The goal of Valley Partnership 30th Community Project was to transform a long-vacant parking lot into the third urban garden location for The Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

On an overcast Saturday that produced brief periods of rainfall, 300 volunteers gathered in Downtown Phoenix for the 2017 Valley Partnership event to benefit the non-profit that is dedicated to “feeding, clothing, housing and healing” individuals in need.

“In the 1960s, the lyrics of a Joni Mitchell song were, ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot,’” said Steve Gervais, Director of Operations and Legal Affairs fort St. Vincent de Paul. “Today, we’re taking that parking lot and turning it back into a garden paradise.”

Planning for the 2017 community project commenced in March. In July, Valley Partnership announced at a surprise party that St. Vincent de Paul had been selected as the 30th Community Project recipient.

More than 20 contractors worked on-site to prepare the land for the event. This year’s community project was co-chaired by Kim Kleski, principal landscape architect at Kleski & Associates, and Todd Leslie, senior manager of land development at EPS Group. Kleski thanked the Community Project committee, “For the past six months, our volunteer professionals have been leveraging their networks to secure goods and services to make St. Vincent’s vision a reality.” More than 100 corporate sponsors helped raise more than $200,000 in cash and in-kind services toward the community project.

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Utilizing the site plan designed by Kaylynn Rewerts, project manager at Norris Design Group, volunteers took to planting flowers, vegetables and trees, painting murals and benches, and building other site amenities on the project day. “This project is unlike anything we’ve ever done, and will have one of the largest impacts we have ever achieved.”

Hundreds of volunteer hours went into building raised planter beds; laying pavers; building a chicken coop, an outdoor classroom, and a meditation area; and planting fruit-bearing trees.

In addition, state-of-the-art irrigation and shade awnings were installed to extend the growing season. Future plans call for hydroponic gardens in two Mobile Mini shipping containers that were donated.

“Valley Partnership is about giving back to the community, working with city partners and networking,” said Cheryl Lombard, president and CEO of Valley Partnership. “We look for charities that relate to what is happening in our community, and this year St. Vincent de Paul was the ideal candidate.”

The scale of this project and its connection to helping individuals find permanent employment and housing made this project an ideal fit for the association dedicated to responsible development. Dena Jones, Community Project board liaison and director of Strategic Partnerships for Fidelity National Title Agency explained, “St. Vincent’s clients can participate in a farming and cultivation apprenticeship program that can lead to employment with a local farm and housing opportunities. For Valley Partnership to help be the catalyst for this program on the Human Services Campus serves our long-term goals for creating a healthier, more secure future for all.”

“There are many cities, Detroit for example, that model how to turn unused or blighted areas into productive food centers, especially in food deserts,” said Ryan Corry, Director of Development at St. Vincent de Paul. “This (urban farm) is the start of everything for populations that don’t have access to healthy food. If we can get what’s on their plates correct, we can help solve a lot of costly health problems.”

According to Corry, the gardens help St. Vincent’s to produce and serve millions of meals for hungry families and individuals annually.

“A central aspect of our work is delivering food boxes to those in need, which traditionally include non-perishable items,” Corry said. “This farm will provide fresh food to improve what’s going into those boxes.”

Nika Forte, Urban Farm Manager, has been leading St. Vincent de Paul’s urban farm efforts for three years.

“We’re not just growing food – we’re incorporating gardening into the healing process for so many individuals,” Forte said. “This sustainable and welcoming site will help us engage more people, and educate clients on the importance of eating healthy food, taking care of an environment and serving others.”

Dignitaries speaking at the event included Kate Gallego, City of Phoenix Councilwoman for District 8; Michael Nowakowski, City of Phoenix Councilman for District 7 where the St. Vincent de Paul Urban Garden is located; and Daniel Valenzuela, City of Phoenix Councilman for District 5.

“This project is the essence of what composes the real estate industry – great people coming together to make long-lasting, transformative changes that better the lives of the community we serve,” said Brett Hopper, Valley Partnership’s Board Chair and senior director of real estate development at The Opus Group.

One of Valley Partnership’s cornerstones is community service. Each year, it selects a non-profit organization that can benefit from the skills, efforts and supplies provided by its partners to renovate and enhance facilities for children and those in need. Valley Partnership has now contributed more than $4.5 million to the community through these projects.