Naco Wellness Initiative

Diocese of Arizona
January 9, 2015

For Tom Carlson, gardening is not something one generally does alone. Though a single person could go through the arduous task of planning, planting, tending, and harvesting fruits and vegetables, for him, the work is all about the community. His ministry, Naco Wellness Initiative, is dedicated to establishing community gardens in order to provide a sustainable and reliable food stream for marginalized local populations, and in so doing, produce measurable and sustainable improvements for their health and development.

The program, which began in 2010 with a single garden at Naco Sonora, was intended mainly to help in diabetes prevention. As people took notice of the Initiative’s progress with improved bloodwork, a series of trends emerged. Among those active with the ministry, elderly residents experienced higher nutritional intake and greater interest in remaining productive, children displayed improved development, alertness and performance in school, and the general population testified to the importance of self-reliance and the empowerment they felt from growing and sharing food. Sensing these positive trends and a growing demand, the Initiative expanded—within five years, they have planted 27 individual gardens.

As the director of the Naco Wellness Initiative, Mr. Carlson believes that “each garden is a shared experience—within the individual families, between neighbors, with the folks who organize and mentor gardeners, with the larger community.” Much more than a simple plot, the gardens are a place where young and old are drawn together to learn about soil preparation, tools, maintenance, water conservation, mulching, harvesting, organic composting, seed collection, cooking, and preparation. Students become mentors to a new class, and the cycle of learning continues.

Tom Carlson, in describing this ministry, mentions that, along with every garden, there is more to be joyful about—“there are stories to be told and listened to—not just about crop and weather conditions, and harvests, but also about many events that go in families’ lives. It’s the joy that comes from conversations over a hoe or shovel, sitting on a stump under a peach tree, spending time at the kitchen table over some refreshing lemonade or fresh watermelon water. Or, when very lucky, enjoying some fresh, warm tortillas with homemade salsa, or fresh pan with preserves made from the guayaba tree outside the back door.” Naco Wellness Initiative strives to make these gardens and stories come alive across their region, proving that as much as it’s all about gardening, it can often be about so much more.

Naco Wellness Initiative is a 2014 Jubilee Impact Grant recipient.