Imagine the hours necessary for planning, planting, general management and care necessary to harvest an average of 287 pounds of a large variety of fresh vegetables each month. At Desert Meadows Park on the south end of La Huerta Drive, just off Abrego Drive, this remarkable number is possible through the efforts of a few volunteers whose payback is the pure joy of gardening while helping to feed others.
In the center of the 4-acre park sits a fenced area containing 60 garden plots brimming with activity year around. Members of sponsoring Green Valley Gardeners, a local service organization made up of gardeners, may reserve an available space on which to raise whatever they wish.
Gardeners who are winter visitors leave our area in early spring, with some not returning to Green Valley for six or more months. Rather than leave those plots lie fallow throughout their absence, it was decided that during these months volunteer club members would be solicited to raise vegetables in the otherwise-empty plots. Resulting fresh produce would be harvested exclusively for local food banks. Green Valley Gardeners, a non-profit corporation, supports the costs of operation such as water, fertilizer, and any needed seed for these plots.
Under the guidance of Garden Coordinator Elissa Dearing, there are presently five other volunteers who keep busy tending the “snowbird” plots plus harvesting from any other parcels where the gardener may be temporarily absent due to travel or illness. These devoted volunteers together spend an average of 50 hours per week working on this project.
The donated produce is popular with food bank recipients due to its freshness, cleanliness and purity. Crops are grown with organic methods, using only organic-based fertilizers and pesticides. Each Wednesday, just-picked produce is delivered to the Green Valley Food Bank; on Saturdays the next harvest is taken to Sahuarita Food Bank.
Currently tomato varieties with small, medium and large fruits are ripening as fast as can be picked. Some plants have escaped from their raised plot and found a preferred spot in the aisle where they continue to produce. The second most available crop now is summer squash including zucchini, yellow squash, and patty pans. These are the vegetables most preferred by summer food bank clients.
Long, slender Japanese eggplant is newly available this year. Armenian cucumbers, which are botanically melons, are preferred for their mild sweet flavor. Growing on the surrounding wire fence, these plants love the heat and continue to produce throughout the summer.
The latest food bank boxes contained eggplant, Armenian cucumbers, both sweet and spicy peppers, greens, bunching onions, zucchini, yellow summer squash, plus lots and lots of tomatoes.
There are a number of other noteworthy endeavors taking place in this impressive community garden located in the center of Green Valley … so much so that we need to continue this discussion next week. Stay tuned!
Mary Kidnocker is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who lives in the Green Valley Area. Her articles are featured weekly.