Putting a retread tire back into the market is an example of recycling.

Erick Meza turns unusable tires into pots that look like bulbous flowers. He calls that process upcycling.

“It’s transforming something old and bad to something useful and prettier,” explains Meza, farm education coordinator for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

Meza and co-teacher Isabel Montelongo will lead “Upcycle Garden” projects at a free workshop in early November.

Students will learn how to make several plant containers out of recycled materials. Students can do some of the work, which in some cases requires using knives and power tools. Otherwise, they can merely observe the process.

The workshop also will cover recycling in general and how the practice can save gardeners money.

Each participant will go home with detailed instructions on projects, including turning a plastic bottle into a plant container and a glass bottle into a terrarium.

The projects are a group effort, so whatever is created will remain at Las Milpitas de Cottonwood, the community farm that the food bank runs.

Here are what workshop participants will help build.

Vertical pallet planter. Used pallets are easy to find, says Meza, a Guaymas, Sonora, native. Shipping and manufacturing companies consider them as waste and so want to get rid of them.

There are so many that “it gives you the freedom of being picky,” he adds. Look for pallets that are made of good-quality, undamaged wood and don’t have nails sticking out.

Start by turning the pallet on its side so that the blocks–they run perpendicular to the slats–are parallel to the ground.

Add strips of wood if necessary to turn the blocks into planter boxes. Drill holes into the bottoms of the boxes and finish the outside surfaces with varnish. Then they’re ready for soil.

At a demonstration site on the farm, several of these converted pallets are nailed together to create a fence. That provides rows of planters at different heights.

“It’s a great way to reuse pallets,” Meza says. “You don’t need to take it apart.”

This method also saves space in the yard, he adds.

Tire pot. When Meza lived in Mexico, he thought the tires strewn on some property could be used for something. He looked online and found instructions on how to turn one into a plant pot.

He cut out a petal design along the edge of the hole. Then he turned the tire inside out and painted it into a flower. At about that time a passerby took a look and asked how much he wanted for it.

He immediately made 20 more and sold them all at a farmer’s market.

“I’m just inspired, motivated to finding ways to give use to something that was useless,” Meza says.

He’s made pots from tires of many sizes, including wheelbarrows, cars and trucks. The class will work on tires from ATVs.

“The planter is guaranteed for another 5,000 miles,” he jokes with a hint of a smile.

Meza says there are several online videos on how to turn a tire into a flower pot. He suggests finding tires with soft rubber to make it easier to turn inside out. Keeping it out in the sun for a few days also helps soften the material.

Meza’s demonstration in the class will include adding chicken wire and shade cloth on the bottom of the tire to cover up that center hole. Then the pot can be moved when it’s full of soil and plants.


Upcycling is a new topic among the food bank’s seasonal gardening classes. The organization aims to expand its focus from basic gardening how-tos to healthy and natural living.

“We’re trying to approach a more wholesome aspect,” says Meza.

Other such classes include yoga, basic nutritious cooking and a Spanish-language session on using natural skin products. These are easy topics for Meza to support.

He moved to Tucson with his wife and young son two years ago in part to “practice sustainability and permaculture in an urban setting,” he says.

Previously, the couple helped develop food forests in Panama. where they taught people to make chocolate. They moved to Seattle, where Meza maintained the aquaponics farm at the University of Washington. They taught animal farming in southern Mexico.

Meza is a master gardener through the Olympia, Washington, program and a permaculture designer certified by the Sonoran Permaculture Guild.

Contact Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba at acoba@dakotacom.net.