Community Garden Project kicks off in GRIC
May 6, 2016
Gila River Indian News
7-year-old Azul Nelson removes a tomato plant from its pot and buries it up to its roots in the ground. He’s in his baseball clothes because he’s got a little league game in an hour, but for now he’s working the earth, learning timeless skills that will last him a lifetime.
Azul’s mother, Nicole Nelson from Stotonic, District 4, brought Azul and her daughter Sonnay out to the first day of planting in a new community garden on Saturday morning, April 30.
Nearly 30 people planted tomatoes, chilies, corn, beans, squash, and melons on a quarter acre of land at Norman Wellington’s property in District 4. Wellington is the project manager for a new grant-funded Community Garden Project, and has donated some of his own land to the new garden.
The goal, said Wellington, is to “show [people] what they can do...with a little bit of hard work with family [and] friends. Get involved, eat properly, exercise, be in the garden.”
Some of the visitors to the community garden already have farming or gardening experience, while others were novices, eager to learn.
“I wanted to learn…how they section [the plants] off and how they make the trench to put the seeds in and how far apart or how close or how many,” said Ann Torres, who plans to start her own garden at home in District 1 with her daughter and grandchildren.
“It’s a really good experience for them to be able to plant seeds, and watch them grow,” said Latesha Torres, while her children planted watermelon seeds in the community garden. “It teaches them who they are, where they come from, and I think that’s really important to teach kids.”
Sonny Nieto is the Agriculture Specialist with the Gila River Indian Irrigation and Drainage District’s Agriculture Services Program. He’s been helping the Community and Community members with gardens for years. GRIIDD manages the new Garden Project, in conjunction with the Office of the Community Manager.
The Executive Office and OCM are heavily invested in the project and meet regularly with project administrators to ensure its continued success.
The Garden Project is funded from a combination of federal dollars from the Life Center at Gila River Health Care and the GRIC Tribal Health Department’s Genesis Program. Both are diabetes prevention programs.
“Our goal is to get more nutritious food out into the Community,” said Natalyn Begay of the Life Center.
Lourdes Delva works for the diabetes prevention program under the GRIC Tribal Health Department. She was at the community garden on planting day.
“One of the things that I’m interested in is [incorporating] this into our program,” she said. The diabetes prevention program connects patients to a nurse practitioner, a case manager and a dietitian each, and offers cooking classes.
“We have a garden box at the diabetes care program. We’re going to start planting...so the patients can help us maintain it, as well as use it during the cooking classes,” said Delva. “Our goal is for them to start planting their own garden at home. [Even] if they can do something at home with pots, that would be good.”
The Garden Project is not just about dietary health, but the overall wellbeing of the Community – physically, socially, and culturally.
Project administrators hope the Garden Project will bring people together, inspire healthy eating, motivate people to live an active lifestyle, and teach agriculture to a new generation of Community members.
The project is an opportunity for the Community to develop a sense of independence and self-sufficiency in terms of its food supply and improved nutrition.
Nieto and Wellington would like to see gardens popping up in neighborhoods all over the Community, providing everyone with the healthy, natural, and traditional foods their families need.
But the Garden Project is not only about community gardens.
Through grant funding, the project offers Community members a number of opportunities to get involved and learn more about farming and gardening.
The Garden Project offers services to Community members interested in developing their own garden, whether they are urban members or live in the Community, said Nieto.
The grant is paying for a project manager, contract staff, heavy equipment, small tractors and trailers, greenhouse maintenance, and a number of essential items to help people get started on their own gardens, such as plants, seeds, garden boxes, soil, and some gardening tools.
The project will also soon begin gardening classes and field training for anyone interested.
Anyone with questions on how to start or improve their own garden can call GRIIDD for advice and assistance, and GRIIDD has plenty of seeds to help you start growing almost anything you want.
In the meantime, everyone is welcome to join the community garden.
“We’re asking for volunteers so they can learn,” said Nieto.
Wellington said, “I’ve always found that hands-on learning is always the best. [When] you actually go and get your hands dirty and put the seed in the ground and you water it, you tend it…and you watch it grow, then you [harvest], that’s when it’s really benefiting you.”
In a few months the Garden Project is going to hold a harvest festival at the D4 community garden for the volunteer gardeners to reap the fruits of their labor.
To learn how you can become involved in the Community Garden Project, call GRIIDD at (520) 562-6710 and ask for Sonny Nieto.
Directions to the community garden at Wellington’s property from the Sacaton Post Office: drive North on Sacaton Road. Turn left (West) on Indian Route 80 (the first paved road after crossing the Gila River). Continue West for a mile and a half along the paved road. At Ironwood Road, Wellington’s place will be on your left.