About the Garden
The University of Arizona Community Garden, located at 1400 E. Mabel Street and also known as the UA Community Garden, was founded in 2012 by the Associated Students of the University of Arizona's (ASUA) Students for Sustainability (SFS). Since its founding, the Garden has served as a living laboratory and collaborative space for intersectional green learning, hands-on experience in sustainable practices, and community engagement. The Garden provides a unique meeting space on campus that fosters relationship building and closer connections with nature.
In Fall 2020, the Garden came under the operational and financial management of the Office of Sustainability with support from the Garden Committee of Students for Sustainability. The Office employs two Student Garden Managers who help to manage the 10-20 Garden Committee volunteers, who in turn support the year-round maintenance of the Garden and its tenants. These positions give real-life experience in sustainable agricultural practices in the Sonoran Desert and also foster the development of skills in management, programming, and community empowerment.
The Eugene G. Sander Ramada is one of the primary features of the Garden, providing a sheltered gathering space for activities. The Ramada was dedicated in 2013 to former President Sander, who served as the 20th President of the University of Arizona from 2011 to 2012. Sander was also the Vice Provost and Dean of the University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. His goal was to further the mission of the University by improving life for the people of Arizona and beyond – through education, research, creative expression, and community engagement, goals also shared by the Community Garden.
Interested in getting your own row? Rows are open to everyone. You can submit a request through our Google Form or call 520-621-7870 and one of our Garden Managers will get back to you as soon as they are able. Prices will be provided by the Garden Managers.
In Fall 2019, the Office of Sustainability took the lead in assisting Students for Sustainability in the revitalization of the Garden, working closely with Facilities Management and Planning, Design, & Construction through this process. Since its founding, the Garden has unfortunately experienced several burglaries and vandalism events, which resulted in the loss of equipment and damage to the Garden's aesthetic value. Sadly, this is an all too common occurrence for community gardens across the nation. These incidents, coupled with insufficient funding for Garden maintenance and equipment upkeep, led to a back-log of much-needed improvements, culminating in the current need for revitalization of the Garden.
Through this revitalization, more than $20,000 has been invested to date, bringing the Highland Garage Water Harvesting Cistern back to operation, installing ADA accessible paths throughout the Garden as well as an upgraded, permanent composting system, improving the perimeter of the Garden dramatically, and placing a new, more secure shed for storing tools in the Garden. We are in the process of providing more structured borders to each garden row and will be installing a new irrigation throughout the Garden in Spring 2021.
The Garden has historically relied on two primary funding sources to sustain its ongoing operations: rental fees collected from garden tenants, and support from the University of Arizona Green Fund in the form of annual and mini-grants. These funding sources, while vital for the Garden's growth and success to date, are alone insufficient for the long-term growth and evolution of the Garden in order to meet the needs of the University and Tucson communities. Donations are always welcome and naming opportunities are available! To find out more, please contact Trevor Ledbetter, Director for the Office of Sustainability at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Community Garden is not only a hands-on example of urban organic gardening, but also home to a number of high-profile, student-driven sustainable installations, projects, and events.
Highland Garage Water Harvesting Cistern
The Highland Garage Water Harvesting Cistern is the largest visible rainwater harvesting cistern on campus, with a capacity of 28,000 gallons. Installed in 2016, the Cistern captures rainwater directly from the top floor of the Highland Parking Garage. Prior to its installation, students from within Students for Sustainability's previously titled Water Committee, now the Hydrocats Committee, worked with University faculty to ensure the safety of this harvested water for use on edible crops in the Garden. In Spring 2020, the water was again tested to ensure its safety and it has passed each time. The Cistern harvests an estimated 100,000 gallons of water each year - water that would otherwise flow into surrounding streets, adding to localized street flooding during major rain events. This water is instead put to use in the Community Garden, significantly reducing the Garden's reliance on potable water for irrigation.
Funding for the Cistern came from the University of Arizona Green Fund, and was installed by Facilities Management. Support was also generously provided by the Information Technology Student Advisory Board to install a solar-powered pump and pressure tank, necessary to push water from the Cistern into irrigation lines throughout the Garden. The Cistern is now home to a set of three desert-inspired hand-painted murals, completed by students and community members over the last several years.
