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  • Your ECAP donations help Community Food Bank, community farm

    Las Milpitas
    Editor's Note: For the next few months, eScoop will highlight a nonprofit as an example of a class of nonprofits that benefit from annual employee ECAP contributions, including those organizations that directly support County programs, operations or missions.

    On a warm September morning, three farmers arrive and inspect the rows of green leafy plants. They pull weeds and inspect for pests while assessing the growth of their late summer bounty. Satisfied with the progress of those crops, the trio begin preparing the soil of an adjacent set of furrows for seeding with winter vegetables.

    It is a familiar scene on the banks of the Santa Cruz River, which have supported agriculture for thousands of years, longer than any other spot in North America. Where once the ancestors of today’s Tohono O’odham tilled the soil using techniques refined over generations, now a group of new arrivals from Africa, along with residents of the surrounding neighborhood, do the same at Las Milpitas de Cottonwood Community Farm, a program of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, one of more than 200 non-profit groups that benefit from ECAP – Pima County’s Employees Combined Appeal Program.
    ECAP contributions support three other agencies focused on community hunger and nutrition:

    Community Gardens of Tucson
    PO Box 65900
    Tucson, AZ 85728

    Native Seeds/ SEARCH
    3584 E. River Road
    Tucson, AZ 85718

    Tucson Village Farm

    11 N. Cherry Ave.

    Tucson, AZ 85721

    The Food Bank is the single largest recipient of ECAP donations, with 104 employees earmarking more than $18,000 for the agency during the 2017-2018 campaign. Las Milpitas serves close to 2,000 Pima County residents, including many low-income families, teaching them to grow food for themselves and make healthier choices about nutrition. The farm offers 84 family garden plots at no cost. Larger commercial plots can be rented for a nominal fee.

    Among the commercial farmers, Alexis is one of several recent African immigrants now growing at Las Milpitas. Thanks to an agreement with the International Rescue Committee, the food he grows supplements both his family’s diet and their income by selling his considerable excess at farmer’s markets hosted by El Mercado de San Agustin. An experienced farmer in his native Burundi, Alex said agriculture in the Sonoran Desert is far more challenging than in the Tropics, especially irrigation.

    “It’s tough. Not a lot of water but my eggplant and peppers grow very well. And lenga-lenga too,” Alex said, referring to a leafy Burundian favorite that has proved prolific in Tucson.

    The farm’s other programming includes workshops designed to teach, demonstrate and promote sustainable food gardening. Food Bank and farm staff host dozens of such sessions each year, both on-site and at schools, community centers and other locations. Outreach efforts include the Garden Leader Program which trains and builds leaders in desert food cultivation through workshops, work days and partnerships with local schools.
    One of the farm’s most ardent ambassadors and eager volunteers is Garden Leader Stephen Doyel. The one-time operations specialist on the Navy aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson came to Las Milpitas in 2017 through the non-profit veterans group Rally Point and La Frontera. His experience has prompted him to encourage fellow vets, and a number of youth, to explore farming as an outlet for their dedication and motivation.

    “The Food Bank is great. They do so much for the community. They train leaders so we can mentor others and teach self-sufficiency,” Doyel said. “It’s about passion and purpose. That’s a big thing when you leave the service. You’re used to having a mission, doing something good for yourself and the community. So, for me, this is great.”


    Las Milpitas started in the mid-1990s as a pair of tiny plots tended by a farming-focused non-profit group that a decade later partnered with City High School to use the space as an outdoor classroom. The Food Bank got involved in 2011. Now, the farm provides education to students from roughly a dozen schools or educational organizations, providing educational opportunities to hundreds of school kids annually.

    “Our goal here is to have our students understand they can provide all the nutrition they need just by growing it themselves.” Adan Galaz, a special education assistant at nearby Cholla High School, said. “Without Las Milpitas they wouldn’t have this opportunity. It’s a skill that’s disappearing, farming, these kids can help preserve that legacy.”

    Today, only the southernmost section of Las Milpitas’ slightly-more-than-six-acre property remains undeveloped, the surplus space holding a large mulch heap, building materials and piles of debris left over from various projects. However, plans to supply the parcel with reclaimed water through a connection provided by the Regional Flood Control District will allow it to transform into a “food forest” using heirloom trees (whose seed stock came to the region with Father Eusebio Kino) native and desert adapted fruit trees, smaller bushes and ground cover food producing plants.
    “It will create an excellent habitat for the wildlife around here, as well as food for people while restoring the soil fertility,” Las Milpitas farm education coordinator Erick Meza said.  

    Las Milpitas works to build a sense of community by hosting seasonal public events, including its extremely popular post-Halloween “Pumpkin Smash” contest, this year set for Saturday, November 3, wherein farm management arranges for smashing stations and large slingshots to dispose of leftover jack o’ lanterns.

    Membership at Las Milpitas is free and comes with a sunken four-foot-by-20-foot plot with drip irrigation installed and access to plant starts, farm equipment and programming, including workshops. Staff are available Tuesday, and Thursday through Saturday. More information is available online.

    The 2018-2019 ECAP campaign kicked off September 19. Donations may be made online. For more information or to join the ECAP Committee, contact Committee Chair Ray Velez by phone,  724-4489, or email. Also, check out the ECAP Intranet page.
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