In Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix, local residents grow organic lettuce, collards, brussels and cabbage to sell at the on-site farmer’s market. Photo taken March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

Manuel Fierro cuts the grass at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

Volunteers clean edible and medicinal nopales, which will be sold at the Spaces of Opportunity Farmer’s Market in South Phoenix, March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

Madison Lane weeds a garden at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

Jackson and Anthony Wilkerson weeding the nopal garden at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

Johan Leyva and Noah Covarrubias mix dirt, water and hay to build a low adobe wall at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

Volunteers mix adobe to create a circular wall at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix on March 1, 2022. The structure is meant to connect space with Mother Earth. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

Blanca Abarca, a volunteer gardening instructor, cuts hay to make adobe at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

Mary McGillicuddy and Tamara Reed build a circular wall with adobe that other volunteers mix at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

After a long day, Blanca Abarca rounds up volunteers to congratulate everyone for their hard work at Opportunity Spaces in South Phoenix on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

Blanca Abarca blesses volunteers and the adobe structure they built to celebrate their ancestors and Mother Earth at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — As the sun reaches its zenith on a Saturday morning in March, several south Phoenix residents use their feet to mix mud, water and hay to create adobe. Nearby, others use their hands to shape a small circular adobe wall, meant to connect their work to Mother Earth. They then burn incense to cleanse and energize themselves before returning to their gardening chores.

Blanca Abarca is a health promoter with the nonprofit Unlimited potential who grows his own food Opportunity Spaces, a 19-acre farm at 12th Avenue and Vineyard Road. She also shares her knowledge as a volunteer, teaching the value of natural resources and the importance of connecting with Mother Earth, something passed down to her from her indigenous and African ancestors.

“I am very proud of my roots, my traditions and my culture. It is learned from generation to generation. said Abarca. “This connection with the earth, nature and spirituality helps us to be better.”

Spaces of Opportunity – a partnership that includes Unlimited Potential, the Desert Botanical Garden and the Roosevelt Elementary School District – consists of small home gardens and a 10-acre incubator farm, as well as a farmers’ market. Its mission is to provide all South Phoenix families with access to healthy, affordable food, promote active living, and build strong connections to individual cultures.

In his work, Abarca works with people from very different backgrounds.

Volunteers clean up the nopal garden to help prickly pear bushes grow in South Phoenix Opportunity Spaces on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

“I work with people from Africa, Asia, Europe,” she said. “We work as a family.”

Spaces of Opportunity sits at the heart of a food desert, one of 43 across Phoenix. Food deserts are places where nutritious and affordable foods are not readily available. In Maricopa County, 13.7% of residents live in a state of food insecurity and 43% generally have only enough money to get by.

Rising inflation only makes things worse. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statisticsthe inflation rate in the Phoenix metro area was almost 11% in February, up 3 points from the previous February.

“There are families where sometimes mum and dad have to work…mum has one job and dad has two jobs. Sometimes they take turns,” Abarca said.

The city one Food Action Plan 2025published in January 2020, shows that only 17% of Phoenix residents report eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, which is the recommended number for adults.

Spaces of Opportunity offers people the opportunity to learn how to lead healthier lives.

“We are going back to our roots and learning to grow 100% organic crops, vegetables, and using them in the food we prepare every day,” said Abarca, whose plot includes a nopal garden with several types prickly pear. cactus native to the southwest and Mexico.

Alondra Morales first came to Spaces of Opportunity to learn more about soil composition during a workshop she heard about on Instagram, and she returned to learn more about Abarca.

“I want to learn more about land, gardening and environmental justice,” she said. “I don’t know gardening at all.”

María de los Angeles Flores Santos carries buckets of dirt to mix adobe at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Monserrat Apud de la Fuente/Cronkite News)

Not only did young adults attend the workshop, but families with children were also happy to help. Under Abarca’s watchful eye, children of all ages learned to respect Mother Earth as a living being.

“Besides desert plants,” Abarca said, “we grow different types of vegetables, like lettuce, Swiss chard, cauliflower and more. This is also the season when we grow beets, carrots, peppers, tomatoes and corn.

Guillermina Martínez often comes to Spaces of Opportunity, and her job as a volunteer is to weed out so crops can thrive.

“We pretty much forget how to grow crops, how to plant food, and how to grow crops, legumes, and fruit trees,” she said.

Abarca teaches that it is important to ask permission from Mother Earth before removing crops. If permission is requested and granted, give thanks, and the Earth will reimburse you when the crops are replanted.

This is the message she shared during the gardening workshop in March.

After thanking Mother Earth, the volunteers formed a circle as Abarca burned a bundle of sage, rosemary, basil and spearmint to close the ceremony. They believe this ritual would help purify them and increase their positive energy.

“Do you know what the best thing about Mother Earth is?” asked Abarca. “She doesn’t judge you or criticize you. If a vegetable doesn’t take, you replant it and practice.

Spaces of Opportunity gardeners grow food for their family and sell it at the Farmer’s Market every Saturday. Additionally, Abarca and his team donate food to the market and share it with Unlimited Potential’s office workers.

(Video by Andrea Villalobos/Cronkite News)