Urban Farming Workshop Recaps

Head of Romanesco Broccoli

Here you will find recaps of information covered in our Urban Farming: Healthy Food & Healthy Living Workshops.

1. Urban Farming: Healthy Food & Healthy Living, Inaugural Event


In their presentations, Peter Conden and Dr. George Brooks shared videos both informational and inspirational with workshop attendees. Follow the links below to view them yourself.

Cronkite News Video - Circle of Life: Raising Fish Helps Raise Plants in New Farming Method

Find out about the Environmental Protection Agency grant that helped fund the development of the Center for Urban Agriculture is being put to use ... and learn a little bit about aquaponics, too.
Read more here.

Ron Finley TED Talk: A Guerrilla Gardener in South Central L.A.

(Explicit language warning at 9 minutes into the talk.)

"Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA -- in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where 'the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.'" -- Youtube video description. (Jan. 28, 2015) See the video.

Fresh Express: A Farmers Market on Wheels in Phoenix's Discovery Triangle

Find out about the Fresh Express, a city transit bus that was converted into a mobile farmers market and is used to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into the Discovery Triangle in Phoenix, AZ.
See the video.

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Q&A: January 22 @ Mesa Community College

How do we deal with city zoning issues in making use of empty lots?
Find out about City of Mesa Zoning Ordinances here.
Find out about City of Mesa Land Use Planning here.
Find out about City of Mesa Sustainability Programs here.

Talk to people who have gone through the process of redeveloping empty lots. Ask them how they started the process. Visit the Community Garden page on Mesa's Sustainability website to find a listing of current community gardens. Find one near you, get involved, and ask questions!
Where can we find seed resources for plants that do well in our environment here in the Desert Southwest?
Native Seed Search is a good resource for seeds from arid-climate, edible plants.

Valley Permaculture Alliance has a seed library that may also provide a good source of tried and successful desert-adapted seed.
What is the Cooperative Extension Service, and how can it help me grow food for myself, my family, and my community?
Extension services are offered by all land-grant universities in the United States in order to provide their resources and knowledge-base to the general public through informal, not-for-credit programs. Learn more about the USDA Extension Service and its history here.

Arizona's land-grant university is the University of Arizona. You can visit their offices in person in Phoenix at:

U of A County Extension Office
4341 East Broadway Road
Phoenix, AZ 85040

They also have many online resources which can be found here.

Maricopa Cooperative Extension provides educational information about responsible gardening and landscaping practices through their Master Gardeners Program. They have many online publications and resources to browse, as well as real live human beings that can answer questions and help diagnose problems in the garden and landscape.

Maricopa Cooperative Extension has also begun to develop a Beginning and Small Farms Program to help train gardeners and urban farmers in growing economically viable small businesses. Learn more here.

Are there any Farmers Markets in Mesa, AZ?
Yes! We do have farmers markets here in Mesa:

Mesa Community Farmers' Market
Hours: Fridays, 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. (Oct. - May)
Location: 263 N. Center St. Mesa, AZ 85201
Search for them on the internet to learn more.

The Mesa Community College Farmers Market
Hours: 4th Wednesday of the month, 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. (Jan. - Apr. & Sept. - Nov.)
Location: 1833 W. Southern Ave. Mesa, AZ 85202 (center courtyard of campus)
How do I garden in an apartment setting? Can I coordinate with apartment complex management to develop a community garden for the tenants?
Attend our Vegetable Garden Design workshop in February to learn about container gardening from Doreen Pollack. Container gardening is a great way to grow fresh food in a small space, such as on the patio of an apartment unit. Then attend our Aquaponics workshop in April to learn about this sustainable food production system from Dr. George Brooks. Small aquaponic systems can be used to grow fresh food year round in small spaces as well.

Developing a community garden within an apartment complex is a wonderful way to build ties with your neighbors and help each other grow healthier and save money, too. There are many resources online to help anyone interested in starting a community garden:

The City of Mesa's Sustainability website has links to several resources to help you start up a community garden. Scroll down to the bottom section of the page with the heading "Our Favorite Community Gardening Resources". Most of the suggestions you will find in these publications will apply to starting a community garden in an apartment complex as well.

For some guidelines on starting a community garden in an apartment complex specifically, read a post on the Zillow for Pros Blog:"Apartment Trends: Community Gardens" (June 25, 2013).
Where can I find resources for a non-profit start-up company that would like to get involved in Urban Agriculture to help eliminate food deserts?
Check out "How do I start a nonprofit?" (links to a PDF file, updated May 10, 2010) from Arizona State University's Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation. You will find answers to frequently asked questions about what a nonprofit is and how to start one, as well as links to many other resources.

Find resources for starting a small business in agriculture on the U.S. Small Business Administration website here.
Where can I donate food in Mesa?

