Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gardens and more gardens

Last Sunday, September 12, Joe and I took a lovely drive to the south, where a group called Somos la Semilla (We Are the Seed, had organized a free tour of organic farms. Of the seven farms on the tour, we only visited three, but that was just right - we didn't rush, we spent the day in pleasant and often outright beautiful surroundings, and we discovered new things about areas we hadn't been to in a while but always liked.

The first place we went was Forever Yong (yes, that's the correct spelling) Farm east of Arivaca. It's cooler down there than in Tucson, mostly grasslands, at a higher elevation. This farm, like the others we visited, is in a drainage and the soil is so rich it makes a Tucson gardener want to cry. Our soil, as in most subdivision yards here, was bladed and graded with no thought on the part of the developers except to make it flat enough for building, so any gardening first depends on building soil that plants can actually grow in - it can be done, and we've done it in our gardens, but it's hard work.  When we arrived at Forever Yong Farm the husband of the couple who own it was giving an informal tour of the greenhouses, the first of which was filled with tomatoes. Readers in more temperate climates may not realize how tricky it is to grow tomatoes in southern Arizona - we got very excited about these.  The wife was running the farm stand, where we bought the most beautiful cucumbers I've seen in years, some garlic, and a quart of local mesquite honey which has a rich, almost smoky taste you won't get from the commercial factory stuff - heavenly! Unfortunately, I was so taken by everything around me I forgot to take any pictures there! But you can find the owners and their produce every Thursday afternoon at the Santa Cruz River Farmer's Market on West Speedway.

We drive on to the tiny town of Arivaca, after a stop at the Gadsden Coffee Company, a pleasantly relaxed coffeehouse a mile or so before the town proper, where we relaxed for a bit on the shady patio with some very good java and a big cinnamon roll (which we split, trying not to be toooo indulgent).  The ruin above is right in the middle of town, beside La Gitana, the local bar.  Neither Joe nor I had checked to see how much cash we had, so we didn't stop to get any, and at the coffeehouse they said there was an ATM at the general store.  There was, but it was out of money, and the store doesn't do "cash back." But while I was talking to the very nice and apologetic young woman who worked there, a young man who overheard my dilemma invited me over to La Gitana, where he works, and gave me cash on my debit card without even asking me to buy anything!  So that little episode was an instance of both the occasional inconvenience and the friendliness of very small towns - I could live in a place like that!
A few miles out the other side of town is the Arivaca Community Garden, with greenhouses (where they hold yoga classes) and guinea fowl in addition to vegetables planted in more of that wonderful soil; just look at these huge heirloom tomatoes!
We bought two flavors of goat cheese from one woman and a gourd and some green tomatoes from another, whose card I thought I'd kept but now I can't find it - darn! Anyway, her name is Pat and she grows lavender and makes wonderful things from it that she sells at the Saturday Farmers' Market in St. Philip's Plaza.  Here she is talking with some other farm tourists. You can get some idea of what a lovely 
spot this is, down in a little valley, with grass and plenty of trees for shade as well as the open areas where crops grow in wide rows separated by lawn.

When we left there we thought we'd take the Ruby Road that loops south and over to I-19; we'd never been there and it's supposed to be quite scenic.  Well, we've still never been on most of it, because after a few slow and bone-jarring miles we turned around and went back the way we'd come.  When we got back on I-19 we headed down to Tubac for a bite to eat and then south to Tumacacori and our last stop, Avalon Organic Farms.

By this time clouds had rolled in and we were hoping for rain, but not until we'd finished this last visit.  Avalon is an intentional community of about 100 people, with a religious focus, begun in Sedona by Gabriel of Urantia - I don't really know much about them but the people we spoke with there were friendly and seemed happy, and they certainly live in a beautiful place.

Like King Arthur, we had to cross water to get to Avalon; the Santa Cruz was running just a few inches deep, not a problem to drive through, but that was another reason we hoped the rain held off until we left. The river runs north from Mexico, and by the time it gets to Tucson the water has all been sucked off by development, but in decades past it still ran up here - and it still does, when we get a good rainstorm.

This Avalon is certainly an idyllic spot.  It must have been an old ranch; there's a big house, what looks like a caretaker's cottage, and a horse barn from those days, plus a lot of new buildings.  These people are committed to sustainability, and their architecture reflects that.  There are beautiful yurts and some other little houses that utilize a technology developed in the war-torn Middle East by people whose homes were destroyed by the fighting.  They took sandbags and piled them up in coils and then plastered them with a mud mixture; the result is similar to the straw-bale and rammed-earth technologies that have become popular here, but the final result has a charming, almost fairytale quality (at least I think so).

This is a shot of one of the interiors.  While I like these little houses very much, I couldn't live at Avalon. It's not anything to do with their theology, since I don't even know what that is, though it seems vaguely Christian, with emphasis on the "Cosmic Christ."  No, it's that I need my own kitchen and bathroom.  A communal meal once or twice a week might be nice, but I really like my own cooking, and Joe's.  Sharing a bathhouse if we're camping or a bathroom when we're on vacation is enough.

That said, the communal bathhouses are quite beautiful, and they make wonderful use of reclaimed and recycled building materials.

Heading back down the long drive out of Avalon was like passing through a bit of pastoral heaven.  And the rain began just as we crossed through the river and headed back to the real world.

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