredders. She uses expired shelf-life produce from AZ Microgreens to add to the compost. Daily she measures and records the compost temperature. It needs to be >131’F for three days in a row. She is careful to keep the compost moist and turned. Indeed, the whole farm is organic. They are pleased to use only OMRI-listed pesticides or fertilizers.

People’s Stories

Bruce was a surveyor for 35 years. In 2006, his wife became disabled. Then he lost his job and house. That’s when they decided to move to south Phoenix. He became stir-crazy and saw what was going on across the street in the garden. One day he wandered over and asked if he could help. He’s been a part of the garden farm and the community ever since.

A few of the volunteers joined today’s work project from Mission Continues, an organization that supports veterans in community action. Gabrielle and Gary, their platoon leader, a retired probation officer who now works for the Department of Veteran Services come regularly to help. Of their various veteran programs, one is focused on supplying food to local food banks. Gary explained, “Our goal is to re-engage veterans in under-resourced communities. We want to give veterans a purpose and a chance to get out into the community.” When veterans work together, they also support one another. The Department of Veteran Services has access to resources truly needed by under-resourced communities.

Mack shared, “Paradigms are broken when we meet people who live in this community. I love to go to the farmer’s market and see how a community comes together. Different vendors share information and support each other. When people come to our stand, they can’t believe all of this produce was grown in south Phoenix. Then I often invite them to come to see what we are doing.”

Andrea met Darren at the Farmer’s Market. She pitched him an offer because he needed more people to help. She knew marketing and how to connect people. She loves the feeling of community at the farm.

Darryl lives right down the street. “I never had the opportunity as a youth to work in the garden growing things. Now I feel so blessed to meet people and to hear their life stories as we work together. The garden gives me a chance instead of sitting around the house all day. It gives me something good to do. I love working with the produce with my hands .” he said.

Gabrielle was a prisoner of her house due to COVID. She had respiratory problems. She was so sad because she couldn’t see my grandchildren. “Now I have found this garden. I can be outside working alongside others. It’s so wonderful!” she exclaimed.

Akbar said, “Tiger Mountain keeps you busy. I started 15 years ago, and the garden is now blossoming. I love planting, transplanting, and taking care of these plants. More and more people keep on coming. They like being part of our circles and talking with each other about life. We feel empowered that we make a difference.”

Jerome came to this garden through his kids. “I got out of prison seven years ago. When I came, Darren asked me to dig holes. It was hard work. Darren told me that if I would stick with it for two weeks, then I could tell him if I wanted to keep working on the farm. Two weeks came and went. I felt like this work was like therapy. I felt calmer. The people who come here are the nicest people in the world. This farm is a safe haven. I have been working here ever since.”

Farmer Brandon observed, “A lot of people come and go. The main thing is that we don’t judge. People who were called “prostitutes”, “drug addicts”, or “criminals” have been able to put all that in the past here. We are all equals here. We give every individual a start, another chance. Inside, I am not a bad seed. When I see people out and about come here, it makes me feel so good.”

Kaitlyn, director of the farmer’s market, said, “I volunteered here while I was furloughed from my car dealership job. I discovered that I really love gardening and volunteered here as much as possible. That’s when I talked with Darren about working here. I have found that when you enjoy the work, it is easy.” She further explained, “At the farm, I have become a teacher. I am teaching the younger generation how to take care of themselves. This work aligns with my values. You get used to the security blanket offered by the corporate world. My parents felt my passion when I brought to them that first basket of fresh produce. Since working here, I don’t have the aches and pains I used to. I can’t go back knowing what I know now. This is such meaningful work.”

Terrence described, “This community is like Matthew 6. It’s a treat just to be here. I never did plants before, but I am learning now!”

Tasting Grapefruit for the first time

Tyrese has been working at the farm since September. When asked what he enjoys most about the garden, he said, “I like doing everything. I like eating vegetables. Besides, my mom is happy that I have work to do.” I grew up in South Philadelphia and left home with my mom at age 16. That was eleven years ago.” Bruce and I discovered that Tyrese had never tasted or known about grapefruit before. Bruce peeled the freshly picked fruit and gave Tyrese a slice to try. We watched his expression as he took his first bite. A bit of hesitation, and then he said, “That tastes pretty good!” We were surprised because grapefruit is not everyone’s favorite. What an amazing experience it is to introduce foods to people for the first time right on the farm!

Produce Marketing

Twice a week Kaitlyn and some of the volunteers take the farm’s produce to the farmer’s market. They offer it for free. Andrea explained, “We encourage anyone at the farmers markets to share TigerMountain Foundation’s initiative and always express we are donation based.” A donation basket is by the produce in case those who like the food want to contribute. For the items they don’t sell, they donate them to support organizations of the outlying communities that serve food to those in need. People begin to realize the effort and care that went into making that food available. They really appreciate it. That’s what makes them want to come back for more.

Farm Education

The farm isn’t just for local neighbors and volunteers. It’s also a resource for interns, usually Environmental Studies or Community Development students from Arizona State University, who work for a few months as part of their education. At one point, there were 30 interns working at the farm. Normally, they manage eight to ten during any given semester. One of the students enjoyed it so much, she became an Americorp extern at the farm. These are the young people who will influence public policy and create diverse communities.

Wrapping up for the Day

11 a.m. arrived all too soon. Farmer Brandon called us under the shade canopy for a wrap-up of the day. “How do we build a community once we leave this place?” he asked. “How are we going to work with our neighbors to show who we are?” One at a time, the community members shared their ideas. “We could collect cardboard and shred for compost,” Carol suggested. Brandon then asked Kaitlyn to give an update on the farmer’s markets. Wednesday they will be at Uptown Phoenix and Friday they will wash and prepare produce at the community kitchen so that they are ready for Saturday’s market. What doesn’t sell there will go to “Feed Phoenix”, a local food bank.

Brandon reminded those going to the Farmer’s Market, “When you do your marketing, make sure you have your elevator speech polished. They should know where their money is going.” What is a neighbor? A neighbor is someone who cares about you and your property - like a family friend. That’s what I experienced at TigerMountain’s “Garden of Tomorrow.”

Author: Farmer Karl

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