Trip Report: Native Health Traditional and Community Gardens

By Nancy Reid, Retail Associate.

It was a brisk Saturday morning, February 24th, when three Native Seeds/SEARCH staff traveled from Tucson to Phoenix to offer assistance with weeding and planting seed at the Native Health Traditional and Community Gardens in Phoenix. Access to the spacious farmland in the heart of Phoenix at Indian School and Central was provided by Agave Farms, a sustainable agricultural demonstration site, plant nursery, and community space. The purpose of the garden is to encourage the growth of healthy native foods for clients of Native Health- a non-profit health and wellness provider.

Dr. John Molina (Pascua Yaqui and San Carlos Apache) of Native Health opened with a blessing of the land and all participants. There were approximately 25 volunteers who eagerly got down and dirty by weeding, harvesting large bushels of radishes, and preparing soil for planting. Long rows were planted with Dine Blue Corn, Apache Giant Squash, and gourds. Seeds were provided by Native Seeds/SEARCH through the Community Seed Grant Program.

After a couple hours of weeding and planting, the group gathered under the ramada to sample various foods made from corn: parched corn, pinole shortbread, blue corn/mesquite cornbread with saguaro seeds, and corn chips with an assortment of salsas. Melissa Kruse-Peeples, NS/S Education Coordinator, discussed and demonstrated an array of corn types. Everyone marveled at the beautiful multi-colored cobs that were passed around.

Following more work, everyone went their ways with Saturday plans while we four staff members picked up a picnic lunch to eat and toured the Native Health Traditional Garden. Partnering with Keep Phoenix Beautiful, a local non-profit, this smaller garden is styled after the traditional farming practices of using waffle beds and rows. The water is delivered via the Salt River Project canals, which are located in the very same location as the ancient Hohokam who thrived along the Salt River a thousand years ago. Crops grown at the Traditional Garden this spring include: Maricopa Sweet Corn, Hopi Pink Beans, Apache Sunflowers, zucchini, O’odham Lima Beans, chiles, and tomatoes. Produce will be used in Native Health programs including cooking classes and lifestyle programs for youth.

We then left Melissa for her travels home while the three of us visited DrumBeat Indian Arts, a store not far from the garden. Each of us purchased something for ourselves and for the NS/S Reference Library located at the Conservation Center in Tucson, AZ.

For more information on Native Health Traditional and Community Gardens, please visit their website. Garden plots are still available and volunteers are welcome to assist with garden activities.