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Urban Farming in Tucson

How a local grower is surviving during changing times
Lettuce at Merchants Garden Urban Farm
Posted at 12:56 PM, Oct 03, 2021

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — An urban farm in the heart of Tucson is looking to keep its perspective and produce as fresh as possible.

Merchants Garden owner Bill Shriver is connecting with the community. Since opening the business with his son Chaz in 2016, the urban farm only supplied local restaurants and grocery stores but, the pandemic slowed things down.

"Without the support of the neighbors I don’t think we would've made it. There are people who come through here and tell us their stories and some of them they say one of the only things they did during the pandemic was come through our market,” Shriver said.

The COVID-19 slowdown also opened new doors, now Bill spends a few days a week selling fresh Tilapia fish and greens to the public from his drive thru and shed on the farm.

“The Arizona Community Food Bank Network approached us with this network called "Friends of the Farmer" to help. I can’t think of anything healthier than fresh harvested greens,” Shriver said.

The farm located at 555 South Tucson Boulevard is starting to make a splash with neighbors. Operations manager Danielle Fowler loves her work and says the 10,000 square foot greenhouse is a unique part of a sustainable local food chain.

“Not only do we accept cash and card we also accept SNAP, EBT and farmers market nutrition coupons. It contributes to the food system and the security of our food system. When things shut down and logistic networks shut down during the pandemic you know exactly where your food was sourced from and you still had access to it,” Fowler said.

Workers keep the water flowing and the greens growing to produce variations of lettuce and herbs.The process starts in the seed room, anywhere from 35,00 to 5,000 seeds are planted on a regular basis. Trays in the farm seed room hold about 276 seeds a piece. Then after about a week or so, the seedlings are brought to the greenhouse where they continue to grow.

“Our varieties are salvanova also known as frisee behind me, you see butter. We also have red leaf, green leaf and romaine. We have basil, Thai basil, chives. The majority of our business is hydroponics which is a nutrient dense water. A portion of our business is aquaponics which is using the science of fish water and fish waste to feed the plants. That side of our business is 100 percent organic,” Fowler said.

The process to go from seed to food takes between 5 to 7 weeks to complete depending on the weather.

"It supports your neighborhood, helps with food insecurity it helps with local economy,” Shriver said.

Merchants Garden is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. The fish is sold on the last Saturday of every month.

“We want to support the neighborhood even after the pandemic, we want to keep supporting them the way they supported us,” Shriver said.

For more information about Merchant's Garden, click here.