A Garden Bears Fruit In The Wreckage of Rio Nuevo

January 23, 2013 |

The fledgling trees at Mission Garden bore fruit in early December just as they did 220 years ago in the same spot in shadow of A Mountain and is the only project of the scrapped Tucson Origins Heritage Park to bear any fruit at all through the planning, spading, grading, planting, and grassroots push by The Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace.

Figs, quince, apricots, sweet lime and plums are also growing on the acre that the founding members of The Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace Roger Pfeuffer, Raul Ramirez and Bill DuPont and dozens of other volunteers have tended this year. It’s the first phase to recreate the full 4 acres of the San Agustín Mission Garden from the 1780s and subsequent decades.

“This is all heritage fruit,” said Roger Pfeuffer, chair of The Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, the non-profit that is building and operating Mission Garden. “This is from cuttings from trees that trace their lineage from trees 150 years ago.”

“These are European fruits brought into the area by Father Kino,” added Ramirez, secretary of The Friends and historian on Father Eusebio Kino.

The Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace started in 2009 as a loose group of west side supporters including Pfeuffer, DuPont, Ramirez, Diana Hadley, Gayle Hartmann and Cele Peterson. They saw an adobe compound enclosing nothing. Tucson Origins Heritage Park was touted as Rio Nuevo’s signature piece until the city pulled the plug in 2008. No construction ever got started on recreating Mission San Agustín and its Convento or the new children’s, University of Arizona and Arizona Historical Society museums. This also included the Mission Garden.

The Friends held a press conference on the site in 2009, uncertain just who would show up to support the creating of the garden. It was encouraging enough that The Friends then put on a forum attended by about 150 people in the historical preservation community.

“We saw there was an interest in this,” DuPont said. “People were willing to donate money and time.” DuPont is the founding chair of The Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace and direct descendent of Jose Ignacio Moraga, who was commander of the Tucson presidio in 1791.

“The person who really wanted to do this was Cele Peterson. She saw the wall. We assured her it was going to get done”, said DuPont.

The Friends formalized themselves by incorporating as a 501(c)3 with the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2010 and gaining the non-profit status in fall 2011. In the meantime, that led to clearing up just who had what claim on the Mission Garden grounds.

The Friends had been working with the Tucson Parks and Recreation Department, while the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District laid claim to all land associated with Tucson Origins. Mission Garden is Pima County Parks land and the City owns the wall.

The Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance, The Tucson Botanical Gardens and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Arizona State Museum, the Arizona Humanities Council and the Audubon Society have all endorsed Mission Garden.

The Friends entered into five-year intergovernmental development and operating agreement in November 2011 with the City and the County. Since then, Rio Nuevo gave up all claims on Mission Garden.

“We didn’t do anything inside the walls until we got that agreement,” Pfeuffer said. “We’re obligated to raise $350,000 in those five years. Neither the City or County are under any financial obligation to support the garden.”

The Friends received a $15,000 grant from the City’s Historic Preservation Office that required a $15,000 match. That was the seed funding to plan the orchard. The Friends raised another $60,000 and received $35,000 from the Southwestern Foundation for Education and Preservation. An Americans with Disabilities Act grant added $38,000, and recently the Tohono O’odham Nation donated $39,600 for the garden’s Phase 2 work.

They have has raised $160,000 of the necessary $350,000 so far.

“This resonates with people on a number of levels,” Pfeuffer said. “Part of it is ‘Yeah, we’re going to do something people didn’t think could be done.’ Part of it is the heritage trees got a lot of interest.”  The orchard now has 119 trees and people have sponsored 42 trees for $1,000 a piece.

Tucson once had many orchards and gardens before Davis-Monthan Air Force Base changed the dynamics of Tucson in the 1940s. “It just brought back a lot of memories,” DuPont said. “My great grandfather had some of those orchards in his backyard. This is what we knew Tucson as.”

One of four acres is planted. The Friends started Phase 1 work on the site in January 2012 to install solar-powered irrigation, ADA trails, build a ramada and storage building and, in March, started planting the mission orchard. About 50 volunteers were involved in planting trees and building the ramada, and 20 volunteers are active on an extended basis.

The second phase should be planted in spring. That will include desert plants and also a timeline garden both along the western wall. The timeline garden will trace the progress of agriculture from the earliest settlers to the Hohokam, the O’odham, the Mexican era, the Territorial era and cotton representing the statehood era.

“What we want to show people is how native people gather food from desert plants,” Pfeuffer said.

The southern 2 acres have not been fully planned yet but will likely involve mission crops such as Sonoran wheat, Pima white wheat and cilantro. “We might put in an olive grove or maybe more fruit trees,” Pfeuffer said

But for Pfeuffer, the Mission Garden isn’t just a bunch of crops and orchards.

“I think of one word: Legacy,” he said.

The garden is open to the public every Saturday from noon to 4 pm through May and 8 am to noon in the summer.

This article appears courtesy of DowntownTucson.org

Category: Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE, Living