Residents living in a downtown Tucson "food desert" will find relief come summer.

Community Gardens of Tucson has teamed up with the city of Tucson to start Blue Moon Garden, named after the nearby Barrio Blue Moon neighborhood.

The garden's design was unveiled at a public meeting Wednesday, and work is expected to begin in a few weeks. The garden will be completed by late February, just in time for spring planting, said Gina Chorover, urban planner with the city of Tucson Housing and Community Development Department.

By summer, Blue Moon Garden plot-tenders will be eating fresh produce.

The garden, funded through a combination of county and federal grants and donations, is one of the catalyst projects recommended in the Oracle Area Revitalization Project Report - "something to jump-start revitalization," Chorover said. Community needs identified by the report included more green space and access to fresh food.

"The idea is to help improve people's health status and encourage them to eat healthier food," Chorover said. "That area is considered a food desert. There are no grocery stores close by. The nearest one is a couple miles away. For people who don't own a car, this will allow them to grow their own produce."

Food deserts are areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.

The city has designated a one-acre plot behind Tucson House for the garden.

Tucson House is an apartment complex that provides subsidized housing for more than 600 low-income, elderly and disabled residents. It is located near Main Avenue and Drachman Street. The garden will be available to residents of Tucson House and surrounding neighborhoods.

The land will be divided into 36 or so gardening plots, measuring 4 feet by 10 feet, that can be rented for $8 a month. The fee will cover the cost of automatic irrigation, gardening tools, compost and perhaps even seeds and starter plants. A site coordinator from Community Gardens of Tucson will oversee the property, and once-a-month gardening workshops will be offered. Those who cannot afford the monthly fee may be eligible for "scholarships," Chorover said.

The acre will be wheelchair-accessible and include shady seating areas for people who want to enjoy the green space.

Tucson House residents have already gotten their hands dirty. With the assistance of staffers from the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, residents planted temporary "practice gardens" behind the apartment complex.

City leaders agreed to participate in the project because they would not be responsible for long-term management of the garden, Chorover said. Community Gardens of Tucson currently manages 20 gardens in Tucson.

Did you know?

Barrio Blue Moon downtown was named for the Blue Moon Ballroom. The dance hall opened in 1920 and featured local as well as nationally acclaimed performers. The interior was barnlike, and the windows had wooden shutters that were lifted at night to let in the evening breeze. The ballroom remained popular until it burned down on March 16, 1947.

SOURCE: Barrio Blue Moon Neighborhood Association

TO GET INVOLVED

To contact Community Gardens of Tucson, call 795-8823 or email admin@communitygardensoftucson.org

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com or at 573-4191.