There are currently 43 food deserts in Arizona. These are areas where residents live more than 1-mile from fresh and healthy food. Jose-Benito Rosales Chavez, from ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, is working to reduce the number of food deserts through community gardening. we spoke with Professor Chavez to learn more.
Spaces of Opportunity is a 19-acre farm in South Phoenix where local members of the community can engage in small-scale farming or gardening at a minimal cost.
For those lacking the skills or knowledge to grow things effectively, the farm staffs managers who offer assistance, knowledge, and resources, Chavez said.
“For example, they have an incubator program that teaches farmers how to develop a farm on their own, so eventually they can go and buy a larger piece of land where they do larger-scale production,” Chavez said. “They want to teach you to farm so you can keep up that local production that can help the local community.”
ASU does not have any direct connection to the farm, but Chavez brings students from his classes to show them what community farming can look like.
“To my students, the main point I’m trying to get across is that you need local farmers to be able to produce that, and also how as a planner you can play an active role in creating this environment where people have access to food,” Chavez said.
Chavez drew a contrast to his childhood in Mexico, where his family had easy access to supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and street vendors, but struggled to afford food.
“So we had a very diverse food system, but we didn’t have the money to buy things,” Chavez said. “Then when I moved to the U.S. things changed because we had the income through assistance programs, but we didn’t have access to the food.”