With the help of a state senator and members of Valley Leadership, the farmer behind the new community garden in Garfield Square planted the first tree there yesterday morning.
The community joined farmer John Milton, also known as Farmer Woody, at Garfield Garden Park at Pierce and 10th streets as he greeted the public at the garden for the first time. He planted the first tree with the help of Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, while five members of the Bad Cactus Brass Band performed.
Milton started thinking about a community garden two years ago when he heard about a mutual friend creating a community garden on a city lot. A local artist created a rendition of what the garden could look like and started distributing it.
Valley Leadership heard about Milton’s project through Phoenix Youth at Risk and wanted to help. Its members helped fundraise about $45,000, said Michelle McGinty, senior vice president of DRA Communications, the organization’s marketing and communications firm.
Robert and Richard Melikian, whose family owns the Hotel San Carlos, donated the land for the community garden.
Robert Melikian originally bought the lot in order to preserve the historical buildings in downtown Phoenix by having a space to relocate buildings to if need be, Richard Melikian said.
It didn’t look like historical-building preservation was going to be an issue for a while, so Robert Melikian donated the land to Milton because his plans would still improve the area, Richard Melikian said.
“It’s the hope that 100-200 homes will get mulch or fertilizer here, but we’re hoping that it’s in the thousands who are going to come here, learn and then take what they learned to other neighborhoods,” Richard Melikian said.
Another donation the garden received was the irrigation system donated by Sprinkler World, Milton said. Milton used to work for Sprinkler World, and receiving the irrigation system from the company felt like coming full circle, he said.
Reuter Equipment also donated a tractor that sped up the process for Milton because it does the work of 20 to 30 people.
This event was an open house for the public to meet Milton and learn about future plans, not its official grand opening. The garden is a fence away from completing its first phase of construction, and Milton hopes to have a fence donated in time for the grand opening.
Milton created a Kickstarter account so anyone could donate to the garden, and it was approved. However, the website recently changed its terms of agreement and Milton’s efforts needed to be re-approved as of yesterday.
It should be active in the next day or two, Milton said. In the meantime, he suggests liking the Garfield Garden Park Facebook page, where the link to the Kickstarter page will be posted.
Milton finally broke ground at the garden in January and, before last week when he hired someone, had done all the building himself.
“I like to challenge myself to see what I can get done,” Milton said.
In the future, he wants to add a greenhouse and a farmer’s market that offers not only produce, but also tools and supplies for gardening. Fruit trees are going to outline the field as well, he said.
“With Woody’s imagination, it can go anywhere,” McGinty said.
Although the park isn’t the first community garden in downtown Phoenix, Milton has a different idea for his garden, which he says is like a backyard project. Milton wants it to be a teaching garden.
He plans on teaching cooking, food preservation, jarring and making jam, as well as building-related skills, such as working with concrete and adobe, plumbing, electrical work, welding and anything thing else the community is interested in and he can teach.
“I really like the do-it-yourself thing,” Milton said.
If possible, Milton also wants the garden to create jobs. He’s looking toward youth in their late teens or 20s. He said he was given his first job as a farmer when he was 18 years old.
“Food prices are jumping. Gas prices are going up. Kids can go home and build themselves gardens and feed their friends and family,” he said.
If he can create jobs, Milton hopes that the experience will help youth find jobs in the future or create their own business doing similar work.
Milton is also building a smaller garden for Phoenix Youth at Risk across the street as well as developing a curriculum for the staff to teach the youth how grow produce.
Anthony Ingram, a resident of Garfield Square, similarly said that the community could learn to be independent from farms.
“To be able to plant and watch food grow. People take advantage of that. It’s one thing to plant it and another to watch the field and plow the ground and watch it grow,” Ingram said.
Another local, Jason Louiselle, thinks the garden is going to raise awareness about homegrown food.
“Instead of going to the store and buying food that’s been sitting there for two weeks, you can grow your own food,” Louiselle said.
Milton believes knowing how to farm is something to fall back to when times are rough.
“Before 2008, it was hard to convince someone to get a garden. Now, it’s not as difficult,” he said.
Melikian believes the garden will bring the community together thorough pride and a sense of of ownership.
“I would be so excited if it could be a local gathering point for the community for music and activities,” Melikian said.
Ingram and Louiselle also mentioned that the garden would bring a sense of unity.
“It’s a historical district area and it’ll bring people together that don’t normally meet. Not only will it bring youth, but adults of all ages from different communities. I think it’s going to bring all cultures together,” Ingram said.
The grand opening for Garfield Garden Park is on March 31, and Milton said what to expect at the event is a surprise.
“I got some ideas in mind. Like the marching band today, no one was expecting that. I only told one person,” he said. “I like making a spectacle. This is my chance to make a spectacle in the neighborhood.”
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org