YMCA kids join celebration of South Tempe’s neighborhood garden

Enthusiasts who have been laboring over a onetime vacant lot in south Tempe with their minds set on conceiving a lush community garden got a bit of welcome praise this month: they received praise for their efforts from Mayor Hugh Hallman and members of the Tempe City Council.

Nearby residents and community-garden volunteers gathered at the site of “Friends of Gasca Gardens,” located on the southeast corner of Warner Road and Bonarden Lane, for a ribbon-cutting event that marked the official start-up of the already-growing garden plots.

Hallman, council members and representatives from organizations that partnered with volunteers to aid the garden’s efforts attended the morning presentation.

“This is such an exciting project on so many levels for the city,” said Tempe councilwoman Onnie Shekerjian, who chairs the council’s committee on technology and community development. “It says something about our community and our city, and what we value here.”

Shekerjian spoke of her own gardening experience with her granddaughter and said she was overwhelmed with Gasca Garden’s growth.

“The garden’s greatest gift is the restoration of our five senses,” she said. “You get to smell the plants, smell the dirt, feel the sun on your back – you get to feel what is like to be human again.”

By the last week of March, all of the 21 available plots had been leased to neighborhood residents, including one plot designated for children and two with home-grown produce that will go to local food banks.

Community-garden organizers partnered with Tempe Community Action Agency to provide food banks with produce grown in those plots.

“I don’t want my granddaughter Lily to grow up thinking lettuce comes from a plastic bag,” Shekerjian said. “I want her to know where it comes from and what it takes in terms of effort and resources.”

All plots have sprouted with a variety of spring and summer crops, including squash, strawberries and lettuce, all surrounded by sunflowers. The land was donated by south Tempe resident Deena Gasca, who originally owned the property.

“Alex and I got up the courage to knock on Deena Gasca’s door, and just pitched the idea of a community garden here,” said Pam Smyth, president of Friends in Gasca Gardens. “She was so enthusiastic and warm to the idea.”

Alex Prescott, garden organizer and Tempe resident, addressed the history of the gardens to guests at the ribbon-cutting event, noting how the project brought neighboring residents together.

“I didn’t know anyone when we started, and now we are close friends,” he said. “We put our minds to it, and here we are now.”

YMCA kids dig in

Ten kids from Tempe’s YMCA dug into the garden’s plots, shovels and water buckets in hand, to learn gardening techniques and enjoy the fruits of outdoor labor.

Amanda Schneider, organizer and financial manager for Friends in Gasca Gardens, said all of the kids were enthusiastic about learning gardening techniques.

“It’s nice to see them having so much fun with this,” Schneider said. “The kids rotated through three stations where they planted seeds and seedlings, created plant markers and learned to recognize the seeds of various plants.”

Local volunteers with the garden helped the children with tasks, and demonstrated how to properly compost plant material and other organic waste to create healthy soil for plants.

Schneider said she looks forward to giving local kids more experience through Friends in Gasca Gardens.

“It was so enjoyable and satisfying to watch the kids so engrossed in their experience,” she said.