Microbiology senior Madison Goforth arrives at 7am on a chilly fall morning to work with her mentors, Victor and Brandon, and a crew of regular volunteers at Nuestra Tierra garden, managed by the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona (CFBSA). Madison starts her morning by feeding the chickens and checking their water, then moves to the greenhouse, where she applies a mixture of fish emulsion, kelp, and organic pesticide Bt, to a variety of winter veggie seedlings. These kale, lettuce, chard, and cauliflower seedlings may end up in the onsite demonstration garden, at one of the school gardens that CFBSA supports, or go home with one of the hundreds of people who come there for home garden materials and workshops.
While preparing a garden bed for planting, Madison chats with another volunteer, a young professional counselor who comes to the weekly garden volunteer mornings for their “own therapy session.” Madison shares how she recently learned about commercial beef production and CAFOs in her Food Studies course, and it made her want to eat less meat. She and the other members of her household- her single mother and her high school brother- all have busy lives with work and school, and we talk as we garden about the time and money challenges of eating more fresh food as a family.
The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s mission is to, “change lives in the communities we serve by feeding the hungry today and building a healthy, hunger-free tomorrow.” While much of their work involves distributing donated and purchased food to people in need at over 300 sites in Southern Arizona, they also work towards strategies for long term food security, such as local agriculture, food production education, and civic engagement training. Madison’s internship includes working with teachers and students at Desert View High School to manage an onsite aquaponics system and veggie garden, and co-designing the SOMBRA program.
While small-scale vegetable gardens offer one important strategy for sustainable, low-cost food production, desert-adapted native plants can provide food and medicine with even lower resource inputs. With Madison’s help, and in partnership with Native Seeds/SEARCH, the Desert Legume Program, and City of Tucson, the Community Food Bank is expanding their greenhouse space to grow out hundreds of mesquite trees through the Sonoran Mesquite Barrio Restorative Alliance (SOMBRA). These young mesquites will be planted in partnership with interested residents of Tucson’s hottest and most under-resourced neighborhoods. This model will be a living example of how mesquite, a high-yielding, desert adapted and reliable perennial crop, can be a key component in creating micro urban agricultural systems that can regenerate degraded lands, create shade and sequester atmospheric carbon, while feeding people in the face of climate instability and water stress.