If a local restauranteur’s vision becomes complete, the ingredients on your dinner table and on top of his wood-fired pizzas may soon come from a city park near 28th St. and Indian School Road.
The proposed concept would be a public-private partnership between the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department and locally-owned Greenbelt Hospitality LLC. It would bring an organic 4-acre working farm to a public park, a fruit and vegetable market to area residents and put millions in revenue into city coffers. There is also an education component to the proposal that incorporates hands-on learning for students at area schools.
The working urban farm would be continually operated and maintained by Greenbelt and open to all park visitors during normal park hours.
The Farm at Los Olivos proposal is completely privately funded. No taxpayer dollars would be applied to build or maintain the $5.5m project. Greenbelt’s concept would be the first public-private partnership of its kind in Phoenix. I think that the project has the potential to be a revenue model for cities and similar urban farms. My interest led me to learn more about the proposal at recent open house.
The urban farm concept inside Los Olivos Park is the brainchild of restauranteur Aric Mei and 4th-generation West Valley vegetable farmer Matthew Moore. Each is a principal of Greenbelt Hospitality LLC. Mei’s restaurant, The Parlor Pizzeria, which serves artisan pizza and handmade pasta, has already sourced some of its own herbs nearby. They’re grown directly outside the pizzeria. The restaurant, which has won national accolades from Food Network as the best pizza in Arizona, is located at 1916 E. Camelback Road.
The farm footprint at Los Olivos Park, which is a stone’s throw south of the Biltmore area and Mei’s flagship restaurant, would take up only 4 acres of the available 24 acres. That’s roughly 16% of available space inside the park boundary. The farm area is proposed for the northwest corner of the park.
On the grounds of the 4-acre farm will be a 2,500 square foot indoor-outdoor education center. The building will house classroom and workspace to promote agriculture techniques and interest in cooking.
Part of the requirements for the City’s approval is that the project maintains a 100% organic certification.
Mei and Moore’s idea congealed in May 2017 after learning that the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department had called publicly for proposals (RFPs) to enhance city parks. Their farm-to-table bid was chosen in November of last year. Negotiations then began between Greenbelt Hospitality LLC and the City. Several public open houses at the adjacent Devonshire Senior Center this winter have provided a forum for residents to voice support and opposition to the urban farm proposal.
Challengers to the public-private partnership have opposed the concept from different angles. Initially, some assumed that the public park’s land was being sold off. It isn’t. The project is an escalating 40-year land lease where use reverts back to the City of Phoenix. There is no ownership change of hands.
Others were opposed to the loss of a disc golf course within the proposed farm area. The plan would simply relocate this feature to the east end of Los Olivos Park. Some voiced concerns about the removal of olive trees in the area where the farm will be laid out. Mei estimates that only 15-20 of the 150+ olive trees will be removed. “A lot of the opposition to the project has come from misinformation,” said Mei.
The City of Phoenix Parks Board will vote on the proposal at its 5pm meeting on Thursday, March 22, 2018. The meeting location is downtown at 200 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix, AZ 85007. Mei and Moore are asking supporters of the project to attend the meeting and voice support for the urban farm.
If approved, the project would take two years to build and would be operational by mid-2020.
Below is Matthew Moore’s 2014 TED Talk about his motivations for creating sustainable urban farms in Phoenix:
Photos and images in this article used by permission of Greenbelt Hospitality.
Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield. – Dwight D. Eisenhower, Five-star U.S. Army general and 34th President of the United States