Northern Arizona University student Tori Wiley picks up a shovel before work begins on the community garden at Wines of the San Juan on Saturday, April 27,
Northern Arizona University student Tori Wiley picks up a shovel before work begins on the community garden at Wines of the San Juan on Saturday, April 27, 2013. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)
TURLEY — There's budding recreation opportunity for residents of Turley and surrounding areas with green thumbs.

A Blanco man is trying to start a community garden, and Wines of the San Juan provided a patch of farmland at the northeast corner of the vineyard for the project.

On Saturday, a group of Northern Arizona University students who are visiting San Juan County on a class trip prepared the land for planting season by clearing weeds and carving rows for crops.

Justin Benedict, of Blanco, is organizing the garden. He created flyers, a Facebook page and an email address to spread word about the garden. He plans to start going door-to-door in Turley, Navajo Dam and Blanco to raise interest.

He envisions an efficient local food source for the area. Garden members will each share responsibilities, pay for startup costs and help raise the crops. The gardeners will share the bounty at harvest time, he said.

"It's been a dream of mine to have a local agricultural system in this area that the community is doing on their own," Benedict said.

Benedict graduated from Northern Arizona University in May 2012, and the college students were in San Juan County to visit his family's farm. There are several successful community gardens on the university's campus, he said.

"Getting a garden going takes a lot of effort but once stuff starts growing and you start seeing the fruits of your labor and getting a relationship with the plants and the earth, it starts to take off and people get excited," he said. "Once you taste your first vegetable, you're hooked, and you don't want to stop."

But a lack of commitment from growers can be problems for community gardens. The American Community Garden Association warns on its website that bad gardeners can cause messes, which lead to angry neighbors and long-term problems for gardens.

Jack Arnold maintains the grounds and vineyard at Wines of the San Juan. He said the winery was willing to provide Benedict with space to start a garden.
Justin Benedict, community garden organizer, gives instructions to Northern Arizona University students before clean up for the community garden begins at
Justin Benedict, community garden organizer, gives instructions to Northern Arizona University students before clean up for the community garden begins at Wines of the San Juan on Saturday, April 27, 2013. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)
They allocated a 600 by 30 foot wide strip of land for a community garden.

"We're just trying to see what the interest is. But I don't want to do it if there isn't interest because then we'd have a huge weed patch that would be unmanageable," Arnold said.

The scenery surrounding the vineyard is spectacular. And the Arnold family is a good resource for beginning gardeners. The family has about 25 different type of grapes on the property, along with other crops, and the family and its employees are always reading the land and making adjustments to crops, Arnold said.

But it's an isolated area. There were fewer than 1,000 people who lived in the Blanco zip code in 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

"A lot of the people who do garden here have been doing it for generations," Arnold said. "It seems like (community gardens) are for in-town kind of people ... and we're kind of a long ways out of town. But we also have a very unique setting, so we'll see."

If there is an interest and surrounding people are willing to work for a garden, they can have the land, Arnold said.

"I know what it takes to garden, and I don't want people to have huge ideas and then there isn't enough involvement," he said.

Anyone interested in the garden can contact Benedict at turleywinegarden@gmail.com; 505-879-0879.

Ryan Boetel can be reached at
Northern Arizona University students prepare rows for potatoes at Wines of the San Juan on Saturday, April 27, 2013.
Northern Arizona University students prepare rows for potatoes at Wines of the San Juan on Saturday, April 27, 2013. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)