Friday, May 6, 2011

I Volunteered at Horny Toad Farm!

I first met Stella McPhee from Horny Toad Farm in February 2011 at the Roadrunner Park Farmers’ Market in Phoenix Arizona. Stella has a vegetable stand at the market that features fresh organic vegetables grown right in the heart of Phoenix. Well naturally this piqued my interest because I am a huge fan of locally grown produce.. I was able to talk with Stella for awhile and asked if I could have a tour of her farm, and I in turn would do a blog post for her. She was more than happy to do this and told me that she had volunteer opportunities at the farm. All I had to do is sign up for their newsletter and I would be informed of any upcoming opportunities.

Horny Toas Micro-farm is right in the heart of Phoenix just south of downtown.
With the warmer weather approaching, many of the crops are going to seed such as the ones shown here. 
At Horny Toad Farm, all unused plant matter is returned to the soil helping the farm to be sustainable.

An adjacent Micro-farm.  Notice the warehouses in the background. 
Nothing rural about this farm.
Cabbage growing right next to a freeway, you can't get much more urban than this!

Volunteering at Horny Toad Micro-Farm is a
great opportunity to get your hands in the Earth
 and get your teeth into some freshly picked
organic vegetables and herbs.

On April 10th I got my first opportunity to volunteer on the farm that afternoon and it turned out to be a rich learning experience. I arrived at the farm about 3 that afternoon. The way Stella works it is that volunteers can bring a bag with them and then after working for a couple of hours volunteers are allowed to harvest anything that is ready and will fit in the bag and for a veggie lover like me this was a bargain. Not only did I get to bring home a bag of ultra fresh veggies, I also acquired so new and very useful information regarding desert gardening and more particularly organic gardening. Vegetables that are not distributed to volunteers are sold at several local area Farmers’ Markets including Downtown Phoenix Public Market and Roadrunner Park Farmers’ Market.

Helping out at an urban farm or garden is a great learning opportunity for children.
No one is too young or to old to get involved.   Stella's Youngest Daughter lends a hand here.
 Her son works the stand at the Phoenix Public Market.  The whole family is involved in the operation.

My task for the day was onion detail. I was given about a 25 foot by 3 foot strip of garden that I had to till, level, and then plant. The strips are about 2 feet wide and divided by shallow channels which allow irrigation water to flow through the farm. There are no pesticides or chemical fertilizers used at Horny Toad Farm, everything is done naturally. Stella does not use a tractor to till the nearly 2 acre farm. Everything is done by hand. She explains that tractors disturb the ladybugs which are used for very effective pest control. To fertilize the field she uses cow manure and also collects compostable vegetable matter from the markets to mix into the soil.

Your's Truly on onion detail. It was so nice to get my fingers back in the soil. 
Stella McPhee, (behind me) is a very knowlegable gardener and teacher. 
This was a terrific opportunity to learn about desert vegetable gardening!

Ladybugs are seen everywhere at Horny Toad Farm. Used as a nautural way to control garden pests,
ladybugs replace pesticides to make the veggies grown here safe and organic and also contibutes to sustainability. 

As well as being an urban micro-farm, Horny Toad Farm is also a CSA farm which stands for Community Assisted Agriculture. A typical CSA farm sells shares to consumers which are typically a box or bag of seasonal produce harvested from the farm weekly and distributed to the consumer. Other forms of CSA farms offer volunteer opportunities in exchange for vegetable or animal products. Some of the main advantages of a CSA farm are that it forms a relationship between the farmer and the consumer. I will talk more specifically about CSA farms in an upcoming blog because they are becoming very popular and are a great way to reduce oil consumption; something we desperately need to do. Below are just some of the many vegetables and herbs that can be grown in the desert.

Beautiful Lettuce Ready for The Salad Bowl

My Harvest


Beets do very well in the desert soil.

does very
Dill does very well in the desert.

If you are a gardening enthusiast such as myself, I highly recommend volunteering at Horny Toad farms or one of many other CSA’s all over the country. A good way to find one near you is to visit the local harvest website; they have a locator map that’s easy to use and shows CSA farms all over the USA. To contact Horny Toad Farm send an I learned so much in a couple of hours about gardening in the desert and I plan volunteering on a regular basis and it felt so good to get my hands back in the dirt and connect to Mother Earth.

Until the next time, Happy Gardening!