The Midtown Farm in Tucson, Arizona, is an offshoot of the Flowers & Bullets Collective in the Barrio Centro neighborhood. Tito Romero and Jacob Robles, friends since childhood and now in their early 30s, launched the organization in 2012 to provide healthy food alternatives, improve their neighborhood, and share their Latino and Indigenous cultures. “The idea of growing food, of being sustainable, has been a trend for some time in predominantly white, middle-class communities,” Robles says. “For communities in the barrio, communities of color, those trends don’t reach us as easily.”
The friends spent about five years planting gardens and installing rainwater harvesting systems in people’s backyards before they and other members of the collective began leasing a 4-acre portion of their closed former elementary school to grow crops and build a sense of community. Where the friends, as youngsters, used to kick around a soccer ball and dangle from monkey bars, they now harvest fruits and vegetables, raise goats and chickens, and put on gardening workshops for their neighbors.
The farm is a way of restoring some of the lost community space, Romero says, adding that the goal is to someday buy more or all of the 9.5-acre campus to accommodate growth. He spends many mornings at the farm doing various chores. Like most of the collective’s dozen core members, he is a volunteer; Robles is one of three full-time employees. On a recent summer day, Romero was in the greenhouse spraying a natural pest repellent on dozens of plant seedlings that would later be transplanted into the ground. “We have some kale, some chard, some mustards, lettuce, broccoli,” he says, his voice trailing as the thunderous roar of a jet invades the greenhouse.
“There’s a lot of families here, generational families, and people take a lot of pride in this community,” Robles says. “And there’s a lot of beauty in those things, but if I’m being completely real, there’s also a lot of struggle.” That duality is embodied in the name of the collective. “We like to say that flowers are the art, the beauty, the culture—and the bullets are the struggle, the things we had to face in our community growing up, and the resistance to those things, like gang influence and drug abuse.”
Existing programs at the farm and others being developed in concert with the community aim to get even more people involved and connected in the neighborhood. Although activities slowed when the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the farm became a drive-through destination where residents could obtain masks, hand sanitizers, and free seeds.
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