Mission Garden continues to grow, despite weather conditions and global extremes | Arts & Life



BBeing one of the longest inhabited and cultivated areas in North America, it should come as no surprise that Mission Garden on the slopes of Sentinel Peak was well positioned to survive both the pandemic and the drought.

Mission Garden is one of the main projects of the nonprofit Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, which strives to preserve and restore Tucson’s original “cultural heritages and historic landscapes”: the settlement of Tohono O ‘odham at the base of Sentinel Peak, where the natives of the valley have farmed for over 3,000 years.

Today, Mission Garden serves as a “living agricultural museum,” comprising several garden plots that showcase early farming and heirloom crops. The volunteer-supported Garden also regularly hosts community events, including gardening classes, fruit and vegetable festivals, roundtables, and cooking demonstrations.

Of course, most of them came to a screeching halt in the spring of 2020 with the onset of the pandemic. However, Mission Garden staff say they’ve handled social distancing better than many, thanks to the nature of the gardens. Although they suspended major community events, Mission Garden never closed its regular hours of operation.

“We are fortunate to have a great outdoor space where people can safely volunteer,” said Kendall Kroesen, Outreach Coordinator for Mission Garden. “We had people who were locked up and trying to get out of the house, or maybe not able to volunteer in other places. It really helped us get through the almost rainless summer of 2020 which was a tough time for the garden. “

Almost simultaneously with the first wave of COVID, Tucson suffocated in record heat; July then August 2020 were the hottest months on record in Tucson. Pair that with the second driest monsoon on record, and 2020 has been a great year for local agriculture.

However, Kroesen credits the dedicated community and farming practices such as drip irrigation for the success of Mission Garden last summer. In fact, Mission Garden saw over 200 different volunteers throughout 2020, which is more than their average volunteer count in a typical year.

“It’s also a combination of being on the historic floodplain and good gardening practices,” Kroesen said. “Our staff and volunteers did a great job putting plants in the ground; a lot of tree roots come down and break the ground. And even the areas that we are not planning to plant yet, we cover with a thick wood chip mulch, which creates an insulating layer above the soil, keeping it cooler, wetter and creating more germs and d ‘insects in the soil. That alone helps the soil.

Additionally, Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace received pandemic benefits as a nonprofit, including a fall 2020 capacity building grant from the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. This capacity building grant aimed to create and streamline sustainable systems for gardening operations to allow staff and volunteers to devote more time and energy to gardening and outreach activities. Kroesen says this type of financial support was especially important because of the reduction in donations throughout the pandemic.

While Mission Garden is one of the main projects of Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, it is only part of a larger proposed mission and garden complex. Parts of the historic district of Mercado, the mission and the garden fell into disrepair in the 1800s and 1900s and were only developed for archaeological and reconstruction work in accordance with Rio Nuevo legislation approved by voters in Tucson in 1999. ”were conceptualized in 2003 and work began. However, the economic downturns of 2008 only resulted in the completion of parts of the originally planned Mission Garden.

“Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace has always had the dual mission of recreating this historic garden, and also advocating for the creation of the entire Tucson Origins Heritage Park. The garden was designed as one element of this park, ”Kroesen said. “We got through 2020 in reasonable shape, but at the start of this year we still haven’t had any big public events until about June for a garlic festival and mesquite grind events.”

For one of their biggest recent events, Mission Garden hosted the Arizona Pomegranate Festival on Saturday, September 18, which included food tastings, art displays, speakers, and product sales from dozens of garden pomegranates. .

In a reversal from last summer, just as visitor traffic started to pick up, so did the rains. Monsoon 2021 ranks as Tucson’s third wettest monsoon, dumping more than a foot of rain in the Tucson area since mid-June. While the flood was primarily a host site for drought-stricken Arizona, it also resulted in much of the property damage, flash floods, and rapid water rescues. But again, Mission Garden endured and came away stronger.

“We have gardens and orchards which are down a little below our paths, which allows us to collect a good amount of rainwater. In the past 10 years, there have been times when rainfall caused these areas to fill with standing water because it cannot soak up fast enough. But this year, thanks to the gardening and tillage work that we have done here, the soil has become much more spongy and the rainwater is seeping in much better. Kroesen said. “The soils here, as they are all over the Santa Cruz River floodplain, are better than in most areas of the city because they are sedimentary soils deposited by river water and canals. These are finer silts and clays. We have an advantage over the buttresses. But it’s also the work that Mission Garden staff and volunteers have done to improve the soil.

For more information, visit missiongarden.org



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