Backyard chickens
Steve Renzi/Special to The Explorer, Barred Rocks are an excellent egg-laying breed that does well in the Sonoran Desert.

The Marana Farm Co-op has a number of goals. The main objective is sustainable agriculture and healthy eating, but everything from saving money to education is also behind what the Co-op tries to do. 

Dan Arnold began the Co-op when he purchased about 26 acres of land on Postvale Road near I-10. His little farm grows a number of crops, is home to a wide variety of animals and also has the Co-op’s store. The store, which is open seven days a week, is housed in an old greenhouse and gives folks a chance to buy fresh produce, even if there is not a farmers market going on that day. 

On Saturdays the farm hosts a small farmers market, while some of the other 30 members of the Co-op take the goods to other farmers markets around Southern Arizona. 

“I used to go to farmers markets and see 10 other farmers from Marana,” explained Arnold. “That’s 10 tables and 10 rental fees. Now one person takes goods from a variety of farmers and we save money. Plus, it means more of us can stay on our farms. It is tough to be away from the farm for a whole day.”

There are about 30 members of the co-op, and while no one is forced to grow any specific crops, everyone knows what the other farmers are growing and it cuts down on duplication and offers customers a wider choice.

“The main objective is sustainable agriculture and healthy eating,” said Arnold. “We want to educate people about locally grown produce.”

Arnold is currenty growing a number of crops on his farm including cucumbers, carrots, kale, Chinese dates and taro root. The dates and taro root are popular in the local Asian communities.

The farm also has a number of animals. When you first enter the property you will see a number of sheep, mostly American black sheep, and a horse that happens to love kids. Another area has become a petting zoo of sorts where visitors can interact with goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys and even desert tortoises.

“So many families that come out have fun and learn something, and the kids have a blast in the petting zoo,” said Laura Lichtenwalner, one of the co-op members who was helping out at the farmers market, supporting her friend’s business the Alpine Goat Girl. 

In the petting zoo you are likely to find Arnold’s daughter Kimberly. She will often help the kids interact with the animals, as well as helping to care for them. 

Talking to Kimberly, who is quite fond of the rabbits, you are apt to find out rabbits can actually change sex, that the females can be quite territorial, and at times have to have their pens separated and that the term “breed like rabbits” is actually accurate. 

Go to the farm and you are bound to see people taking a tour, especially children. The farm’s goal of education stretches to the general public and Arnold especially likes educating young people about it. 

“It’s all about them, the kids, not the grown-ups,” admits Arnold. “We love having them out here and teaching them about farming.”

During the school year the farm hosts a number of field trips and Arnold loves teaching them about what goes on at a farm and every second Saturday the Farmers Market has ACME Activities come out to provide art projects for the kids. 

“We love people to come out to the farm and learn about farming and try some farm-fresh produce,” said Deborah Knickerbocker, who raises alpacas and sells hand-spun alpaca yarn at the farmers market and from her Busy Bobbin Alpaca Ranch. 

Knickerbocker loves the educational opportunities the farm and farmers market provide but also feel it is a great way to meet new people. “It’s mostly a social event.”

One way the public can learn about the fresh farm produce is Community Supported Agriculture, which allows people to buy shares in the co-op and receive fresh produce every week.

“It is a great way to learn about different food,” Arnold said. “We’ll suggest different ways to prepare the produce and people can get a little more comfortable with what they eat knowing when and where it was grown.”

Arnold not only works on the farm, but he and his family live on the farm, which is sort of the point of sustainable farming. 

“I love getting up and having something to do,” said Kimberly of the farm life. “Plus the food is a lot better.”

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