By Steve Ahmann

Greenlee Gardens – Clifton Site (Clifton’s unique community Garden) is currently undergoing the awkward “pre-teen” development stage.  Initially founded as Clifton schools garden in 2011, it is currently re-inventing itself as a significant aquaculture experiment.  Since moving to Town of Clifton property in 2014, the garden has accommodated up to 32 local residents at a time a place to produce their own food.  

Anyone can participate, so long as they agree to some basic rules such as using the space to garden and helping the community keep the garden maintained.  Each (approximately 20’ x 20’) garden is equipped with an adjustable drip irrigation system that is shared with a few neighboring gardens.  The systems are powered by the sun and designed to enable maximum production while reducing water use and weed growth.  To date, no gardener has been required to pay for water as the garden officers have been diligent and fortunate to secure grants to pay expenses.

Currently, members of the garden are working to begin raising fresh fish which in-turn will provide nutrient rich water to greatly increase vegetable productivity.  If you do not believe the tremendous increase in size and vigor of vegetables, please take a moment to search “aquaculture” to learn just how productive the process can become. 

Community garden president Ms  Ellie Somerville can be given the majority of the credit for successfully navigating the pathway to being awarded FMI’s community involvement fund grant process and  winning the grant to fund the system.  She was advised by fellow FMI employee Mr. Tim Malony.  Tim already enjoys the fruits of his own personal aquaculture system out of his company garage.  Community garden co-founder Steve Ahmann also contributed his energy to the project having introduced his Morenci High School students to the process back in 2002 – 2005.  Tilapia were raised then, just as they are the target fish for this effort.  Ahmann’s students watched tomatoes grow horizontally the full length of the school’s greenhouse.

In order to supply future Morenci aquaculturists accurate data for their home systems, ten different parameters will be monitored and tracked at the community garden.  These include: dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, turbidity, conductivity, nitrate, ammonia, hardness and calcium.  They will be tabulated by scientific sensors on loan from Morenci High School.  The equipment was originally purchased through another FMI awarded grant through Greenlee County’s Superintendent of Schools office, and has been used for years by the county’s educators to provide reliable, accurate results in performing science laboratory experiments.

In addition to a 13’ x 5’ x 4’ tall 1750 gallon water tank that must be totally buried to ground level, a dozen IBC totes, clay pelleted grow media, solar panels, storage batteries, sump pump, 10 vertical grow towers and a plethora of irrigation parts, the system must be correctly assembled to work.  Putting it all together is a welcome relief after months of careful shopping to procure the building materials.  Most importantly, the endeavor promises to take gardening at both the community garden, and the interested Greenlee County resident, to the pinnacle of gardening possibilities.  

Just one more way that industry, non-profit organizations, interested, involved citizens, and local government all work together to better the lives (and diets) of local citizens.