Project Leaders Share Stories About Shuttering Phoenix Community Garden

Published: Monday, February 6, 2017 - 2:40pm
Updated: Monday, February 6, 2017 - 4:45pm

(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
Susan Levy, with Native Health, and Tom Waldeck, president of Keep Arizona Beautiful.

Not too long ago, 15 acres of land on the corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road sat empty. It was just another vacant lot in Central Phoenix, covered in dusty gravel and overgrown weeds.

But, in 2011, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton struck a deal between the land’s owner and a local nonprofit called Keep Phoenix Beautiful to transform the space.

The owner, Barron Collier, gave them the lease on the vacant land for $1 a year, and they turned it into a large-scale community garden called PHX Renews. The project has been a big success. They work with several Valley organizations like the International Rescue Committee — or the IRC — to create community programs around the gardens, and they hosted the Clinton Foundation’s ninth-annual Day of Action in 2014.

But, now, the garden is being shut down — without much notice.

According to Tom Waldeck, president of Keep Phoenix Beautiful, the land used to be the site of the original “Indian School” and was owned by the federal government. Barron Collier acquired the land, but then defaulted on payments to an education fund for Native Americans that had been required as part of the deal.

The land has been caught up in a lawsuit ever since, and that lawsuit is finally close to a settlement. And that means the land goes back to the feds on Feb. 15.

So, I went out to PHX Renews this weekend to find out more about all of this. I met Susan Levy, who works for Native Health, a non-profit that aims to provide health care for urban American Indians. They’ve been involved in the project since the beginning, and she showed me around the 28 garden beds that their program runs.

Now, this project was always meant to be temporary, but they didn’t expect it to come to such an abrupt end.

Stanton has sent two letters to the Department of the Interior requesting that they renegotiate to allow the garden to stay, but they haven’t gotten a response. Waldeck says Sen. John McCain and Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Ruben Gallego have also reached out and gotten nowhere.

We also reached out to the Department of the Interior and the property’s owners, Barron Collier, about this. Barron Colliers got back to us and they declined to comment.

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