As the administrative director for the Community Gardens of Tucson, Andy Stevens finds himself spending one day almost every weekend replacing drip-irrigation hoses and making sure things are running smoothly at any one of the 18-year-old organization's five vegetable-producing gardens. Stevens says the volunteer group is working to become an official nonprofit organization. The goal is to secure more growing space and reach out into neighborhoods beyond central Tucson. For more information, go to the Community Gardens Web site.

How did you first get involved in Community Gardens?

When we were living in Colorado, and I was going to massage school for about a year, I did some guerrilla gardening out on our little apartment balcony, and we were thinking about moving to Tucson. My wife did some research and found out they needed an editor for the newsletter, so she started doing that while we were in Colorado. By the time we moved here, we already had a set of people that we knew.

The organization has five gardens right now. Is there room to grow?

It ebbs and flows with the garden, like our Corbett garden right now is pretty slim, but other gardens are pretty full. It goes back and forth. Our first garden was at First (Avenue) and Limberlost (Drive). It was a vacant lot donated by the Hand family. Volunteers developed the area into plots with drip-irrigation systems. From there, we were able to grow, but as time passed, land prices climbed. That lot is now the LA Fitness parking lot.

Was it a popular garden back then?

It was our most popular garden. We'd like to find another parcel for a garden in that area. We had one gardener that raised irises on three plots. When the property was sold, we had to move her out, and we didn't have any other space to offer her. I'd like to get all those people back, because it was a great example of a community garden.

What are the benefits of having community garden spaces in Tucson?

I see it with my own kid here in that if you take broccoli out of the fridge, she is going to snatch it and eat it before you even cook it, and she can walk into the garden and recognize which one is the broccoli. Most kids don't like broccoli, but with green things, she's into them right away. I also think people want and need to know where their food comes from. If they don't have a yard and live in an apartment, or don't have room to do a vegetable garden, this is how they can grow their own food.

Gardening in a desert is a different experience. How do you practice good stewardship and at the same time have good production?

I think most folks are conscious of how much water it takes to keep it going. We try to keep water use as slim as we can, but it does take water. We figure in most neighborhoods, residents would rather have a community garden than a golf course.

Is it difficult to plan for the future when you're still dependent on the landowners who own the parcels?

It is hard. We had a church group come out and talk to us at a recent steering committee meeting, (letting us know) that they have property that could be a good fit for a neighborhood community garden. Vacant property is scarce, so we now have to hope for property at a school, or a church--something stable that survives one landowner. Most of our current landowners now are aged, so we're not sure what's going to happen when they pass on.

What do you like when you go out to garden?

It's nice to see folks walking away with dirty fingers and sweat, and then weeks later, walking out with big bags of produce.

How do members connect with each other?

Once a month, at each garden site, we have a meeting, and then (we have) a steering committee meeting once a month to make sure we're staying afloat and dealing with water rates as they go up. We now charge members $12 a month to pay for hoses and water, but it was $10, and it was $10 a long time until the increase. That's why I'm hoping we can get nonprofit status, so we stay afloat and make it easier for people who want to support us and for those who want to garden.

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