HUACHUCA CITY — The Huachuca City Community Garden has made big strides since its launch three years ago, from providing free produce for residents in need to providing learning opportunities for students of all ages.

HCCG starts

Organized in 2018 by a group of individuals committed to teaching gardening and healthy eating, the production side of the community garden provides free vegetables to low income Huachuca City and Whetstone residents. Future plans are to create a learning garden with hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) projects for school children.

Food literacy and the benefits of healthy eating through plant-based diets are at the heart of what volunteers will be teaching once classes are underway.

“This project was actually started by Holly Weichelt,” said Ann Aust, one of the garden’s founding members. “We started out by planting a garden in a temporary location on a vacant piece of land behind Mr. Shed, with help from the property’s owner, Jim Goad. After one year, in the summer of 2019, we harvested 2,000 pounds of fresh vegetables on Mr. Goad’s property and distributed the produce through the Huachuca City Library and Senior Center.”

As the community garden’s membership grew, the group applied for nonprofit status and became a 501©3.

In April 2020, the garden was relocated to its permanent home on a two-thirds acre parcel owned by the town of Huachuca City near the public library. The move was made possible through a collaborative effort between the town and community garden board, with start-up funding from a $50,000 Legacy Foundation grant.

The plan

The two-thirds acre represents the starting point of a much broader plan. With support from Huachuca City town manager Suzanne Harvey, backed by town council approval, a combined total of two acres has been allocated for a garden park. Huachuca City Community Garden volunteers will be developing the project in stages as funding becomes available.

“Our current focus is on developing two garden areas,” said Aust, who is the organization’s primary grant writer. “One is the production of fresh vegetables for those in need, along with teaching gardening and healthy eating to adults,” she said.

The second area of focus is to teach children gardening techniques through fun, hands-on projects.

“We’re a five-minute walk from Huachuca City School, so the garden is in a perfect location for the elementary and middle school children enrolled there,” she said. “We plan to teach healthy eating and home gardening by incorporating interactive STEM projects into the program.”

A section of Huachuca City Library will be dedicated to books on plant-based diets.

In the garden’s early planning stages, HCCG board members turned to Caleb Weaver of Borderlands Restoration Network to design a rainwater infiltration system capable of protecting the production garden from flooding in times of heavy rain. Local volunteers, along with a group of soldiers from Fort Huachuca C Company 2-13th Aviation Regiment, teamed up to construct a terraced series of rock-lined rainwater infiltration basins. The interconnecting basins serve as a rainwater mitigation system by capturing overflow from rooftops and the parking area of Huachuca City’s town hall complex. The flood mitigation design slows flowing water and allows it to penetrate the soil, making it available for trees, shrubs and grasses in and around the basin area.

Meanwhile, vegetables were grown at the garden’s new location from May through October, 2020, with 3,500 pounds of produce harvested and distributed. Recipients were based on a list of people in the Huachuca City and Whetstone areas in need of assistance, some without vehicles to drive into town for fresh produce. Many rely on local convenience stores for groceries.

With the production garden well underway, volunteers are now focused on developing the learning garden.

“As part of our STEM program, children will learn how to garden with emphasis on the importance of eating vegetables for their health,” Aust said. “Through a Center for Nutrition Studies grant, we are building raised beds, establishing irrigation and setting up a handwashing station.”

Garden tools, children’s tables and chairs and books on plant-based nutrition are included in the learning garden’s plan. Volunteers are building a greenhouse with interactive exhibits where children will learn the importance of water, air, earth and sun for plant growth.

The garden today

“Our community garden is much more than a place to grow plants,” said Kitty Kosechata, a volunteer who describes herself as a Texas transplant and retired respiratory therapist. “Along with growing healthy, organic food, the community garden is a place for friendships and education,” she added.

Kosechata has been gardening for 50 years, and is one of the more experienced volunteers in HCCG’s group.

Sierra Vista resident Kathy Scott also moved to the area from Texas, where gardening conditions are very different from what is found in Arizona. Her introductory gardening experiences in Texas were with flowers, not vegetables.

Scott started growing vegetables not long after moving to Arizona.

“I got connected with the Huachuca City Community Garden when they were first starting out,” she said. “It was quite an experience for me because it added to a lifelong understanding of how important community is.”

She enjoys working with other volunteers and finds the sense of community rewarding, in addition to the benefits of producing food for others and the enjoyment of being outdoors.

“Our goal is to be a community effort, and this garden exemplifies that,” said Linda Guinter, a Whetstone resident and another one of the garden’s founding members. “We have experienced wonderful collaboration from a number of agencies and individuals through all stages of this effort.”

The vision for the next big project, the teaching garden, is to create an inviting area with pathways, native plants, signage and benches.

“This has been an amazing project every step of the way,” Guinter said. “This community garden has accomplished a lot in a relatively short amount of time, and I’m looking forward to starting some of the future projects.”