The Garden features numerous pollinator-friendly plants, including native and regionally-adapted crops like chiltepin peppers, different varieties of corn and squash, malabar spinach, and more. The Garden is also home to many indigenous annual and perennial wildflowers such as desert penstemons and globemallows, milkweeds, and others. As part of Earth Day 2017, more than 100 milkweed plants were planted throughout the Garden in an effort to support Monarch butterflies.
In Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, students installed a “Pollinator Basin,” which combined a passive rainwater harvesting basin with numerous pollinator-friendly plants. Located on the west side of the Garden, this basin also solved issues of poor grading and drainage adjacent to the Highland Bike Path, which runs between the Highland Parking Garage and the Central Refrigeration Plant. This installation addressed several challenges simultaneously while beautifying the area and providing important food resources and habitat for pollinators throughout the year.
Native bat populations are losing their habitats at an alarming rate due to human expansion into their traditional ranges. Bats provide critical environmental services, acting as both pollinators and important suppressors of insect populations, consuming their body weight in insects daily. These services have secondary benefits by lowering the need to use artificial pesticides, protecting people from mosquitos that may carry disease, and of course, improving the pollination and seed dispersal of various plants in surrounding areas.
One way to support bat populations in urban settings is to install bat boxes, which are artificial roosts designed to encourage bats to take up residence in areas where there are few options. In 2017, students from the College of Architecture, Planning, & Landscape Architecture partnered with the Community Garden to install a bat box in the Garden, right next to the Cistern. While no bats have taken up permanent residence yet - as evidenced by the lack of guano, or bat droppings - the awareness that the bat box brings to the community regarding the plight of bats is an important learning opportunity.
Interested in a sight that has to be seen to be believed? From late spring through early fall (generally April through September), colonies of Mexican free-tailed bats congregate beneath Tucson-area bridges. The expansion joints of Tucson's bridges provide a perfect home for these bats. The one-foot-deep grooves give the bats an ideal location for their young because the temperature remains consistent. Five hundred baby free-tail bats can cluster in only one square foot under the bridges.
There are four bridges in Tucson that have big colonies of bats:
- East Broadway bridge over the Pantano Wash
- North Campbell Avenue bridge over the Rillito River
- East Tanque Verde bridge over the Rillito River
- Ina Road bridge at the Santa Cruz River
Arrive at one of these bridges about 15 minutes before sunset to see a river of bats leave their roosting sites to feast on insects throughout the night!
The Community Garden is home to countless community and University events. Stay in the loop with upcoming happenings by signing up for the Office of Sustainability Newsletter, or check out our Instagram and Facebook.
Events in the Garden include the monthly “Stories in the Garden” series, the annual “Cranksgiving” event, and numerous one-time events hosted by both the Garden Committee and other committees within SFS. “Stories in the Garden” invites community and University members to share a story with attendees under the Ramada. Whether it be a spoken story, a song, dance, or any other form of expression, attendees can share their story in an open and inclusive environment. Be sure to bring some food to contribute if you are able! Every “Stories in the Garden” event is also a potluck.
“Cranksgiving” is a bicycle-based food drive that benefits the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona just before or just after Thanksgiving. Participants ride or race to a group of grocery stores to purchase specific items for those in need during the holiday season. Participants can “win” in multiple categories, including the fastest completion time, the largest number of businesses visited, and the highest weight of food purchased. In its first year in Tucson, Cranksgiving started and ended at the Community Garden. In 2019, the start and finish line were at Sky Bar Tucson on 4th Avenue.
The University of Arizona Seed Library was created in 2018 as a joint venture between the Community Garden and the University Libraries as a response to the University's designation as a food desert. Food deserts are generally considered to be places where residents do not have access to affordable nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Instead of grocery stores or farmers' markets, these areas often have convenience stores and gas stations with limited shelf space available for healthy options, making nutritious foods virtually inaccessible for many.
The Seed Library seeks to offer one solution to the food desert around the University by providing access to free fruit and vegetable seeds, educational materials on how to garden, recipes for using garden-grown foods, and seed saving to perpetuate the Seed Library. Through these efforts, the Seed Library can increase access to healthy, nutritious food in the University and Tucson communities and educate people of all ages in sustainable agriculture and gardening practices.
The Seed Library was developed in partnership with Native Seeds/SEARCH, a local nonprofit seed conservation organization whose mission is to conserve and promote the arid-adapted crop diversity of the Southwest in support of sustainable farming and food security. The Seed Library is located on the second floor of the Albert B. Weaver Science & Engineering Library in room 200S.