An oasis of food and generosity thrives in Safford, Arizona at Our Neighbors Farm, a 1.3-acre farm that grows fruit and vegetables for Our Neighbors Pantry Food Bank, a food bank that is also located at the same location. In addition to growing a wide range of things, Our Neighbors Farm also hosts garden-based classes for school children, teaching them how to plant, cultivate and harvest plants. Both the farm and the pantry are projects of Graham County Interfaith Care Alliance and currently use a commercial greenhouse made by Agra Tech, Inc. in Pittsburg, California, one of the world’s largest greenhouse manufacturers and a leader in the indoor horticulture industry.
Farm Manager Max Crain is the proud owner and operator of this burgeoning farm that produces enough food to feed 1,900 people on a monthly basis. “We don’t have a ton of space here and that now includes our Agra Tech greenhouse, so we’re limited space-wise,” Crain said. “But we get a lot out of this parcel of land and it‘s busy here pretty much every day. Our goal here is to have the land producing something all the time. When one plant gets harvested, another one goes right in its place. In this climate, we can grow crops during all four seasons and we definitely take full advantage of it.”
It’s all about the diversity of the crops at Our Neighbors Farm. “We want to grow every kind of vegetable and fruit that will grow well here in southeastern Arizona,” Crain said. “From zucchini to melons of all kinds; Chinese radishes to kale; celery to collard greens—if we can grow it and our people will eat it—we’ll produce it here. Our Agra Tech greenhouse helps us to achieve this, because we use it to get our seedlings going and hold many of our garden-based classes there. We do a lot of re-planting in the Agra Tech greenhouse as well, and our volunteers enjoy working there too. ”
Our Neighbor Farm is not technically an organic farm, but Crain tries to adhere to the same principles, he explained. “We don’t have a plan in place right now to become certified for USDA organic crops, but we do a lot of the same things associated with the organic movement. Building healthy soil that can sustain production is probably our number one deliverable. We control pests and plant diseases by doing things such as crop rotation, careful timing of crops, row covers, hand-removal of insects, while encouraging beneficial organisms. We also use the safest sprays approved (by OMRI) for organic farming, to make sure we’re striving to be as organic as we can be.”
Our Neighbor’s Pantry is run by Sherri Clixby, which features an inventory consisting of fresh produce grown at Our Neighbors Farm, as well as daily staples, frozen meat, dairy products, deli items or other frozen/refrigerated items. Any household can visit the pantry once monthly and may also pick up commodities on the second Saturday of every month. Food distribution is based on family size and Our Neighbor’s Pantry receives funding from First Things First to assist families with children ages 0 to 5.
Crain purchased 30’ X 36’ Agra Tech commercial greenhouse earlier this year for Our Neighbors Farm and he already knows it was a wise decision. “The greenhouse is a nice addition to our farm,” Crain said. “It’s a planting station and a classroom for us, and we’re already using it more all the time. It’s not huge, but it is a perfect size for us and at this point, I would say it’s an excellent investment.”
Crain stepped up and purchased the Agra Tech greenhouse for Our Neighbors Farm after meeting ATI’s Jim Bergantz in the spring of 2012 at a horticultural conference in Arizona, he said. “Jim has a ton of knowledge about greenhouse farming and once we started talking, he surely got my attention. With all of the help and advice we got from Jim Bergantz and James Roberts from Agra Tech, they made it a great experience. If we ever had a specific question, all we had to do was contact James Roberts and he responded quickly every time. We called him at least a dozen times. Agra Tech gave us incredible support every step of the way and still does.”
Setting up the Agra Tech greenhouse wasn’t what Crain could describe as a “simple backyard project,” but with the help of his volunteer team and the guidance of the people at Agra Tech, Our Neighbors Farm had the greenhouse up and operable while working part-time on it over a two-week period. “One of our volunteers is a surveyor, so that really helped. We still need to install gravel, benches and eventually heating, but with the natural sunlight we get all the time here, we won’t need lights. Since we’ve installed it, the greenhouse has given us zero trouble and we don’t anticipate any issues as we put it to full use.”
#Graham County Interfaith Care Alliance
#Our Neighbors Farm
#Our Neighbors Pantry Food Bank
Ingolia also has praise for Agra Tech's customer service and expertise. "From the beginning, James Roberts at ATI was our point person," she said. "He was amazing and was more than willing to help us through every aspect of the planning and construction. It was very helpful to be able to rely on James and tap into his extensive knowledge. We asked a lot of questions along the way and he was always there with the answers."
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