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The city of Tempe has found a new way to become a greener community. It recently signed a 10-year lease agreement to turn one of its golf courses into a farm and garden. It’s a plan for the city to turn a financially draining property into an environmentally rich project.
It’s early in the morning and the sprinklers are already watering the green across this 63-acre land. It’s the Rio Salado Golf course north of the 202. But the sprinklers are not preparing the greenway for golfers. This nine-hole course is getting prepped to be a community farm.
"What I’m gonna do is try to bring this land back to make it healthy. I use no chemicals. I use bio stimulants, compost, microbes,” Ken Singh said. The golf course was turned over to him earlier in July.
He’s no stranger to the Valley. He’s the owner of an organic farm in Scottsdale and has helped several agencies get their gardens up and running. He wants to make this place an oasis for Tempe and Valley residents.
“So that’s what I’m working on," Singh said. "That’s why the city is being very nice to me to give me the time. Because I said 'Folks, you can paint something pretty but if the inside isn’t healthy and well then families and kids aren’t gonna get the benefits of it.'”
As he takes me on a tour of the grounds on a golf cart, Singh said the place needs of a lot of work. The trees and shrubs need trimming. Large parts of the grass and soil are brown and dry. He and his crew have spent the past three weeks digging, excavating and rebuilding. He points to the stakes with blue flags scattered around the property which he says will help guide him.
“So see, I’ve had the flood district stake this out because this is the flood wash, the flood plain and then there’s certain things I can do up here,” Singh said.
This six-foot-tall, white-bearded, long-haired farmer comes from a long line of agriculturists. His father and uncle taught him about farming, making compost and respecting mother nature. He says the plan here is to develop rich soils in designated areas to grow specific fruits, vegetables and plants. He also has plans to create camping spots and picnic and play areas to give residents a place to walk around, eat and relax.
“You go from an apartment to a garage, to a parking lot, to a building, to dinner," Singh said. "Look right now. I don’t know about you but I feel real good looking at that. Means I could run. I could shout. I could do summersaults…listen. Uhhmmm!”
“There are a lot of amenities that a city provides that don’t make money, and golf courses have been one of them," Singh said. "Our golf courses really haven’t made us money. In fact, up until we restructured our other two golf courses it was running a deficit of about $600 thousand a year."
Onnie Shekerjian is Tempe’s vice mayor. She, along with several city council members, spearheaded the idea of doing something different with this place. When the concept of turning this golf course into a farm was put up for a vote, the council approved it unanimously.
“It isn’t just about money making, but even if you were to take a look at just the economic bottom line. Being healthy, there is nothing more economical than making sure that your people are healthy.”
So the plan is to open the first phase of the farm and garden in 2015 and make this 42-square mile land-locked city seem a little larger and more environmentally connected.