Employees Invited to Lease a Plot in New Community Garden

The student-led group "Garden in the Desert" is preparing to open its second community garden next month near the Highland Garage.
Jan. 18, 2012
Students work to prepare the new community garden near the Highland Garage.
Students work to prepare the new community garden near the Highland Garage.
People who lease garden plots will be able to grow all kinds of fresh foods.
People who lease garden plots will be able to grow all kinds of fresh foods.

People with green thumbs, black thumbs and all colors in between are invited to try their hands at gardening beginning next month when the student-led group Garden in the Desert opens the UA’s second community garden.

Students have been in charge of the garden project, but employees and community members are invited to lease plots in the 1,600-square-foot garden near the Highland Garage. A standard plot is 20 feet by 3 feet, and rent will run somewhere around $10 a month, depending on the length of lease.

"I’d really like to put out the word to folks who are interested in gardening: You don’t have to have experience," said Chet Phillips, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona’s graduate assistant for sustainability and a UA doctoral student in arid lands resource sciences. 

Although the plan is to lease the plots, Phillips said the group is willing to work with people on financial assistance, possibly using a sliding scale – the intention is to make gardening accessible to everyone, not to have a fee prohibit people from participating.

The garden was scheduled for completion in October, but the group just finished working with Facilities Management on getting the irrigation system installed.

The system features a solar panel and will have individual valves at each garden bed so people can control how often their crops are watered.

In November, students conducted composting demonstrations at the garden.

Each plot is sunk into the ground and has a mix of compost and soil.

"They’re ready to plant, and you can grow a good bit of food there," Phillips said.

Student organizers are working on a plan for any unwanted food that people grow, he said.

"We're looking to get that out to people who could really use it. The Community Food Bank is likely," he said.

Garden in the Desert is planning to hold gardening workshops in the spring, and there will be a shed full of garden tools available for people to use for free.

The only caveat, Phillips said, is that people need to be actively gardening – visiting their plots regularly and tending them.

"If it looks like you’re not, we’ll need to talk," he said.

The people in charge don't plan to judge whether a garden is being tended solely on what's growing there, Phillips said. After all, one person's weed is another's useful plant.

"People can plant what they want within a really wide range," he said.

Hank Schemper, a quit coach for the Arizona Smokers Helpline in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, said he’s interested in getting the helpline’s employee wellness group – about 20 people – signed up to tend a plot or two in the garden.

"I’m really into that myself, personally," he said. "We just really believe that in addition to quitting smoking it’s really important that people change other parts of their lifestyle to improve them. And what better way than getting a better diet and exercise?"

Many of the quit coaches are themselves former smokers, himself included, Schemper said.

All the coaches need a constant reminder about relapse prevention, and tending garden plots would be an effective way to build camaraderie between them, he said. The wellness committee members already meet to share recipes and wellness-related news with each other, so he doesn't think the garden would be a drastic leap for them.

"It just naturally flows into what we talk to our clients about," he said.

Laura Hanson, a crop production major who co-manages the garden project, said the group has received 12 to 15 applications – mainly from students – to lease and tend plots. She hasn’t heard much from employees yet, although they are highly encouraged to apply to use one of the 40 plots available.

Applications are available online.

The garden is open as long as there's daylight. 

"It's all right for people to be out there anytime during the day," Phillips said.