Urban Agriculture Projects

Both projects detailed  below started in 2011 as a collaboration between Social Economy Arizona, Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation, and Gila Farm Cooperative

Project Title: Crafting a Local Food Culture in Phoenix

Project Participants: Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation centers its revitalization efforts on the geographical area extending along Roosevelt Street, creating and sustains programs which build capacity within this community. One such program is the Growhouse, an organic community garden and education center which combines organic, urban farming and beautification with community mobilization for sustainable, desert living.

Student Partners: Allison Weidemann and Seth Sterling
Faculty Mentor: Vanna Gonzales
Community Mentor: Kenny Barrett, Programs Manager

Project Overview: The purpose of this project is to support efforts to craft a local food culture in Phoenix by fostering collaboration among social enterprises in the Roosevelt Row corridor. Drawing on readings, lecture, and guest speaker/consultant expertise (Professors Chris Wharton and Hugh Joseph), project partners undertook research devoted to examining the diversity and utility of urban agricultural projects for community development in downtown Phoenix.  In conjunction with their community and faculty mentors, student researchers examined the experience of the Growhouse urban garden and Gila Farm Cooperative. Both the Growhouse and GFC are contributing to the cultivation of a local food culture. In order to further their potential as vehicles for community development and the cultivation of a local food culture, both the Growhouse and GFC hope to expand their connections with local restaurants as a potentially reliable consumer base.   Undertaking in-depth interviews with local restaurants in the Roosevelt Row corridor, the research team sought to better understand key actors’ perceptions of and interests in developing new partnerships between local restaurants and growers.  In addition to helping local urban gardens, CSAs and organic farmers better understand the needs and interests of local restaurants, the interview data helps shed light on restaurants attitudes toward the community, local/organic produce and their contribution to the emerging food culture in Phoenix.

The power point presentation and report below seek to present a portrait of this emerging food culture, and drawing on both primary and secondary research, analyze the key challenges and opportunities for integrating the needs and interests of local growers and restaurants, as well as the key community benefits of doing so.


Cultivating a Local Food Culture in Phoenix by Allison Weidemann and Seth Sterling with Faculty Adviser Vanna Gonzales

Read the Report Here


Project Title: Sustainable Leading and Learning

Project Participants: Gila Farm Cooperative works with IRC Gardens to bring Phoenix (and Valley) residents fresh, local produce.  The refugee farmers, who cultivate land in several locations in and around Phoenix, pool their harvested produce to supply consumers via the Gila Farm Cooperative CSA and local farmers markets.  In addition to benefiting farmers as members and affiliates, the CSA provides a wide range of benefits to consumers and local communities, including healthy, nutritious food, community interconnectivity and inter-cultural engagement.

Student Partners: Nigel Forrest and Noreen Balos
Faculty Mentor: Vanna Gonzales
Community Mentor: Jessica Woiderski, Coordinator and Project Manager

Project Overview– Gila Farm Cooperative is a relatively new entity formed through the IRC to benefit refugee farmers in the greater Phoenix area.  Member producers come from a variety of refugee communities and are at various stages in establishing themselves as farmers and residents of the United States. The primary short term mission of the cooperative has been to establish a CSA; however, the longer term viability of the cooperatives requires a broader understanding of the role of the cooperative beyond the CSA, what this broader structure offers its producer-members, and the current constraints and opportunities in developing Gila Farm Cooperative as a sustainable social enterprise.  Sustainable Leading and Learning, begins to address these issues through research into the structure, processes and goals that currently define the cooperative as well as a preliminary analysis of how these components relate to its future capacity to develop as an autonomous cooperative.   Drawing on literature from class, as well as outside expertise (Dr. Hugh Joseph, Tufts University), field work and in-depth interviews with IRC staff members and the cooperative board, the student team in collaboration with the faculty and community mentors, have developed a comprehensive analysis of the cooperative and its prospects for sustainability.

Gila Farm Cooperative: Building a Model for Sustainable Leading and Learning: A Case Study of a Refugee Farmers’ Cooperative in Arizona
By: Noreen Balos, Nigel Forrest, and Vanna Gonzales


Read Report Here

Gonzales, V., Forrest, N. and Balos, N.  2013.  Refugee Farmers and the Social Enterprise Model in the American Southwest” Journal of Community Positive Practices, XIII(4) 2013, 32-54.

The above article provides an analysis of Gila Farm Cooperative as an experiment in building a new model of collective entrepreneurship among refugee farmers from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.  Focusing on the intersection between cooperative development and refugee resettlement, we link an organizational analysis of the structure and operational processes of the cooperative to board members’ perspectives of the social and economic value it generates.  In so doing we discuss the prospects for reinforcing the GFC’s role in empowering refugees through the adaptation of a more deliberative, solidarity based model of collective entrepreneurship.

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