Beginning at 2 p.m. and going to sundown, MHW will host an Open House for the community to attend and join in celebrating the park and garden.
There will be healthy food, music, and dancing and a chance for the community to learn about the future of the park.
In issuing the invitation to the event, Gustavo McGrew, senior director of wellness for MHW, said that the park/garden “is for our friends and neighbors in the community and, most importantly, our service recipients.”
He explained that the initial steps to embark on this significant undertaking for MHW began in late spring, 2010, with youth service recipients building a 4’x 8’ raised garden with a donation from Frontier Ace Hardware in Apache Junction. This initial gardening experience also seeded a greater vision by Rob Evans, CEO of MHW, to build a park with numerous wellness features to surround and support a community garden, said McGrew.
Two years ago, in October of 2010, MHW approached various community members as to their interest in becoming part of a Community Garden Technical Assistance Partnership (TAP) sponsored by St. Luke’s Health Initiatives (SLHI). SLHI is a leading proponent of community gardens in Arizona.
The Community Gardening TAP process assisted MHW in developing the vision and plan for the Earthheart Park and Community Garden. The MHW Team, comprised of several community leaders from AJ, assisted the Executive Team of MHW to identify the scope of the project. They also developed the EHP Community Garden Guidelines and Bylaws.
Last year, MHW received $32,000 from Cenpatico, the Regional Behavioral Health Authority for Pinal County, to begin developing the four-acre, wellness based, community garden and park area.
As of this time, MHW has raised over $100,000 through grants and private donations to cover the cost of installing the many unique health promotion features of EHP, according to McGrew.
McGrew said that plans for Earthheart Park and Garden include a 1/4 mile American Disability Act (ADA) compliant wellness walk, labyrinth and meditation pockets, community kitchen, performance stage and gathering areas, as well as 23 ADA compliant raised gardens beds and a citrus and fruit tree orchard.
The majority of the plants and trees used for xeriscaping the park will have a nutritional and/or medicinal use. There will be a strong focus on teaching through community gardening.
Research has shown that community gardening provides significant therapeutic value and is now seen as a solution to childhood obesity.
The EHP community garden will provide a location for adults and youth to learn about where real food comes from, how to enjoy fresh, healthy meals and engage in physical activity suitable for all ages and fitness levels.
The park and garden will provide a place to meet, socialize and share knowledge related to gardening and food production. It will be a place where local organizations, faithbased groups, service clubs and community members can grow fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers for personal use or as donations to the local food bank. Additional activities will include outdoor classes in nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices, Tai Chi, line dancing, yoga, massage, career exploration, community gardening and the arts.
McGrew said that MHW has been fortunate to partner with the City of AJ and Central Arizona College and the newly-expanded AJ Wellness Partnership to begin developing and sustaining a culture of wellness within the Apache Junction community.
“We are grateful to all who have encouraged, supported, developed, created, planted and helped us with financial assistance to create Earthheart Park and Garden,” emphasized McGrew.
By Betty Swanson