By Jonathan Alvira, Arizona State University

If you build it, they will come.

The Field of Dreams Garden at the Southminster Presbyterian Church on 1923 E. Broadway Rd. in Phoenix is the latest project from the Tigermountain Foundation. An urban community garden now occupies the vacant outfield of a former baseball diamond and is continuing to expand.

“Collectively this is the Fields of Dreams which even extends to the other garden over there and the one down the street,” said Samuel Kelsall, a lawyer who volunteers with the Tigermountain Foundation in his free time.

Kelsall (pictured below) used his 30 years of gardening experience to help break ground on the community garden project. Under his supervision, the children of the church’s afterschool program measured and cut PVC pipe to create a drip irrigation system. He also instructed the children on how to properly plant the vegetables in the cultivated soil.

Sam Kelsall with kids at Field of Dreams Garden

Now that the garden is ready, it is the responsibility of the children and community members to harvest it. Most of the vegetables and fruits that are harvested will go to the Scottsdale Oldtown Farmers Market and the Phoenix Public Market. Children have the opportunity to earn $20-$30 a week for their garden efforts and are also able to take produce home.

Mary Kyles works with the after-school program at the church in a collaborative effort with the Arizona Facts of Life youth program. She has noticed the garden’s impact on the area since the project started — especially on Tuesdays, the day the children work on the garden.

“The garden is one of their favorite parts of the after-school program and as a matter of fact we use it as an incentive,” said Kyles. “On Tuesdays guess what they do? They finish their homework really quick!”

Sign at Field of Dreams Garden in Phoenix The Tigermountain Foundation not only focuses on cleaning up communities but also puts an emphasis on the self-sufficiency skills for community members. Although urban community gardens are the group’s focus, the nonprofit also offers job training and helps adults who are down on their luck get the skills they need to earn a legitimate living.

The art of community building

Darren Chapman, chief executive officer of the Tigermountain Foundation, has lived in the south Phoenix area for the majority of his life. Chapman became involved in neighborhood gang activities at a young age and found himself in prison at the age of 25.

After growing up and realizing the negative impact he had made in the community, Chapman felt the need to give back and help those at risk.

“For us to be able to do something like this in the southside community, it also starts to spill over and we know that,” said Chapman. “If we take care of business here in south Phoenix, people will call us and say, ‘Hey man I’m very interested in a consultation on how you’re building your community around these community gardens.’”

The Tigermountain Foundation, which has 25 urban community gardens throughout the Phoenix area, also does consulting on other garden projects. The foundation began in 2008 and has collaborated with more than 30 community organizations over the past two years.

Building community, one garden at a time
With the help of the Tigermountain Foundation, this Phoenix neighborhood has transformed an old baseball diamond into a community garden.