Monday, October 17, 2011

Tohono O’odham Food Sovereignty

At the community garden, we work to create a local food system. This involves not only growing food geographically closer to the community that uses it, but also growing food that more closely matches the environment and culture of the neighborhood and region.

While researching how to do this, I stumbled upon an impressive organization in our area. The Tohono O'odham Community Action group has been focusing on rebuilding a method of agriculture that is build precisely for the environment we are in. The Tohono O'odham are a tribe who built up a complex society and agriculture specifically designed for growing in the Sonoran Desert. This included a certain amount of gathering wild foods, but also included some amazing crop varieties.

The Tohono O'odham have a variety of corn that matures in 60 days. To put this in perspective, in Iowa (the leading grower of corn in the US) farmers rush to fit their corn varieties into a over 120 day long growing season. This quick growing corn is meant to take advantage of the short monsoon seasons in this area.

Another crop particularly well built for the Sonoran Desert is the Tepary* Bean. Not only is this bean exceptionally drought tolerant, but it also has been found to slowly release it's glucose. This is important for diabetics who need to moderate their glucose levels. For the Tohono O'odham, this is exceptionally important. Currently, 50% of the local population suffers from diabetes despite having no recorded cases until the 1960s.

You can find more information about this organization at their website ( and you can find a local source of seeds through Native Seeds/SEARCH (

*It is worth noting that the word Tepary translates to "It's a bean." Nice job European translators.

Standing on History

While researching the Escalante Neighborhood, I found myself looking at Google's map of our community garden. Unfortunately, the satellite view still hasn't been updated and still shows the garden as just another patch of lawn. However, the street map really captures the essence of the community garden. It even shows the delightful water feature running through.....Wait, what?

View Larger Map

After a brief discussion with Dave, he convinced me that our garden is sitting on top of a canal. Which was a delightful surprise because I was assuming we were in a dried up river bed and the next good rainfall would carry our newly sprouted radishes all the way out of Arizona.

Crisis averted, I found out that we are continuing a long tradition in living and creating green space around the Valley's canals. The Hohokam started this tradition and created a complex system of water distribution for agriculture that stretched over 100 miles. Although their civilization faded away (most likely because of drought), European explorers decided that the Hohokam had the right idea. Jack Swilling was the first one to decide that the canals were signs that this region could be agriculturally important. In response, he founded the town of "Pumpkinville."* Thankfully, members of the community later changed the name to Swilling's Mill, Helling Mill, and finally Phoenix.

In Phoenix's younger years, canals were integral to making life in the desert tolerable. Since they were originally uncovered and not lined with concrete as modern canals are, each canal supported large tree canopies and looked much more like natural rivers. These places became social spaces as people escaped the desert heat. Until air conditioning, the cool canal banks were also popular sleeping places in the summer. So don't be upset if you catch Dave or I napping in the garden, we are just continuing a long standing, but sadly neglected, tradition.

We aren't alone in our (until now accidental) attempt to restore the canals as social areas. I found that a group of urban planners have proposed making Phoenix's canals into social areas ( With the exception of some excellent bike trails, the Valley's canals are walled off and are quite easy for the everyday person to miss if they aren't actively looking for them. Canalscape argues that instead of covering them up, the canals can be used as an asset to improve the image and culture of Phoenix.

While the rest of the city gets it's act together, we will continue working here at the garden to beautify our small stretch of canal-front property.

*Speaking of Pumpkinville, check it out!

Not quite worth naming towns after, but these young pumpkins have popped up in the garden over the weekend.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Silent Auction Preview

Thanks to another donation by Alexi Devillers, we now have another entry for the First Crush Silent Auction. Her name is Jenny.

For those of you who don't know, First Crush is Tempe Community Action Agency's annual benefit. The night includes music, the silent auction, and a locally inspired menu. The event takes place Friday October 21st at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Please contact TCAA for more information and to RSVP if you are interested.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Hours!

The community garden is expanding it's hours!

Monday: 7am-6pm
Tuesday: 7am-6pm
Wednesday: 7am-6pm
Thursday: 7am-6pm
Friday: 7am-2pm
Saturday: 7am-11am
Sunday: Closed...sorry

We are opening up the garden later in the day during weekdays so that those of you who have jobs or school can still come and see the garden and help out. Additionally, we will now be open EVERY Saturday, however, potlucks will still be every other Saturday (including this upcoming Saturday).

One more quick caveat: if you show up and the garden is locked during the week, we are probably in the senior center getting office work done. Sad, but it's a necessity. Someone needs to update this thing.

Red beans and ricely yours,


Monday, October 3, 2011

A new garden member spotlight

Those of you at the next workday will meet our new member at the garden. His name is Fred and he is currently guarding the pumpkin patch. Fred's maker is a local artist named Alexi Devilliers, many of you may have seen his work near the corner of Lemon and Smith. Although Alexi has built a robot army that could rival most evil geniuses, he is quite friendly and gladly gave us a tour of this workshop. His backyard contains a variety of works including some that plug in and move. All of these creations are constructed from reused materials, most notably old cans. One impressive part of Alexi's work is how he obtains these cans. Alexi has been giving out free food at the local parks. "...every Saturday my wife and I get up at 5:30am to cook 100-125 hot and fresh meals." He takes his work seriously too. When asked what he hands out, Alexi added "Sandwiches?...Pfft, we make them four course meals."

If you are interested in purchasing some of Mr. Devillers work, you can see him at First Fridays, or stop by the garden. As much as it would pain us to give him up, Fred is up for sale. Additionally, thanks to Frank and Alexi, the Escalante Community Garden is now also the Escalante Community Art Gallery.

It's alive!!

Thanks to some good work from our volunteers on the 24th, many of our beds are now planted with cool season crops. Now if the weather cooperates, these new seedlings will be able to survive into the cool season and we will be getting a nice harvest of:

-Mustard and collard greens
-Green and Red Cabbage

Until then, I invite anyone to stop by the garden and see our raised beds seasonal transformation into covered wagons.