Home / News / This Isn’t Just Another Urban Farm—It’s a Food Bank for the Poor

This Isn’t Just Another Urban Farm—It’s a Food Bank for the Poor

Former plantation staff, Zotero Citlacoatl, and Las Milpitas volunteers in the greenhouse, training about birthright fruit tree propagation. The fig and pomegranate tree cuttings graphic grew out over the open and were given to program participants and village partners.

Photo Credit: © Groundwork Promotions (via Yes! Magazine)

Just off the banks of the desiccated Santa Cruz River in Tucson, Arizona, gardeners at Las Milpitas de Cottonwood Community Farm are harvesting a annuity of produce. They grow prohibited and honeyed peppers, summer squashes, Nichols and Punta Banda cherry tomatoes, basil, okra, beans, corn, and the striped, oval Tohono O’odham watermelon: a desert-adapted watermelon with honeyed orange-yellow flesh, cultivated by the Tohono O’odham clan over generations in the Sonoran Desert region.

An civic village plantation in Tucson? Guess again. This isn’t just civic permaculture—it’s a food bank.


In Pima County, which includes Tucson, one person in seven is food insecure—slightly above the inhabitant average. Food banks, including this one, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, have been starting gardens and farms where they learn people to grow their own food. These are local, small-scale initiatives that learn “food literacy”—nutrition, cooking, budgeting, grocery selling and gardening—to communities that humour from food distrust or simply a miss of fresh produce.

This is a common concern, and food banks opposite the U.S. are increasingly holding on combined responsibilities of not just providing food to low-income communities, but also addressing health issues compared with food insecurity, such as gauntness and diet-related illness like high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and obesity.

Las Milpitas—a name selected by the village which means “little fields” or “little gardens” in Spanish—is a few miles from the food bank’s primary placement and services center. The plantation is in a essentially Latino area on Tucson’s west side, and closely connected to two circuitously mobile home communities. It’s also a four-mile drive from the nearest grocery store.

On one partial of the six-acre farm, 3 full-time paid staff members grow furnish that after gets enclosed in prohibited prepared dishes for food bank clients or is sole to means the plantation at the food bank’s SNAP- and WIC-eligible internal plantation stands.

Las Milpitas volunteers, graphic in front of the greenhouse, make organic potting dirt and work on other plantation projects in February. Photo © Groundwork Promotions (via Yes! Magazine)

But the heart of Las Milpitas is all set aside for free use by the community, says Elena Ortiz, Las Milpitas’ Farm Engagement Manager and Advocacy Coordinator. There are around 60 individually-assigned plots, a shared village plot, a greenhouse, a composting toilet, and an adobe oven. At times the plantation borrows other equipment, such as a solar dehydrator or a solar oven, which are used in cooking demonstrations and internal plant workshops.

Gardeners devise their own plots and take home what they grow, Ortiz says. And they come back for other events such potlucks and yoga classes. Local facile schools also use Las Milpitas as an outside classroom to learn a food education curriculum about nutrition, plants, gardening, and cooking.

And given there are no parks in the neighborhood, Ortiz says, people also come to Las Milpitas simply to enjoy the immature space.

The gardeners come from all over Tucson. Most of them are women, and many are new immigrants. Many have never gardened before. Among the watermelons and weeds, some are reconnecting with an rural heritage, Ortiz says.

“A lot of the gardeners will remember their grandparents in Sonora who had a ranch, and they’ll remember them flourishing food,” she says.

Partnerships between food banks and internal cultivation are on the rise. Food banks are tillage produce, recuperating (or “gleaning”) rural over-abundance true from the fields, building civic proof gardens and seed libraries, and teaching classes in underserved neighborhoods for those who wish to grow food in their backyards or in patio bucket gardens.

Domenic Vitiello, an partner highbrow of City Planning and Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, researches the changing role of food banks in informal food systems. To put these rural initiatives in context, he says, we have to change two considerations. One is the scale of need—the millions of pounds of “emergency” food that a food bank has to provide. The second is that the normal food bank structure reinforces dependency on the industrial food system, which also is means to take advantage of taxation breaks and low wages, so perpetuating low mercantile inequality.

An instance of a opposite rural proceed is Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, which serves 7 North Carolina counties, recuperating and gleaning about 6 million pounds of food a year that would differently have left to waste. The Food Shuttle also runs a 10-acre prolongation farm, which provides 18,000-30,000 pounds of food per year for its clients—just a fragment of its sum distribution.

But some of that land, says Farm Manager Fred Baldwin, is set aside exclusively for 12 Burmese Karen interloper families who grow food for their own community. The Food Shuttle has also remade new lots into two tiny civic gardens in low-income and historically Black neighborhoods of Raleigh and Durham, where they learn a five-week backyard gardening march called Seed to Supper.

Vitiello says that while village gardens like these and Las Milpitas can’t feed vast numbers of people, they can strengthen bad communities to be just as healthy and food secure as any.

“They are not producing anything imitative the scale of the big industrial gleaning programs,” Vitiello says. “They’re building skills—basic capacities for people to feed themselves.”

There are other ways to magnitude a food bank’s successes than the apportion of food it gives out.

Erik Talkin, CEO of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and author of the blog From Hunger to Health, is understanding of food banks like the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona who have successfully pioneered formidable approaches.

“They wanted to concentration on these programs that would build long-term food education as against to just short-term giving people food. They comprehend that they can build a bigger and bigger food bank, but it’s not actually elucidate the problem they’re trying to understanding with.”

It takes paid staff and a lot of networking for a food bank to create a abounding village garden like Las Milpitas. “They’re doing some good things there that we at the moment don’t have the resources to be means to achieve,” Talkin says.

And Ortiz believes that a volatile village is worth the work.

“That’s since the food bank has been really meddlesome in growing, given gardens yield this pleasing space for those connectors to happen,” she says.


Sammi-Jo Lee is a solutions stating novice for YES! Magazine. She is formed in Seattle, Washington, and is ardent about storytelling that uplifts the voices of marginalized people. Follow her on Twitter @_samjolee. She/her/hers.

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