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Monday, May 16, 2022

Verde Grown Campaign Celebrates Agricultural Roots of the Verde Valley

The Verde Valley has been rich in agricultural history for thousands of years.

The earliest farmers were the Hohokam people, the same culture that once thrived in Phoenix’s Salt River Valley. The Hohokam developed extensive networks of irrigation canals that transformed the bottomlands of both valleys into rich agricultural areas. These canals serve as a powerful reminder of the Hohokam and their relationship to the land.

The Sinagua people entered the region around A.D. 800 and continued to use irrigation canals, but they also mastered the art of dry-farming beans, maize, squash and other crops. They flourished along the Verde and its tributaries and are responsible for the construction of Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle, landmarks that still grace the Verde Valley today. 

The collapse of the Sinagua culture around A.D. 1400 opened the region up for new settlers. The Yavapai and then the Apache peoples arrived. Hunter-gatherers for the most part, the two cultures nevertheless continued a tradition of using the river’s vast floodplain to plant corn and other crops.

In February 1865, a group of non-native farmers from the mining camps near Prescott arrived at the confluence of West Clear Creek and the Verde River. These farmers followed in the tradition of the Verde Valley’s earliest agriculturalists — they dug irrigation canals and began applying water to bottomland. By the turn of the 20th century, settlers maintained 68 irrigation canals tapping into the Verde River and its tributaries — Beaver Creek, West Clear Creek, Oak Creek and Sycamore Creek — that watered nearly 8,000 acres of pasture, fields and orchards.

Today, that agricultural legacy remains, although much of the water that formerly irrigated farms now waters turf and trees in the lush neighborhoods that wind through Camp Verde’s green belt. The 40 remaining irrigation ditches still water around 6,000 acres of greenspace, including production orchards, farms and gardens. The Valley’s famous sweet corn and luscious tomatoes are known statewide, and its farmers market and numerous roadside stands bring visitors to town all summer long.

Verde Grown is the brand that Verde Valley farmers, ranchers, food producers and food advocates have chosen to tell their 2000-year-old story of resilience. Verde Grown represents and celebrates food producers from the hardworking communities in the Verde Valley that remain connected to their roots in agriculture and stewardship of the land and river. Proudly, they continue to nurture the fruits, vegetables, cattle, pecans, wine, beer, wool and other crops that have been cultivated in the heart of Arizona for generations.

Verde Grown producers strengthen the resiliency and economic vitality of the Verde Valley and those who continue to thrive off the land and the river that has sustained the region for thousands of years. Growers and producers have partnered with Local First Arizona to launch its brand with an intent to link food connoisseurs to farmers, ranchers, food producers and restaurants in the Verde Valley, which includes the cities and towns of Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Cornville and other nearby communities. 

“Creating the Verde Grown brand has been a dream for the last eight years and is intended to accomplish very important things. First, bring awareness of the wide variety and high quality of agricultural products produced in the Verde Valley. The second is to bring awareness to consumers and producers alike of the value in protecting flows in our rivers and streams, the lifeblood of our rich agricultural history,” Steve Ayers, Town of Camp Verde Economic Development Director said.

“The Verde Valley’s rich natural ecosystem has made it into an agricultural hub for centuries and a wine and food destination today touted by locals and visitors alike,” says Samantha Zah, Local First Arizona Rural Food and Sustainability Manager. “Through Verde Grown, we want to ensure the local food community is supported year-round, increasing exposure to the regional marketplace, growing sustainably and building resilience for generations to come,” she added. 

The Verde Grown brand is the fulfillment of a year-long project enacted in cooperation between the Camp Verde, local growers and Local First Arizona to highlight the area’s agriculture, with the help of a grant of $35,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We are currently engaging all of the farmers markets and all of the vendors within each of the farmers markets,” Ayers said. He hopes to also extend the brand to some of the roadside stands in the area, and to eventually give over responsibility to the producers themselves.

Verde Grown producers include over 41 businesses, including Hauser & Hauser Farms, Clear Creek Vineyard & Winery, Fasteen Farms, Harmony Acres Ranch, Heart Wood Cellars, Southwest Wine Center, Tres Brisas Beef, My Girlfriend’s Garden, Verde Valley Farmers Market, Windmill Park Farmers Market, Salt Mine Wine, Wild Heart Farm, Yavapai College Horticulture Program, Main Street Cafe, The Hoppy Goat Farm and Willow Rose Farms to name a few.

Currently, the Verde Valley has several events throughout the year that center around agritourism, the recent Pecan & Wine Festival in March and the Corn Festival that is scheduled for July. 

Ayers says that by doing more events, people get to visit the area, learn about its agricultural history and eat great farm-fresh foods. “My hope is that in the next three to five years, it can grow into something more … maybe even establishing a local co-op for farmers.” 

To learn more about Verde Grown, visit www.goodfoodfinderaz.com/verdevalley


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