Spaces of Opportunity is an 18-acre parcel of land in south Phoenix that is being converted into a community-based farm. Through a partnership with Desert Botanical Garden, St. Luke’s Health Initiative, the Roosevelt School District and Cultivate South Phoenix (CUSP), this urban agriculture initiative will transform a food desert to a food oasis. Fresh, affordable produce is not readily available to this region of Phoenix, leading to increased childhood obesity and health and wellness concerns for its residents.
“The heart of the problem resides in America's demand for cheap food prices and a continued separation between human, land and physical labor,” explains Nicolas de la Fuente, community garden program coordinator and Spaces of Opportunity convener. “South Phoenix has higher unemployment, crime and chronic disease rates than more affluent areas of the city and even though south Phoenix has a rich agricultural history, there are no farmers’ markets and fast food is easily accessible.”
CUSP was established in 2012, as a broad-based coalition of agencies collaborating to address these concerns in south Phoenix. As an innovative solution, Spaces of Opportunity was born. In 2015, the Garden supported CUSP in securing a five-year lease of the land from the Roosevelt School District. Quilian Riano, a designer and landscape architect out of Brooklyn, New York, designed a master site plan that will transform the land into a productive space for the entire community.
Ten acres of the property are designated to an incubator farm. Individuals can apply to the Spaces of Opportunity Farm Incubator program and will have the opportunity to learn from and become mentor farmers. In a hands-on learning environment, incubator farmers will develop and maintain their plot of land, learn procedures for harvesting and market preparation, and have access to support in business and crop planning. This program will continue to teach the valuable skill of farming while generating fresh produce that can be sold in the community.
The additional eight acres of Spaces of Opportunity will be used by the community. Family gardens will take up 1.5 acres and there will be space for an onsite farmers’ market. Local elementary schools will be able to participate in project-based STEAM curriculum in an outdoor kitchen. An amphitheater will be constructed and used for cultural expression and community activities. Spaces of Opportunity will thrive when the community is engaged and has a feeling of ownership over the land.
“Spaces of Opportunity is engineering a comprehensive, neighborhood-level food system where farmers and farm workers are celebrated as artisans. We need to provide our farmers with the best possible scenario to succeed,” says de la Fuente. “It is my hope that every kid in the community will get to see, understand and engage in the art of growing food.”
Innovation continues to thread its way through Spaces of Opportunity at every level, including fundraising. To continue to fund this endeavor de la Fuente and his team of committed volunteers have received an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The team is one of 80 finalists for the ArtPlace's 2016 National Creative Placemaking Fund.
On November 5, Spaces of Opportunity launched an online campaign called Fund the Farmers. The funds raised through the online campaign will be used to secure two walk-behind tractors, irrigation equipment, basic farm tools and seeds for the first two growing seasons at Spaces of Opportunity.
“Seeing the amount of individuals who are willing to help develop a thriving community food hub in south Phoenix is really inspiring,” says de la Fuente. “With continued support, Spaces of Opportunity will truly make a difference in this community.”