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Around the Corner: A look at Tucson’s agriculture through the lens of Mission Garden

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Magdalena Big Cheese Squash, recently harvested at Mission Garden. Photographed by Kendall Kroesen. Courtesy of Mission Garden.

Located just 12 minutes south of the University of Arizona campus is an oasis known as Mission Garden. At the foot of Sentinel Peak, this cultural site serves the community around it by cherishing and highlighting the natural environment, local traditions and historic landscape. 

Identified by the name "Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace," there are 13 board members who work hand in hand with volunteers to lead projects around the garden, according to MissionGarden.org. The garden has been around for centuries and continues to be maintained by Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace.  

One of these board members is Rodger Pfeuffer. Pfeuffer has been serving Mission Garden as the board chairman for the past several years and works hard to bring volunteers, staff and members of the general Tucson community together in efforts to preserve this land. 

“This is a garden of stories,” Pfeuffer said. “This is a garden that has been here for 4,100 years in many different forms, through many different cultures and every plant in here has a story.”

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Pfeuffer discussed the mission behind the project.

“Even things people would call weeds are generally plants people just don’t know how to use,” Pfeuffer said. 

Pfeuffer explained how they utilize each and every aspect of the natural environment. He also expanded on the vast number of events held annually at Mission Garden.

According to Pfeuffer, there are a range of events held throughout the year such as a pomegranate festival, fig festival, the Catholic church blessing the gardens, a summer solstice event, a winter harvest for wheat and a winter solstice event.

“All of those are fundraising as well as educational, and we are starting to do video presentations of classes like cooking classes and planting classes," Pfeuffer said. 

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According to Emily Rockey, garden supervisor, an aspect of Mission Garden that cannot be overlooked is the importance of its volunteers.

Rockey was once one of these volunteers. Rockey said that she has a deep appreciation for the Tucson landscape, agriculture and historic traditions. She has worked to help maintain the garden while also introducing more unfamiliar volunteers to the customs and environment.     

“People shouldn’t feel like they can’t volunteer here because they don’t know how to garden,” Rockey said. “You don’t have to have previous experience. We have all types of resources available.” 

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Rockey also reflected on the fact that many people, both in and outside of Tucson, are generally disconnected from the sources of their food and that Mission Garden is trying to bring awareness to this. 

“As a society, we have shifted to large agricultural systems where people are very disconnected from their food and furthermore their food roots,” Rockey said. “I think places like Mission Garden are places for people to learn about this and the crops that are native and wonderful to the area.”

The board members at Mission Garden are all dedicated to educating the Tucson community about what can and does grow here. Through community outreach and volunteer opportunities, they are increasingly able to do this. Kendall Kroesen is Mission Garden's community outreach coordinator and he handles much of this on a day to day basis. 

According to Kroesen, there are around “5,500 visitors” to Mission Garden annually, yet this is growing each year. Since the beginning of Oct. 2020 alone, there have already been “770 individual visitors,”  Kroesen said. 

Given the circumstances with the current pandemic, visitors do need to follow appropriate protocol, yet board members do urge new visitors and volunteers. Now through March 2021, the garden hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.


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