By Jane Toomey, The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
In Maricopa County, there are over 50 food deserts that limit family’s ability to provide fresh produce in their daily and weekly menu planning. A food desert is an area that lacks direct access to affordable and healthy foods.
As part of a strategy to work with and build capacity in Maryvale, Central City, and Guadalupe, Valley of the Sun United Way has partnered with The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension to increase the number of community gardens in these areas to aid access to health food options. This partnership created a program that trains community members to become community garden leaders.
This approach not only increases access to healthy, locally grown food, it also increases knowledge on where food comes from and how it is grown. Community members participate in a nine week course that covers all aspects of building and growing a garden. Weekly the class meets, and with the help of Master Gardeners they become more familiar with gardening. At the end of nine weeks, participants have a breadth of knowledge surrounding the soils, watering, pest management, raised garden beds, vegetables growing and more. They are also given multiple print resources, books, and notebooks full of information to help their garden succeed.
These classes are run during the fall, winter, and summer at different locations around the valley. If you are interested in learning more about this program, or interested in joining a course you can email Jayson Matthews at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jane Toomey at email@example.com.
Jane Toomey is the Program Coordinator for Community Gardens at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. She lived and worked on the coast of Ecuador for 2 years as a community health volunteer. During this time, she participated in trainings on building and maintaining community gardens and gave nutrition lessons in her community. With a background in public health Jane is passionate about bringing healthy food options to food deserts and increasing the number of community gardens in Maricopa County.