St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance hosts Annual Super Citrus Saturdays if you find yourself inundated with citrus and nowhere to store it. The 2015 donation day has passed, but keep it in mind for next year.

You can find a listing of Food Pantries in Mesa, AZ here. It is advisable to call the center to which you would like to donate your surplus food stuffs and ask about their policies regarding donations; some do not accept perishable food items.

Interests to be Addressed in Future Workshops
Transplants (starting, timing of planting for our seasons, caring for them)
- What is transplanting in agriculture/gardening? Learn more here.
Harvesting Techniques for Arizona
Food Surplus Management: Storage and Preservation Methods (canning, drying, fermenting)
Sustainable Cooking
Beekeeping in Arizona (small pollination hive construction, use, and expansion)

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Q&A: January 24 @ Brooks Community School

How can we get the word out about the workshops to our demographic of interest?
We can use school newsletters that the teachers pass out to the students, and we can use social media. We need to make sure to use bilingual materials when doing so.
Will speakers be posting their presentation materials online?
Mesa Community College website guidelines allow us to post live links only to material available through government and nonprofit organizations. Whenever material within a presentation falls within this purview, we will do what we can to provide access to that material.
Can we have Master Gardeners visit our schools?
Yes! Find the Master Gardeners online through the Cooperative Extension service here. Click on the link "Master Gardener County Contacts" to find contact info for the representative of your county.
How can we start seed banks at our schools?
Find interested faculty at your school and begin the planning process.
How can we address the needs of senior citizens and the disabled through urban farming and gardening practices?
Find out more about using gardens in therapeutic ways through the American Horticulture Therapy Association.

Gregory's Fresh Market Place is meeting the needs of seniors in Phoenix, AZ. Follow them on Facebook here to learn more about them and what they do.
Interests to be Addressed in Future Workshops
Water Conservation Concerns (rainwater and grey water capture and recycling)
How to Read the Farmer's Almanac
Explain the Concepts of Food Miles and Carbon Footprints
Acquiring Materials for Recycled/Upcycled Use in Building Raised Beds and Planters
Beginning Gardening
Organic Gardening Practices
Mobile and Indoor gardens
Small Space Gardening
Growing in the Desert Southwest
Touring Neighborhood Gardens and Urban Farms

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2. Vegetable Garden Design

Recommended Books

Look for the following books in your favorite used or online bookstore, library, or gardening friends' bookshelves.

Desert Gardening for Beginners: How to Grow Vegetables, Flowers, and Herbs in an Arid Climate

By Cathy L. Cromwell, Linda A. Guy, and Lucy K. Bradley
Published July, 1999

Desert Landscaping for Beginners

By Arizona Master Gardener Press (Editor: Cathy L. Cromwell)
Published October, 2001

Month by Month Gardening in the Desert Southwest

By Mary Irish
Published April, 2003

Extreme Gardening: How to Grow Organic in the Hostile Deserts

by Dave Owens, The Garden Guy
Published November, 2000

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Garden Site Selection & Care Resources

When selecting the site for your garden bed(s), it is important to observe several characteristics of your property: sun and shade patterns, wind patterns, where the water runs during rains and irrigation, soil type and condition, as well as where utility lines run through your property. The following resources can help you figure out some of those things:

Blue Stake

Find out where utility lines run through your property before you dig.
Learn more here.

Soil Testing Services

Find out about the quality of your native soil by sending a sample in to a certified soil testing lab.
Learn more here.


Make sure you are giving your plants enough water, but not so much that you drown them. Plants grown for food require more water than our typical landscape plants. Make sure that you are using water wisely in your home, and that you are watering your landscape plants properly, and you will have more water to provide to your food plants.

Learn more about wise water use here.
Learn more about watering landscape plants here.

Planting Guides

It is important to plant your fruits, vegetables, and flowers at the right time of year, especially here in our arid climate. Planting guides specific to our Plant Hardiness Zones can help you decide when to grow by seed or transplant.

Find your zone on a map of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones here.
Find the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension Vegetable Planting Calendar here.
Find the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension Flower Planting Calendar here.

How to Read a Seed Packet

Once you've figured out when to plant your seeds, you will want to know how to plant them and care for them. Seed packets are usually a very good source of this information (even for finding out how to care for transplants).

Learn to read a seed packet here.

Free Horticulture Publications from the University of Arizona

For further information about gardening responsibly in our arid climate, look to the many research-based horticulture guides published by the University of Arizona. How to care for plants, manage pests, and so much more.

Find an index of free, downloadable guides here.

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3. Nutrition & Health

Dr. Lori Zienkewicz shared some fascinating information about obesity trends in the U.S., how we relate to food psychologically, and some great free tools for determining individual caloric needs and healthy food plans for both children and adults. See the resources below for more information about those topics and more.

Obesity Trends

Dr. Zienkewicz shared an animated graphic of adult-obesity trends in the U.S. over the span of the last 30 years. The story the data tell is shocking.

