Sometimes the traffic whizzing past is calming, like listening to ocean waves.

Other days, “it’s overwhelming,” says Jon McNamara, who farms — yes, farms — alongside River Road.

“It’s not idyllic country living, but we’re not that type of farm,” says McNamara, 49, a former landscaper who with his wife, Emily Mabry, 46, grows broccoli, kale and other green goodies at River Road Gardens on the grounds of the Tucson Waldorf School.

As part of “a social partnership,” the duo have been tending to what McNamara calls “a little patch of green in a sea of brown.” Their urban farm is close to 4 acres between the Waldorf property and neighboring VisionQuest.

As a community-supported agriculture venture, families pay ($350 for existing members; $375 for newbies) for weekly produce during a three-month session. River Road Gardens has 65 families signed up so far and can handle 75, McNamara says. As you might imagine from its school setting, the farm has an educational component, too, and Mabry is the one who teaches lessons out among the leafy greens.

Using organic principles, McNamara and Mabry are growing about 20 crops, including cabbage, fennel and cauliflower. Thanks to a grant, they’re planning a small orchard of stone fruits and an herb garden. McNamara dreams of creating a sustainable farm complete with grains, livestock and wetlands.

It’s hard work, and the two are just breaking even.

“I never imagined what it would take to do this — it’s demanding, consuming,” McNamara says.

Still, you can’t beat the benefits.

The kids refer to McNamara and Mabry, appropriately enough, as “Farmer Jon” and “Farmer Emily,” and on this warm morning, one blond girl in bright yellow rubber shoes, perfect for clomping around in the dirt, runs up to give McNamara a big hug.

“Being a part of this community is incredible,” he says. “It’s a true gift.”

Contact Kristen Cook at or 573-4194.