Urgent: Community Farm at Risk
Blue Sky Organic Farms, in Litchfield Park, is the epitome of a community farm. Farmer David Vose has been growing food organically for decades, and has a wealth of experience in desert farming. His partner, Sara Dolan, runs a farmstand on the property that is loaded with their produce and other locally made food products, attends the Downtown Phoenix, Uptown Phoenix, Roadrunner Park, Old Town Scottsdale, and Gilbert Farmers Markets every week, operates a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with 600 families participating and supplies produce to restaurants and kitchens. Blue Sky donates produce to local food banks and supplements CSAs and farmer’s markets across the state including Superior, Lake Havasu City and Flagstaff. They do an incredible job feeding Arizonans good, good food. And if you haven’t had their strawberries, you’re truly missing out.
CURRENT OPERATION: Blue Sky owns 19 acres of land on which 8 acres are farmable (meaning land to grow food) with buildings, roads, storage and pasture on the remaining 11 acres. They had leased 23 acres from a neighboring dairy in order to meet the demands from the community, and this land was sold to Fulton Homes, who will bulldoze and pave over the property to build a housing development beginning the summer of 2021.
THE NEED: David & Sara have been looking for a replacement property for Blue Sky Farms for almost two years, but have faced incredible difficulty in identifying land that is viable for farming. Quality soil and water is of utmost importance. The land they have found that is viable for farming is selling rapidly, off market and at high prices. In order to keep their business viable, David & Sara also need access to land that is close to their production facility in Litchfield Park to keep transportations costs down and produce fresh.
THE TIMELINE: David and Sara have just planted their last season of crops on their leased land. They must be moved out by July 1st, when Fulton Homes takes ownership. With the amount of work that it takes to set up a new farming operation, David and Sara need to have land that they can purchase or lease by the end of this April, 2021. If leased, land that is available on a long term basis is the priority to avoid the time and expense of having to upend their operations to move.
WHAT’S AT STAKE:
If land cannot be found, David and Sara most likely will leave Arizona to farm in another state.
Losing a well-established community farm like Blue Sky lowers our region’s food security. As most of us experienced at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the run on grocery stores resulted in empty shelves and a sense of panic. Blue Sky Organic Farms was here for us, planting more produce, increasing access to their farmstand and providing food to those in need via food banks. This added to many people’s sense of security, and the ability to access food. Blue Sky also went above and beyond to make sure COVID protocols were followed at their farmstand and at the farmers markets so that their customers and workers were properly safeguarded.
David has been farming in Phoenix since 1995. It has been no simple task, with extreme heat challenges, dust storms and wild weather events. Many farmers will tell you their occupation is a labor of love, and that the rewards are not monetarily based but instead based on meeting the needs of their community. If Blue Sky were to leave Arizona, we lose a tremendous amount of knowledge about growing on this land that David wants to share with the next generation of farmers.
Blue Sky provides 35-full time jobs and 14 part-time jobs, from field workers to farmstand and market staff. These employees will all be left unemployed in a job market that is already stretched thin.
Blue Sky Farm is one of the larger booths at farmer’s markets, a significant contributor to Sun Produce Co-operative and local food banks. Without their produce, these businesses are all affected.
Community farms quite simply add to our community. People move to areas where there is open space, or have a unique business like a community farm that they can visit and that supports them. David & Sara have customers that are like family.
Farmland in Maricopa County helps combat the heat island effect which is exacerbated by increased asphalt and concrete. As temperatures increase, the heat island makes our already hot desert climate dangerous to live in. Adding homes and roadways adds to the urban heat island effect, whereas farmland helps offset it.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Do you know of any land that is available for purchase or lease in the metro Phoenix area? Ideally 20 – 50 acres, with some specific requirements that need to be met (soil and water mainly) but we are interested in all leads or creative ideas. Email Helene@localfirstaz.com.
Support Blue Sky with your dollars if you can. Visit their farmstand (where you can also pet their friendly goats) or seek them out at a farmer’s market.
Write a letter of support for Blue Sky sharing how much this farm means to you, your family and your community. These will be shared with local officials and decision makers. Email them to Helene@localfirstaz.com
Advocate for farmland preservation. Share your concern with your elected officials (at the city, county, and state level), and keep your eye on policy that will protect land. There are zoning tools that cities can use right now to preserve farmland, outlined here.
The recently formed Coalition for Farmland Preservation is working on solutions that could preserve farmland. We are working on community mobilizations including letters of support and other actions for Blue Sky Farm and these will be shared via email. Sign up to stay in contact with the Coalition on the website. This will ensure you receive action alerts when we need your support.
Questions and comments can be emailed to Helene@localfirstaz.com
‘A raging crisis’: Metro Phoenix is losing its family farms and local food sources | AZ Central | August 2020 | Read it here
Family farms made Phoenix livable, so why are so many going away? | AZ Central | February 2019 | Read it here
Arizona farmers having trouble finding, keeping land | ABC 15 | December 2020 | Watch here
Farmland is disappearing in Maricopa County; meet the coalition working to save it | ABC 15 | December 2020 | Watch here