Project Roots Encourages South Phoenix Youth With Gardening Classes


It’s a sweltering Friday morning at the Garden of Tomorrow, a community gardening space in South Phoenix. Although it faces a busy thoroughfare, the tranquility of a space teeming with fruit citrus, vibrant sunflowers and fragrant herbs seems to silence the rumble of passing cars.

Young children join with those who water the earth and sprinkle cayenne pepper to ward off pests. A boy under 4 helps turn the soil with a shovel almost as big as him, using his foot to drive it deep into the earth and pull out a heap.

When a refreshing downpour of rain begins, those weeding the garden along Broadway Road give out a community howl to celebrate the need for water.

The Garden, along with Spaces of Opportunity, is one of the spaces where Project Roots welcomes its new youth classes, which Brandon Bates teaches. He said it’s important to get his students to think about the benefits of farming and tilling the land while working in tandem with the community.

“No one can stop us from planting trees,” he said. “But they can educate us not to grow trees.”

Project Roots, a non-profit organization that provides gardening space and educates the community about food cultivation, offers these classes for young people to reconnect them to the land and where their food comes from.

“Reconnecting our youth to land and nature and how that can support our lives is really fundamentally fundamental,” said Bridget Pettis, co-founder of Project Roots. “I have had so many young children come to see us and I am just amazed to see food coming from the ground, as if magic is happening in front of them. That’s how disconnected they were.

For Pettis and co-founder Dionne Williams, a connection to the land and food is not only useful knowledge, but it helps students feel more confident and build community. Classes are also a building block of its mission to feed everyone in South Phoenix and encourage all of its residents to try and grow their own food. In its first lessons, the students were able to take plants home to continue caring for them.

“It had a huge influence on them,” said Williams. “We don’t have a lot of farmers who expose people to food. Our ultimate goal is to feed and feed every family in South Phoenix. Every child who has taken a class goes home with a plant, which can allow them to start growing food at home. “

“God’s food is better”

Bates found himself working at the Garden of Tomorrow when he lost his job due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year. He discovered Spaces of Opportunity through a friend and developed an interest in gardening. He spent time in the garden, pulling weeds and developing a knowledge repository and, he says, developing an understanding of what community really means.

Now he also wants to help his students understand this.

“We want them to know why we are here and what would happen if we weren’t here,” Bates said. “We try to highlight it. It might not be something that’s glorified on TV, but it’s literally how we eat. “

Bruce Bates at Project Roots, a community garden aimed at ensuring everyone in South Phoenix is ​​fed, July 16, 2021.

Having a connection to your food and watching that work turn into something healthy and rewarding helps anxious and unhappy young people feel grounded, Pettis said. It reminds them that life is for living, that land is as precious as work, and that they don’t have to give in to the pressures of modern times.

“It lets the kids say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to worry about the economy or finding that job. You can get land, grow food and support yourself, ”said Pettis. “We sell work, careers every day, but we don’t sell life. “

Pettis wants students to learn how to support themselves and overcome the pitfalls of modern food consumption, such as excessive advertising of junk food to young people and seeing food only in a box or packaging.

“Another thing that we’ve come to realize and empower children with is that your health is in food,” Pettis said. “You don’t have to worry about what processed foods give you when you eat real food. As much as they push McDonald’s in front of you, God’s food is better.

“Start every day at the root”

Workers stretch before starting work at Project Roots, a community garden aimed at ensuring everyone in South Phoenix is ​​fed, on July 16, 2021.

South Phoenix has the highest concentration of food deserts in the city. Of the 43 food deserts identified by the city, 18 are located wholly or partly in southern Phoenix. Its concentration of people affected by extreme poverty and its historically underserved communities of color have led the city to create a distinctive South Phoenix Food Action Plan as part of the Citywide Food Action Plan. published in 2019.

It is not lost on Pettis that less than 2% of the country’s farmers are black. This is something she keeps in mind when teaching students from a predominantly Latino and black community. She said that while some cultures have been able to preserve their agricultural heritage, many black Americans must work to reclaim the culture that was forcibly taken during slavery.

“My people, the black community, we have been stripped of (our culture),” Pettis said. “So we start at the root everyday. “

Each class, Bates tries to ask questions and encourage thought-provoking discussions. Talking while working together creates relationships and increases connectivity with each other, he said. At the end of the lesson, he asks his students to share what they have learned.

Workers and visitors gather for a Project Roots meeting in Phoenix, July 16, 2021.

“They shouldn’t be hungry,” Bates said. “They can say, ‘Hey, so if I grow my own food, can that save my mom money? We want to open their minds. And at the end of the day, it’s not about the money, it’s about the community. “

Students feel empowered when they see role models that look like them.

“They see black and brown faces and they see black women doing things for the community, distributing food, selling food,” Williams said. “It’s important for them to see this.

How to attend a course

Classes for children ages 5 to 13 are held Saturdays 8 am-9am at Spaces of Opportunity, located at 1200 W. Vineyard Road in Phoenix.

Classes for youth 14 and older are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 7-9 a.m. at Spaces of Opportunity and Fridays 7-9 a.m. at Garden of Tomorrow, located at 1823 E. Broadway Road in Phoenix.

Those who wish to enroll their children in a class can do so at

Participants should bring sun protection, water, a hat and gardening gloves.

Megan Taros covers southern Phoenix for The Arizona Republic. Do you have any advice? Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @megataros. Its coverage is supported by Report for America and a grant from the Vitalyst Health Foundation.

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