See an interactive map based on that data here.
Find the most up-to-date information about overweight and obesity trends here.

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Psychology of Eating

Nutritional choices are affected by a variety of factors. If you want to make positive changes in your eating habits, it is often easier to change your environment than it is to simply rely on your own supply of willpower. The Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University publishes research and educational materials on food psychology and how to work with your psyche instead of against it as you try to make better nutritional choices. The Small Plate Movement is a nationwide consumer education initiative aimed at helping families better manage their portion sizes and encouraging restaurants to downsize their plate sizes.

Learn more about Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab and their findings here.

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Nutrition Planning Guides

Caloric Burn

Food is a source of both fuel for and the building blocks of the human body. Your fuel requirements are determined by your lean body mass and your level of daily activity. If you are not a performance athlete or weightlifter, Body Mass Index (BMI) calculators can help you determine an appropriate weight range for your height; that information can then be used to determine the calorie requirements to maintain that weight. While these tools are useful informational guides, a trained healthcare provider should be consulted for diagnosis of a person's individual health status and risk factors.

Find information about BMI and at the Center for Disease Control's website here.
Find an estimate of your daily caloric needs using the Mayo Clinic's Calorie Calculator here.

Food Plans

Once you've determined how much fuel your body needs on a daily basis, you can develop a food plan that meets its requirements while providing the nutrients it needs as well.

Learn more about how to build a healthy food plan at Choose My Plate here.
Create a profile for the Super Tracker at Choose My Plate and track your progress and receive custom meal plans here.

Food Labels

Knowing how to read food labels can help you build a food plan that meets both your caloric and nutrient needs at the same time. Also, understanding the limits of the food label can help you avoid savvy food marketing tricks like the "trans fat free" labelling loophole.

Learn how to read food labels from the American Heart Association here.
Learn how to read food labels from the Food and Drug Administration (and find links to proposed food labelling changes) here.

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Children's Nutrition

Eat a Rainbow Everyday!

No. Not the popular candy kind. The fruits and veggies kind. Helping kids to eat well can be challenging sometimes, especially when they go through picky-eater phases. The Eat a Rainbow guideline was developed to try to make it more fun for kids and parents to eat well together. Use your favorite search to query "eat a rainbow" or "eat the rainbow" and you'll find all kinds of charts and ideas for gamifying the act of eating your fruits and vegetables, and recipes galore.

Learn more about how eating a rainbow is good for you here. (NDSU Extension Service)
Learn more about incorporating fruits and veggies into kids' diets here (including how to start your own garden! ... see the "Grow Your Own" section under the "Meal Planning" tab on the home page).

Go, Slow, and Whoa! Foods

Another way to communicate healthy nutritional choices to your kids, this campaign goes beyond fruits and vegetables and aims to educate kids about making good choices from all the food categories.

Learn more and find downloadable resources here.

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Eat Local and Grow Your Own

Garden Design and Maintenance

Many of you are interested in growing your own nutritional whole foods, or do so already. Growing your own source of fruits, veggies, and protein gives you control over what goes into producing them, gets you active, and can be a source of stress relief as well. That's loads of health benefits, whatever the size of your growing space.

Find lots of resources for garden design and care in our Vegetable Garden Design section above.
Find out how to contact a Master Gardener and get your gardening questions answered here.
Find out about growing your own source of protein at our Aquaponics workshop in April.

Buy and Eat Locally and Seasonally

Whatever you can't grow on your own, you can buy locally instead.

Find out more about how to shop locally for what's in season here. See the handy calendar on the last page for seasonality of common fruits and veggies.

Government Nutrition Assistance Programs

Some of us have to manage our nutrition using very limited funds. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Arizona's Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) can help us find sources of nutrient-rich foods for ourselves and our families at manageable prices ... or better yet, use those benefits to purchase seeds and live plants to grow in our own gardens.

Find out about SNAP benefits here.
Find out about SNAP gardens here.
Find out about FMNP benefits here.

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4. Aquaponics


Ron Finley TED Talk: A Guerrilla Gardener in South Central L.A.

(Explicit language warning at 9 minutes into the talk.)

"Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA -- in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where 'the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.'" -- Youtube video description. (Jan. 28, 2015)
See the video.

NY Sun Works at Manhattan School for Children

Using gardening and aquaponics in school curricula to grow smart kids.
Find out more here.

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Recommended Books

Look for the following books in your local library or your favorite bookstore.

Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together

Sylvia Bernstein
New Society Publishers (2011)

Small-scale Aquaponic Food Production: Integrated Fish and Plant Farming

(FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper 589)
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2014)
Find a link to download this free publication here.

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Online Resources for Aquaponics and Aquaculture

Bright Agrotech - YouTube Channel

Search for Bright Agrotech's many free tutorial videos using your favorite web browser. Find all kinds of information about doing aquaponics from design to calculating nutrient supplement needs and more.

