ELOY — There’s a small, gated lot that sits across the street from the Eloy Veterans Center. To a quick passerby the lot may go unnoticed but with a closer look, one will see that it is actually a small garden.

El Jardin de Unidad (the Garden of Unity) features a wide variety of different vegetables and fruit from strawberries, carrots, tomatoes to lettuce, jalapenos and squash.

Originally the project started in 2016 under the direction of the Veterans Center and Sonnette Cherry as a healing garden for veterans to have a safe place to be outdoors and enjoy nature.

A few years later the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension stepped in. With the help of Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program Coordinator Esmeralda Castillo and local volunteers, the garden has flourished.

“Part of our program is working with youth in the community,” Castillo said. “I have worked with the CHAT (Choose Health Action Teens) team here in Eloy for the last eight years. We partner up with the JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) program at Santa Cruz and every year we get volunteers for the program. Unfortunately, COVID affected a lot of what we do in the community, but we were able to continue with our True Leaders in Equity Program.”

Two members of the program are Lucas Rivas and Alejandra Quinonez.

Quinonez got involved with the garden because she wanted the opportunity to help her community become a better place and have healthier citizens by growing organic products.

“I have really enjoyed being part of this garden and learning along with my community how to change to a healthier lifestyle along with getting to expand my knowledge of gardening,” Quinonez said.

One of the struggles the group faced had to do with the irrigation system and making sure that it worked properly and once that problem was resolved the seeds began to sprout.

“I was glad that our garden was flourishing and that we would soon be able to share with our community the produce that we had worked on,” Quinonez said.

The group is usually out in the garden on Friday mornings and the plan is to continue changing out the crops.

The purpose of the garden is to help provide the Veterans Center with some freshly gown produce and eventually expand it to the whole community. Castillo hopes to hold nutrition education classes at the garden and possibly a cooking class.

Pinal County Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh was present for the grand opening of the garden on March 26 and stated that he’s enjoyed what he’s seen from small communities like Eloy.

“It’s not about programs and things, it’s more about love and the love that you have for your community to do this,” he said. “It’s people like you who will change the world.”

Castillo added that she’s proud of all the hours Rivas and Quinonez have volunteered.

“I am very proud to see this continue,” she said. “We want to build on that love whether it’s gardening or just being part of the community and what you can give back to the community.”

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Maria Vasquez is a reporter covering Eloy, Arizona City and sports. She can be reached at mvasquez@pinalcentral.com.