By Dominic Armato for The Arizona Republic
Food is universal. Everybody eats.
But to Matthew Moore and Aric Mei, something vital to the human experience is being lost in America’s urban centers.
“There deserves to be a place in the middle of a very large, dense, urban sprawl where you can take family, take friends, take yourself to go see, taste and experience agriculture,” Mei says.
If Moore and Mei are successful, Phoenix may soon have such a place: The Farm at Los Olivos.
Through their partnership, Greenbelt Hospitality, they’re proposing to convert a 4-acre plot on the west end of Los Olivos Park into a farm, education center and park concession designed to enhance the community and reconnect residents with Phoenix’s agrarian roots. The site is of the privately funded, $5.5M project is along 28th Street just north of Indian School Road.
“It’s a public-private partnership, and we can make this happen in Phoenix. Not in Napa, not in Hudson Valley, but here in Phoenix,” Moore says.
Greenbelt Hospitality responded to a request for proposals put out by the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, winning their bid in November.
Now, if the duo can win the public’s support – the next open house is Jan. 11 – The Farm at Los Olivos will become a reality.
It’s an ambitious plan comprised of three core elements.
Almost half of the 4 acres would consist of a farm and orchard that would educate the public and supply the park’s on-site concession.
While a small portion of the farm would include a more diverse selection of crops for educational purposes, Moore and Mei are designing an actual, small-scale working farm.
The duo plan to bring the most modern technology to bear on the Los Olivos farm, which would be walkable and open to the public – an integral part of the park itself.
The Arts & Education Center
The second component of the plan would forge a connection between city dwellers and the farming that literally sustains.
A brick-and-mortar arts and education center would host classes and events to teach Phoenix residents and schoolchildren about farming, agriculture and cooking in a space featuring works from local artists.
Classes would range from purely educational to hands-on practical, and would be driven not just by the farm itself but by groups from all over the Valley.
In keeping with their goal of telling the whole story, start to finish, they want the arts and education center to act as a bridge between the farm and the concession, between soil and plate.
The final component of the plan is a park concession that defies convention.
“Who said that it has to be hot dogs and snow cones out of a building that looks like a jail cell?” Mei asks. “Who wrote that rule?”
In addition to a market that would sell produce grown at the farm, Mei speaks of folks out for a morning walk stopping in for coffee and pastry; visitors from the Devonshire Senior Center next door coming by in the afternoon for a salad made from the farm’s produce; and a dinner table where neighbors can come to share a meal and a conversation.
“The thing that’s super exciting for me is that this menu is going to be reverse-engineered,” Mei says. “The soil and climate will be in charge of our menu.”
Hoping for Community Support
The plan is widely seen as a win-win.
“We would like to see more engagement in (Los Olivos Park),” Phoenix parks director Inger Erickson says. “The park is popular, but also, parks change and go through trends and cycles, and this would provide more activity and more eyes on the park.”
The Farm at Los Olivos would occupy 4 acres of the roughly 25-acre park, leaving most of the park unchanged, including the Devonshire Senior Center. No parkland would be sold, and as tenants, Greenbelt Hospitality would be solely responsible for paying for the necessary improvements.
Erickson says there is no cost to taxpayers and, in fact, revenue from the project would be shared between Greenbelt Hospitality and the parks department, helping fund upgrades for the rest of Los Olivos Park and, potentially, other city parks.
The Farm at Los Olivos is expected to go before the parks board for a final vote in January or February. With the plan and financing solidly in place, the decision hinges in part on a community outreach plan that includes 20,000 mailers, a social-media campaign and two open houses.
Read more at The Arizona Republic.
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