The Aquaponic Gardening Community

An online community established to encourage interaction between and learning from the many people doing aquaponics. Learn more here.

Arizona Aquaculture

Find publications and resources related to growing fish in Arizona here.

Western Regional Aquaculture Center

Find publications and resources related to commercial-scale fish culture in the western region here.

Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Aquaculture, Fisheries, & Pond Management

Find resources related to fish culture in various contexts, including aquaponics, here.

University of Hawaii at Manoa - College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources

Find free, downloadable publications here. Type "aquaponics" into the search box to find articles about food safety issues in aquaponics systems and more.

World Aquaculture Society

Find events and current research publications on all things fish related here.

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Take a Class

Find an aquaponics or gardening class that meets your needs and fits your schedule.

Mesa Community College - AGS 166: Aquaponics

Offers a 16 week, for-credit course through the Urban Horticulture Department each semester. Students learn about the establishment, care, and selection of facilities for home or commercial production of animals and plants in a water-based closed system. Prerequisites: None.

Fall 2015 (Aug. 24th - Dec. 18th)
Times: Mondays and Wednesdays, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Location: Southern and Dobson Campus, Room TC426

Learn about admission and registration processes here.

Valley Permaculture Alliance

A non-profit organization that provides educational workshops to the public on a variety of gardening and landscape management topics (including aquaponics).

Learn more about the VPA and their offerings here.
(Classes can be found under the "Programs" heading).


A non-profit and charitable organization that provides classes and volunteer opportunities for those interested in learning more about sustainable food production practices.

Learn more about the Garden Pool organization and the classes they offer here.

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Aquaponics in Arizona

Following is a list of companies or farms that are currently doing aquaponics in Arizona. Search for them online using your favorite web browser to learn more about them. Most also have a presence on Facebook.

RighTrac, Inc. (Phoenix)
James T. Hicks, President/CEO

Valley Aquaponics (Phoenix)
Search for them on Facebook.

Garden Pool (Phoenix)

Rhiba Farms (Chandler)

Maggie's Farm (Avra Valley/Marana)

Tucson Aquaponics Project (Tucson)

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6. What is S.T.E.A².M. Education?

John Wann of The Orchard Community Learning Center showed us how to bring nontraditional learning opportunities to kids in our communities using Urban Farming as a foundation, and how to do it well. We learned about how they engage kids in super fun learning experiences using an integrated STEA²M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Agriculture, and Mathematics) curriculum that respects the kids' interests and cultural heritage ... from the student scientists themselves as well as instructors and parents. See below for links to interesting videos that he shared, and for information about how you can participate in The Orchard Community Learning Center's activities as a member or volunteer.


Changing Education Paradigms - Sir Ken Robinson (an RSA Animate video)

"This RSA Animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin award."
Watch the video here.

The Lexicon of Sustainability - A PBS series

We watched the "Seeds" and "Food Waste" videos with John and the gang, but there are several more videos in the series. Learn about all sorts of sustainability topics, from "The Story of an Egg" to "GMOs" and so much more.
Find the videos here.

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Get Involved

The Orchard Community Learning Center

Volunteers and new students are always welcome at The Orchard. Find out how their community successfully supplements their children's education with a curriculum that is designed around urban farming activities using an integrated STEA²M paradigm that is tailored to the needs and interests of the center's parents and student scientists.

Learn more about The Orchard Community Learning Center and find contact info here.

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6. Compost and Soil Amending

Vynnie McDaniels of Xericopia Urban Gardens taught us all about what's really going on in our compost piles and how to manage them more efficiently here in the Desert Southwest. Find resources to help you make bug poo for your own garden below.

Recommended Books

Look for the following books in your local library or your favorite bookstore.

A Desert Gardener's Companion

Kim Nelson
Rio Nuevo Publishers (2001)

Extreme Gardening

Dave Owens
Poco Verde Landscape (2000)

Learning About and Living with Insects of the Southwest

Floyd Werner, Carl Olson
Fisher Books (1994)

Sunset Western Garden Book

Oxmoor House (2007)

Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA) Publications

Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert
Find this free publication here.

Landscape Watering by the Numbers
Find these free publications here.

Arizona Master Gardener's Press (various Publications)

Find books specific to Arizona written by Master Gardeners here.

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Online Resources

Valley Permaculture Alliance

A non-profit organization that provides educational workshops to the public on a variety of gardening and landscape management topics, including composting. Find them here.

Small Scale Composting in the Low Desert of Arizona

A publication of the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension. Find it here.

Identifying Soil Texture by Measurement

A publication of the Cooperative Extension Service at Colorado State University showing how to determine the composition of your soil using a mason jar. Find it here.

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Vynnie's Slides

Coming Soon!

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