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March 3, 2020

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Brandee Kitzmiller. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Brandee works hard empowering children to make healthy eating choices as the garden educator for the nonprofit Island Grown Schools on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  

Situated about 30 minutes from downtown Phoenix, Arizona sits the 35-acre Blue Sky Organic Farm. As the ASU Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership cohort approaches the main farm house, we are welcomed by a handful of happy goats. We continue through a cluster of citrus trees and meet Sara Dolan.

Sara Dolan and David Vose have been farming since 1995 and their farm is 100% certified organic, meaning they meet strict regulations for the growing of all produce on their farm. Upon our arrival to the farm we were told repeatedly to walk only on the paths. If we had stepped into a field the whole area would not be allowed to be sold. Food safety is serious business.

Walking through the rows of beautiful greens, you can see the care and dedication that Blue Sky Organic farm gives to all of their produce. As we are walking and talking, multitasking is a skill all farmers must possess, tractors drive by and farm workers close up the farm for the evening.

Sara Dolan shows the ASU cohort around the farm.

Sara mentions that it has been difficult keeping farm hands and interns: “Nobody wants to work.” She says, “People will come to the farm and they don’t last a week.” She has had a help wanted ad listed for a few months with no takers, she then adds that if anybody in our group is looking for work, she’d be more than happy to have us at her farm. This is not a problem unique to her farm. Across the country the number of farmers and farm hands continues to drop. This is not an easy job.

As the December sun began to set, Sara shared with us a sad update regarding the status of the farm. Most of the land she leases is owned by a neighboring dairy farm. Sadly, this farm has just sold to a group of housing developers. In the upcoming years she will have to give up over half of her farm to be developed. This is a problem for many farms. As the population is growing, so is the need for housing. Unfortunately, many of these housing developments are happening on farmable land.

She then mentioned that we absolutely had to see her strawberry patch, proudly stating that many people had doubts about her ability to grow strawberries in Arizona. She leads us to the opposite side of the farm, past a few ditches holding precious water for the farm, and low-and-behold — there sits a beautiful strawberry patch. If we had only been at the farm a month or two sooner, all the plants would have been fruiting. We are quickly distracted by another pen of Sara’s goats.

Blue Sky Organic Farm is a great example of a locally run, small-scale, 100% organic farm. This farm faces many hardships that family farms across the country have seen: farm land being sold and lack of farm hands. Despite these hardships it is apparent that Sara loves her work, her vegetables and her beautiful farm.

On behalf of the entire ASU Food Policy and Sustainability Cohort, I would like to extend our sincere appreciation to Sara Dolan and the whole Blue Sky Organic Farm team for giving us the opportunity to visit and learn more about organic farming right here in the Valley!

Interested in learning more about the Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Program at ASU? Check out its program page!