ELOY — As times have gotten harder and being self-sufficient and having a sustainable food source has become more and more attractive, community gardens have been gaining in popularity.
And for the small, underserved city of Eloy, a pending garden is anticipated to help soothe a lot of community ills.
The idea started a couple of years ago as a brainstorm between Community Action Human Resources Agency Executive Director Mary Lou Rosales and then-Community Services Manager Ann Geib. Along with the grassroots group Eloy Community Action Team, the garden project is starting to see the light of day.
Recently, CAHRA donated two 100- by 100-foot parcels of land behind the post office to the community garden project.
“Our agency purchased a couple of lots several years ago on Sixth Street as part of the agency’s former self-help housing program,” said Lucy Rangel, CAHRA Housing Program manager. “We kind of just held onto the lots. And we thought it would be the perfect place for the gardens to go.”
The rest of it has been made possible after receiving monies from Cenpatico Behavioral Health and United Way of Pinal County. Cenpatico gave them a $10,000 grant, which the agency is using to pay for the fencing and some other supplies.
“United Way was the one that was very instrumental in helping this garden project get under way,” Rangel said.
Eloy’s garden, drawn up by ECAT member Charles “Curly” Coyle, is modeled after gardens in Payson and Tucson. Its concept design includes 25 raised 4-by-8 beds, four or five 8-by-24 raised beds and eight straw bale beds. Straw bales will be stacked on top of each other so that elderly or wheelchair-bound gardeners can better access their plants.
“ECAT is backing CAHRA 100 percent in trying to bring this effort to the community,” Rosie Coyle, resident and ECAT co-founder, said. “We’re pretty excited about it.”
And CAHRA has set an aggressive time line to get the garden up and growing. The agency hopes to have the area prepped by December so that people can be ready to start sowing seeds by January in hopes for a spring harvest.
“We are at the point where we are going to submit for a temporary use permit,” Rangel said. “We’ve had to jump some hurdles. We are working with APS to get lighting on the lot, and get some fencing done hopefully by end of the month. It’s moving, but it’s moving slowly.”
Along with ECAT, the agency has established an advisory board. Members will guide how the garden is grown and set requirements and fees for would-be gardeners. The fee, Rangel says, will not be prohibitive, and gardeners will have to agree to gardening hours, water usage and crop lists, from vegetables to flowers.
CAHRA has partnered with many area organizations to get the project off the ground, all of which could likewise benefit from the garden. They range from ECAT’s subcommittee that focuses on downtown beautification to Pinal Hispanic Council, whose counseling clients could work in the garden as part of their community service curriculum, and the city of Eloy.
“From the city’s perspective, taking vacant lots and turning them into productive spaces is a win for everyone,” Eloy City Manager Ruth Osuna said.
“There’s a lot of people who want to be involved in it,” Rangel said. “The community is very, very accepting of the garden, and they want to see it grow. Eloy just has so much heart. People here care. They’ve come out of the woodwork to help. It’s just awesome.
“I live in this city and I drive around, and I see a lot of individuals that garden on their own,” she added. “It would be awesome if we could get those gardeners involved in our programs.”
And for the not-so-expert gardeners and beginners, Rangel said they hope to lean on the expertise of the University of Arizona’s Extension Office, and Eloy’s own resident master gardener, City Councilwoman Belinda Akes. The garden layout even includes a specific area just for educational events to take place.
“The master gardeners there are awesome. They teach nutrition, how to make better food, and we can partner that with the food bank. It just seemed like the perfect fit — two pieces of the same puzzle.”
To help get area students involved and more community participation, the greenhouse over at Santa Cruz Valley Union High School could also be utilized to help the garden start its seeds.
The garden opens up so many possibilities for the struggling city, Rangel added, from the potential of forming a garden club to maybe holding a regular farmers market, and perhaps providing a picturesque place to hold a wedding or other event.
Not only could this garden help residents create a more sustainable food source for themselves, but even if each gardener donated a small percentage of the harvest to the Santa Cruz Food Bank operated by CAHRA, other area residents in need could potentially also benefit greatly.
“Once we start gardening, our focus is that some of our proceeds will be able to go back to our food bank, so that we cannot only give food boxes, but more nutritious food boxes complete with fruits and vegetables.”
But the Coyles say they have their sights set even higher, once this garden gets under way.
“Once we get it started, if this one succeeds, maybe we can get a few more around the city — not just in that one spot. It’s a slow process,” Curly said.
“It’s a project that the whole community can be involved in,” he added. “And I’m hoping the ECAT members will take part in laying it out and getting it started.”
For more information, contact Lucy at LRangel@CAHRAPinal.org, or 466-1112, ext. 257.