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  • Writer's pictureArizona Contractor & Community

Arizona’s rapid loss of agricultural land to be combated by patchwork farming

By: Amaia J. Gavica, ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism

Agriculture in Arizona has decreased in recent years due to increasing housing developments and rapid urbanization. As the population grows, it is evident that families require the necessities, such as shelter and food. These requirements, however, seem to compete with each other the more Arizona grows.

Further developing infrastructure to parallel the expanding population is logical and necessary, yet as these buildings are breaking ground, the agricultural industry diminishes. The land previously used to cultivate and grow nutritious foods for the community and country is now being turned to pavement and rendered useless for agricultural uses.

According to the American Farmland Trust, "444,500 acres of Arizona's farmland and ranchland will be paved over, fragmented, or converted to uses that jeopardize agriculture by 2040."

This loss of agricultural land will have extensive effects on Arizona’s community and the country as a whole. Even small plots of land can cultivate enough food to support many people.

"I crunched some numbers, and if we only did a CSA on 40 acres of growing land, we could feed 21,000 families of four 85% of their vegetables every week. That's what 40 acres of land can do for a community," said Sara Dolan, owner and farm manager of Blue Sky Organic Farm, in her speech entitled “Disappearing Farmlands and Innovative Models for Growing Food.”

Speaking alongside Dolan was Rodney Machokoto, the founder and owner of Machokoto Farms, a locally owned and operated farm in the Phoenix area. Both have undergone similar experiences regarding the loss of their land.

Dolan and Machakoto were forced off their farms when the land they were leasing was sold for urban expansion and housing developments without their knowledge. They were given minimal time to leave with no protection or aid from the government.

“When June came in, we were given about a week to leave because the land, that whole property, had been sold for development,” said Machokoto.

While leaving her farm, Dolan discovered something truly disappointing to her: Arizona is the only state in the nation without a statewide farmland preservation program.

According to One Rural, the only farmland preservation law in Arizona currently is the Right-to-Farm Law. The Right-to-Farm Law protects farmers from “nuisance lawsuits” against them when using acceptable and satisfactory farming practices.

“Arizona’s RTF law provides no explicit protection for farmland against urban development,” according to One Rural.

This lack of state support not only has statistical significance but also immensely impacts the ideology and opinion of the agricultural community itself.

“That hurts; I mean, you feel like your state and your representatives are against you in what you do,” said Dolan.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Arizona grew from 6.3 million in 2010 to 7.1 million in 2020. Undoubtedly, the state is growing at an immensely rapid rate and must build houses and other types of infrastructure to support this growth.

To combat the effects urbanization has on Arizona’s agriculture, the three speakers all recommend switching focus from large, leased farms to patchwork farming. Patchwork farming is a network of multiple farms, all consisting of just a few acres. It is an efficient mode for combatting the loss of agricultural land as it utilizes every spare space possible for cultivation.

“[Farming] can be done in places a lot smaller than what we are used to seeing,” said Jhonny Flores, the third speaker in the speech and co-owner of Coldwater Coffeehouse and Bakery, a local coffee shop that grows and cultivates its products on patchwork farms.

Through the utilization of patchwork farming, it is possible to both begin to reverse the adverse effects urbanization has had on agriculture and ensure the well-being of Arizona as a growing state.

“At the end of the day, what really matters is that you’re going to feed your local friends and families and communities,” said Dolan.


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