Sitting by an open window at The Parlor Pizzeria, Aric Mei pays close attention to the interactions guests have with the small garden he has planted outside his restaurant. Some people walk right by it, others glance at the array of plants, while some stop to point out different vegetation to their friends and family. Mei says planting that garden was like a gateway drug, feeding on a passion to educate and create a farm to table experience that people in an urban environment can enjoy; a perfect glimpse into urban agriculture.
Growing up in the restaurant business, Mei has years of experience in creating products that people enjoy. Now he has teamed up with Matthew Moore, a local, multigenerational farmer and artist, to form the Greenbelt Hospitality team. Together they created a proposal, requested by the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, for a unique urban farming operation inside Los Olivos Park: The Farm at Los Olivos.
A hundred years ago, this park had olive trees planted throughout the landscape. Over time those trees have disappeared, but the Greenbelt team looks to “carry the history of the park forward,” Mei explains. The site of this project is on 28th Street just north of Indian School road. The park covers roughly 27 acres, while the farm and structures planned by the Greenbelt team will occupy 4 acres inside the park.
This $5.5 million project is privately funded (no tax dollars!), a public-private partnership on City of Phoenix park land. It has the potential to impact thousands of people in the immediately surrounding community, while attracting visitors from across the city, metro, and state.
Operating alongside the farm, there will be a produce stand selling farm fresh food directly to the public. The site will also have a concessions/café style restaurant where visitors can come and enjoy healthy meals, made with ingredients grown directly on site. “From coffee and pastries in the morning, to a nice dinner with the family at night, the Farm at Los Olivos will be an ideal place for guests to fill a picnic basket on the way to explore the farm and this amazing park’s 27 acres in the heart of Phoenix,” as the partners describe the project.
In a central location, the Farm would have close proximity to multiple schools, allowing students to visit the Farm for hands-on learning experiences in agriculture. “The planned facilities will bring an opportunity where visitors can learn about farming and gardening, and then turn around to learn about culinary and cooking,” said Mei. “There are very few places in the world where you can go and learn about both. We want to bridge the gap.”
For Phoenix, this is an opportunity to provide our community and future generations with a truly unique learning experience. Located not far from the Valley’s urban center, the park is within walking distance of several neighborhoods, and major bus lines, and will serve to complement the park’s long-running Devonshire Senior Center.
At its core, the mission of Los Olivos is to create engagement from the people who interact with the farm. “Get the community thinking and talking more,” Mei says, “[and] create deeper engagement within the whole food system. It won’t be the only answer, but your diet has a story. Our food decisions give us a direct connection to the global food market… Make people think about the work that goes into growing the produce.”
“Nutrition is a hot topic these days,” Mei says. “The key is education. The whole site itself is a learning experience. There will be passive opportunities to interact just walking through the park, drinking a cup of coffee, and observing the agriculture. We want to layer that all together to create a one of a kind facility.”
This project is not possible without local involvement. Aric Mei and Matt Moore have turned their vision into a very possible reality. To ensure that this project is given the green light, one more vote is required. When asked about the importance of local partners, Aric said, “This project is the embodiment of the local movement. Matt and I are from Phoenix, we give back and serve. It only makes sense [for us] to use local partners. We want to bring the farm to the restaurant. You have to look outside of what we can produce [on-site] and look to local partnerships for success.”
DATES YOU NEED TO KNOW
This dynamic project is on-track for final approval, but still needs vocal support from community members like you.
Open House: February 27th 3-7 pm @ Devonshire Senior Center 2802 E. Devonshire Ave.
Final Parks Board Vote: March 22nd 5 pm @ 200 W. Jefferson St.
Blog contributed by Local First Communications intern Peter Venman