Garden in the Desert, a University of Arizona student-led group, was launched two years ago to create and help build community gardens around campus.
The team has since shaped the foundation for a new community garden, which is located near the Highland Garage. The garden, the second on campus, is slated to open at the end of October, and members of the UA and local communities will be able to reserve space.
"Part of the vision is in creating more community involvement," 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.
At 1,600 square feet, the new garden will contain about 40 beds. Last year, Garden in the Desert helped build One Tree Garden, which is located near the UA's Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy.
Another important function of the organization is to educate people about gardening and local food production.
"Collective efforts between UA students and the Tucson community made this entire project possible," said Amy Mellor, a junior majoring in Latin American studies.
Sofia Montes, a crop productions senior, and Mellor – both project managers and Honors College students – are at the forefront of these community projects.
Both believe that health and sustainability issues remain among the most important topics the global community faces.
For Mellor, the initial intrigue was sparked by a trip she and other students from her New York high school made to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit. While there, she was able to witness first-hand the desolate reality citizens of Louisiana were facing.
"I truly realized the lack of food available for Louisiana residents after Katrina hit; it was so surreal," said Mellor.
Meanwhile, Montes' interest grew after taking an advanced placement environmental science course during her sophomore year of high school.
"Through that class, I learned how food justice and social justice are intertwined," Montes said. "Sustainability and health are huge issues. In most cases, low-income area residents do not have many healthy food options. Long term, more people need more access."
Because of the crucial importance of this issue, areas such as community outreach and student involvement have been assigned great emphasis by the duo. Both Mellor and Montes would like to see a stronger connection within the Tucson community develop but also realize that without student involvement, the initiative could not thrive.
"We want the gardens to be a place of awareness, where they could be used for educational purposes," said Montes, who added they also should be places of learning and interaction. The student organization also hosts community events, workshops and volunteer days to engage the community.
For both Mellor and Montes, not only joining, but leading this initiative has been more than worthwhile.
Whether it occurs through gaining meaningful friendships, feeling involved with something on campus, or just learning about the world and how humans affect it, the Garden in the Desert has left a long-lasting impact on both project managers.
"I don't even recognize myself from a few years ago. I would not be the person that I am today without having experienced this," Montes said.
Mellor also said: "Being part of this project has had a huge influence on me; I have personally grown so much. We are such a diverse group, and no matter our differing opinions, we always find common ground."
Mellor and Montes are working to get others involved "to share this experience with us," Mellor said. And, as Montes noted: "The more people involved, the better it will be."