Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.
When Adrian Marks moved to Globe last year, one of the first things he noticed was the empty lot across the street from him, behind the old Nob Hill grocery store on Devereaux Street.
In September, he approached the owner of the property, JP Cruz, struck up a conversation, and asked if in exchange for fixing up the porch and storefront, he could turn the eighth or so of an acre behind the building into a community garden. Cruz agreed.
The following month, Marks got permission from the Gila Community Food Bank to create a garden on its two-third acre lot, which would supply fruits and vegetables to the Food Banks’ recipients.
Throughout the fall, Marks was spending just about every weekend at Nob Hill or the Food Bank, along with local residents and soil scientists Paul Buck and Amber Riordan. Equipped with shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows and a mini-excavator, using hand-drawn aerial blueprints of the properties as guides, they moved rocks, sifted and turned soil, set irrigation fixtures, dug garden beds and created walkways lined with rocks. For a couple hundred dollars in parts, and a couple weeks worth of labor, Buck built a sifting table for them to use.
“We spent weekend after weekend moving rocks and digging,” Buck says.
In a matter of months, the areas behind Nob Hill and the Food Bank were transformed into garden plots. As of late December, two main gardens, a winter garden and a native crop garden, had just been planted with non-GMO, heritage seeds at the Food Bank, including cover crops like black eyed peas, rye and oats, as well as winter crops like lettuce, onions, spinach and winter squash.
With the exception of occasional help from neighbors, most of the time, it has been just Marks, Buck and Riordan working, driven by a shared vision.
“When you can pay for a value meal for a couple dollars that includes burgers, fries and a drink, but you have to spend $3 for a bell pepper, something is wrong there,” Buck says.
The trio intends to change that, which is why during the fall of last year, they formed Copper Canyon Community Gardens, a local nonprofit on a mission to create edible gardens around town, and lots of them. Whether a garden is created for local a school, neighborhood, or charity, each one is intended to make healthy food accessible while beautifying the community and bringing people together at the same time.
“Healthy food is expensive,” Marks says. “To be able to grow your own is affordable and fun.”
Anyone can join the organization and/or obtain a plot in the community gardens.
“The whole concept of the gardens is for them to be all-inclusive,” Marks says. “It brings individuals together. People that wouldn’t normally come out of the house are suddenly coming outside and hanging out.”
I met with Marks and Riordan behind Nob Hill one crisp Sunday morning in December.
Marks pointed out the 10 by 16 plots, intended for families. There are 14 total, in addition to two communal plots that individuals can share. He made it a point to note that the pathways we walked along would eventually be paved and made wheelchair accessible. He pointed out cardboard boxes behind the building filled with glass bottles. These had been donated by the Huddle, a local bar, and will be used to build retaining walls.
The housing rehabilitation specialist with a master’s degree in accounting – who in the past has taken herbal intensive classes, learned about wild edible plants as a survivalist, and studied native trees – is familiar with this kind of work.
Back in Tucson, he created a nonprofit organization called Trees Please! in 2009, which, over the course of three years, planted more than 300 trees in that region. The following year Trees Please! created an urban community garden. It was the first community garden in the city to successfully incorporate livestock, and the group frequently hosted music festivals and movie nights at the garden.
Prior to moving to Globe, Marks had a strong drive in his gut to start another community garden. If there is a big contribution he could make to society, he thought, more community gardens is one of them.
“If I’m not helping others, or not doing this type of work, I don’t feel healthy,” he states bluntly. “Utilizing all of my experience, minus accounting, I think that I can help a little.”
Marks was considering moving to Globe from Tucson last spring to join his girlfriend, Riordan, who had just gotten a job in Globe as a soil scientist for the USDA.
Riordan, who is originally from California, has spent plenty of time working on small farms in ranch towns. Like Marks, she believes in free access to produce.
“Just gardening is non-polarizing, and it’s good for kids,” she says. “There are limited options for kids in free time.”
Once Marks saw Globe, he was sold.
“I’ve been wanting to do a community garden,” he says. “This is the perfect place for it.”
He quickly found work with the county. Meanwhile, he started networking with people like Cruz.
Shortly after gaining Cruz’ approval to transform the Nob Hill property, Marks got permission from the Apostolic Lighthouse across the street to plant another garden.
“Draw up the paperwork and we’ll sign it,” he was told.
The timing of all of this was serendipitous.
Local resident and soil scientist Paul Buck had been dreaming of starting a community garden ever since he helped found the Globe-Miami Farmers’ Market.
When he caught wind of a guy in town rallying to start community gardens, he was eager to meet him. Buck met Marks, and the two realized their visions aligned.
Shortly thereafter, Copper Canyon Community Gardens was born.
In the process of creating gardens, the nonprofit aims to simultaneously revitalize and beautify the community, and eventually use the gardens as a way to bring the community together over things like movie nights and picnics.
In addition to bringing the community together, community gardens are also a means of food security, Buck says, reducing dependency on mass-produced food, which is typically unhealthy. Foods that are synthetic, processed or made with corn syrup are often the cheapest and most accessible in grocery stores, he explains, yet they are the very foods wreaking havoc on the health and weight of so many communities across the country.
“My vision is food production and community,” he continues. “I hope each garden will serve as a gathering point for each neighborhood in town. My other hope is to drive away cheap, mass-produced foods from peoples’ dinner tables.”
Each garden that the group creates is also designed to be organic and self-sustaining. Methods like composting, crop rotation and vermiculture (using worms in the soil) will be encouraged so that the gardens won’t require store-bought pesticides, fertilizers and weedkillers. Each garden will have native flowers that will create natural pollinator areas.
This keeps things inexpensive and keeps potential toxins out of the picture – pesticides, fertilizers and weedkillers can contain things like carcinogens.
So far, the Food Bank is perhaps where the group has made the most physical progress. At this point, the irrigation is in. Locals Nancy and Jim Mackay donated a large greenhouse which is now on site. The soil is turned and prepared for ground cover.
As many as 1,500 individuals receive food from the local Food Bank. The experiment, Marks says, will be to see how many families a 9,000 square-feet garden can feed. The Food Bank will be used as model to show what can be grown on less than an acre.
In January, the organization will give presentations to Miami High School and the Globe Education Center. Both schools have given the organization the go-ahead to start building gardens at each property. Now it is a matter of helping the schools decide what to plant and how to involve students.
“We’re basically a catalyst getting these gardens into the schools,” Buck explains.
The group has offered to come in with a backhoe and do the heavy lifting to create garden spaces on the school grounds. The students and teachers can then use the gardens to learn about things like irrigation, seeding, soil properties, food production and native seeds.
Glen Lineberry, Miami High’s principal, is thrilled.
“I think what these guys are doing is incredible… We’ve got two empty, ugly acres on the north side of the school,” Lineberry says. “We can do something really great together.”
Miami High School is in the process of expanding the career and technical education programs it offers. Two programs to be added to that list are agriculture and bioscience, according Lineberry. The garden would be used for both programs.
“The gardens are a great way to raise awareness among students of where their food comes from, and the role they can take in producing their own food and food for people who need it,” he says.
Eventually, he would like to see the project evolve into a school farm.
“Imagine fruit and nut trees, big sunflowers, strawberries and tomatoes,” he says, his voice trailing.
That’s the long term vision, anyway, he adds.
Meanwhile, Buck, Marks and Riordan have no shortage of work on their hands as they continue to acquire seeds, plant, apply for grants and recruit more volunteers.
The Copper Canyon Community Gardens is alway looking for additional help, whether it is in the form of monetary donations, materials, or volunteer time. Contact Adrian Marks for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 928-961-0655.