- Environmentally Conscious
- Agriculturally Innovative
- Being of Service
- Community-Based Gardens
- Learning Focused

We Build Gardens

Written by Mike McMahon, Founder of Urban Farming Education

In 1990 I founded Agave Environmental Contracting, Inc. We are a landscaping company that started out salvaging native trees and cacti, but expanded to build entire communities, freeway landscapes, golf courses, and commercial and high-end residential properties. By the late 1990s we also had a large maintenance division, and by 2007 we grew to be the largest landscaping company in Arizona, with over 700 employees and an office in San Diego. In 2015, we were presented with an opportunity to lease 17 acres in central Phoenix, and decided to build Agave Farms Community Garden. It was a new and expensive challenge that has changed in scope and purpose many times. Today, it is a community space with a nursery, an urban farm and event space — part garden and part park.

In 2019, we started a nonprofit called Urban Farming Education with the purpose of building community gardens for other nonprofits on their properties throughout Maricopa County. The idea is to grow foodscapes for nonprofits who have kitchens and a chef and a group of people who could eat the food they grow. The purpose of these gardens is to provide sustenance, ecotherapy, and education, as well as a long list of other positive social impacts, as well as to help create a sense of community. Our focus is on domestic violence shelters, schools, facilities for people with disabilities, homeless shelters, and homes for the elderly. Building small-scale, ¼-acre to 20-acre community gardens is certainly in our wheelhouse, and we have relied on our past expertise in order to build them. The urban garden can have many looks, from park to farm and from big to small, depending on the purpose and the constraints of the organization we are building it for. The garden can incorporate: traditional or commercial farming, vertical or rooftop gardening, hydroponics, substrates and the Ready Go Garden System, trees, and vines (orchard/vineyard), and can have containers and greenhouses for growing seedlings, mushrooms and microgreens.

Growing directly in the soil is traditional farming. It is more complex than growing in substrates; to use the soil on site, the gardener needs to have a familiarity and experience with the existing soil or should have it tested. Soils differ in porosity, alkalinity, organic material, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Every site has history from the users before — is it contaminated? Are amendments needed? Is there an insidious weed or grass problem? Does the site require weed abatement? Should you do that organically or with harsh chemicals? At a minimum, the farmer needs to turn the soil so it will accept seeds and water, and till it to create wind rows and furrows for drainage. All that before you can even start growing! Later comes planting, fertilization and harvesting. We always do some form of traditional farming because if space allows, we like to plant citrus and stone fruit trees and vineyards. These require more years of growth but provide substantial and tasty seasonal produce. Sometimes we have the luxury of space, and with vineyards and orchards you can take up space and provide shade with minimal maintenance. We will often use traditional raised planters for deeper rooted vegetables, herbs, and perennial plantings.