It’s been a little over a year since Las Vegas’ first public garden sprouted in a five-acre vacant lot in the center of the city. Initiated by Rosalind Brooks, a 43-year-old mother of two, Tonopah Community Garden set out to grow some healthy produce as well as a healthier urban environment.
“Although I knew nothing about gardening, farming or planting,” she says, “I stepped out on faith.” Brooks went a step further, figuring out how to start a 501(c)(3) organization to help fund the garden. Today, Together We Can is a nonprofit group of green-thumbed, good-spirited volunteers who’ve been toiling in their spare time at the five-acre urban garden on Tonopah Drive just north of Bonanza Road.
“Community gardening is something that is very much needed, and is more prevalent in other parts of our country,” Brooks says. “Denver has 120, and we have one public garden.” The benefits of having urban gardens, according to the Community Food Security Coalition’s North American Initiative on Urban Agriculture, include healthier habits (“the more experience people have growing food, the more likely they are to eat it”) and “safe, healthy and green environments” in blighted neighborhoods. It also provides good, cheap food that doesn’t require long-distance transportation.
Tonopah Community Garden has come a long way in one year. “It was a lonely place at the beginning,” Brooks says. “From June until the end of August, I was at the garden almost every day alone. There’d be 200 some people at fundraising events, then no one would show up the next week.” She still spends more than 40 hours per week working on this project, on top of a business she started, K&K Mobile Oil, to help fund the nonprofit group.
But now she has a steady stream of volunteers, as evidenced by the garden’s produce: collard and mustard greens, beets, carrots, onions, scallions, lettuces, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, fig trees and a variety of herbs. In addition to the 32 5-by-10-foot plots (which are available for people to adopt or rent) and 10 175-foot rows for planting, there are chickens for fresh eggs and goats for milk.
Soon Vegas will see more urban gardens. A couple of downtown business owners, among them Sam Cherry and Michael Cornthwaite, are working out the logistics for gardens in the downtown Arts District. Cornthwaite is even considering a garden on the rooftop of the Emergency Arts building.
Brooks’ group, meantime, is in the process of building a small outdoor amphitheater for concerts and other public events. Led by Together We Can board member Amy Finchem, the first phase includes the construction of a presentation platform, which will begin in May.
“I have watched her touch the lives of so many people,” Finchem says of Brooks, “not only through her work with this community garden but in her efforts to teach others about eating healthy. Her drive, passion and energy to serve others are contagious.”