Phoenix invests to preserve urban farmland, protecting farmers and the communities they feed

Millions of dollars have been allocated by the city of Phoenix to continue efforts to protect urban farmland from being developed and to protect the livelihood of farmers and those they feed.

In June 2021, the city council approved a million dollars for the Farmland Preservation Program, and since then, the program's received $2 million more.

Farmland Preservation Program is part of the city's Phoenix Resilient Food System Program, and Central AZ Land Trust (CALT) is the administrator.

"This means other farmland owners can be paid to sell their development rights while maintaining their farms for the benefit of all," a news release reads.

The contracts between the farmers and who they sell their development rights to are strictly voluntary, and the farmer still owns the land.

"Because the conservation easement binds all future owners of the property, the farm will remain in agricultural production and open space in perpetuity," the city says.

The landowner will get paid between 60-80% of the full sale value of the property, which will be based on an appraisal.

"CALT needs help from the community to conserve these local farms; the City will pay 75% of the conservation easement value, and CALT will fundraise for the remainder," the news release said.

As a result of the program, Maya’s Farm, a farm in south Phoenix, is permanently protected from development.

"Maya’s Farm, operated by Maya Dailey, is a 3.3-acre farm that uses organic and sustainable production methods," the city's website explains.

The city says the farm is on land owned by Bridget Bellavigna, and by funding the purchase of the development rights from Bellavigna, Maya’s Farm now has a "conservation easement," which makes sure it will never be "paved over or developed."

"Maya’s Farm is a gem in District 8, and I am relieved to see them permanently protected through the City’s Farmland Preservation Program," Councilmember Carlos Garcia said. "Farmland within Phoenix is dramatically decreasing, and I am proud to serve on a Council committed to leading the efforts to conserve it for this generation, and generations to come."

You can learn more and/or donate to the program by clicking here.

‘A life calling’

Rodney may be an accountant, but he was born for this.

Rodney Machokoto is an urban farmer and says his passion is what he considers a life calling. His journey to this quarter acre of tomatoes at Spaces of Opportunity has been long and frustrating as his first plot of land vanished last year.

"Unfortunately because of the market, the owner said it’s time for him to develop the land, so we had about 30 days to leave. We pretty much had to count our losses and move on," he said.

His next leased land was again sold to developers before a shovel went into the dirt.

"All those farms I remember seeing 3, 4, 5 years ago are gone and buildings are coming up boom boom boom boom," Machokoto said. "So it and farming is, I think, life support."

To grow this important part of Phoenix, Rosanne Albright with the city says the millions were set aside to give to urban farmers, so they don’t sell it for housing.

"A property owner is giving up development rights to do other types of developments. But gaining that funding by being able to continue with agriculture in perpetuity," Albright said. "Currently, a farmer, if they’re not on a property right now and would like to either expand or do something new, this program provides the opportunity. We just need to find them that piece of land."

Machokoto says that's really the biggest cost, and it’s something he’s considering because he says these tomatoes being grown for food banks are too important to the people of Phoenix.

"I think Phoenix is setting itself up to be an example, not just on an Arizona scale, but national even, international perspective," he said.