Tolleson community garden to bring generations together

by Jolanie Martinez

April 22, 2016

Although the Tolleson Senior Center is located right next door to Tolleson Union High School, community members of Tolleson have identified a generational gap between the seniors and younger generations.

Randy Babchuck, parks and recreations manager, believes the barrier comes from what he defines as “old school culture.”

“The senior citizens are not up to date with technology,” Babchuck said. “And some may disagree with how kids in the current generation are raised.”

Elena Ruiz, a senior of Tolleson, reminisces about her childhood in the town and compares it to the current generation.

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Sitting in the Tolleson Senior Center, Elena Ruiz shares what it was like growing up in the small city. (Photo by Jolanie Martinez)

“Now the kids don’t know how to enjoy themselves like we did,” Ruiz said. “We used to play with dirt and the mud everything. Now it’s about the computer, the games, the phones, they don’t want to do chores.”

Teens in Tolleson face challenges in poverty and education. According to U.S. Census data, 34 percent of the children under the age of 18 live in poverty. While 60.6 percent of the population graduate from high school or complete some college, only 8.3 percent of those who attend college obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Stephanie Flores, a student in Tolleson, admires the close-knit community, but she seeks more positive role models for the younger generation. She said she is worried about her younger brother being steered in the wrong direction once she graduates from high school.

“I want to stay a positive role model for my little brother because I know he has a bright future in front of him,” Flores said. “But I wouldn’t want him to mess it up because of one stupid decision because he never had a good positive role model.”

Flores said that not everyone in Tolleson has an older sibling to look up to, and she said teens need to set positive examples. Flores has taken initiative in encouraging her brother and his friends to be involved in community events around Tolleson.

Every year, the Tolleson Teen Council attends a state leadership conference that helps students explore new ways to improve the community. In an effort to build a bridge between the generations, the Teen Council proposed a community garden.

“We found an abandoned piece of lot that was filled with trash and other dangerous junk that was actually on Fillmore Street,” Gabriel Razo of the Tolleson Teen Council said. “With a piece of land in mind, we met with city officials to present an action plan to set a community garden in motion, and they couldn’t be any more proud of such an idea.”

Though Tolleson is a small town, residents have worked to adapt to its economic changes throughout the decades. Like other areas in the U.S., Tolleson was greatly affected by the Great Depression, but in the 1940s, its economy developed, relying on bountiful crops of produce.

With time comes change; many of the labor opportunities became scarce in recent years due to the advancement of technology. As construction of houses and buildings increased, Tolleson transitioned from a rich farming community to an industrialized business center. Most of the older Tolleson residents experienced these changes. Senior Ignacio Padilla moved to Tolleson when he was 14 years old.

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Ignacio Padilla talks at the Tolleson Senior Center about the decades he has spent living there. (Photo by Jolanie Martinez)

“I describe Tolleson as a very progressive little town and because I’ve seen it,” Padilla said. “I’ve been the mechanic, I’ve been the custodian, the security guard, so it’s full of opportunities.”

Others are having a difficult time accepting the changes in the small town.

“All of a sudden they started growing and expanding with apartments and other houses,” Ruiz said. “It just went too much.”

Razo wants to take advantage of the time younger people have with the seniors and learn more about the history of Tolleson.

“I know the seniors are responsible for creating Tolleson,” Razo said. “So I would love to learn from them.”

The maintenance of the garden allows seniors to educate students about farming and share their personal experiences within the small, close-knit community. Padilla believes the garden will give students the opportunity to learn about the labor process outside of the classrooms. He has already volunteered to participate in the project.

“I volunteer there to be at the garden to give some directions to a small group of students,” he said.

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Watermelon and a variety of other fruits and vegetables have been planted in the Tolleson community garden at 94th. Ave. and W. Fillmore St.

From the foundation of the garden to the time of harvesting, Anthony Pina, youth coordinator of Tolleson, said the teenagers did most of the heavy lifting.

“They actually laid block, they dug all the footings, they tilled all the soil, plant the seeds,” Pina said. “But when it’s time to harvest they’re going to take the seniors out there and they’re actually going to work side by side.”

The garden gives seniors the opportunity to educate the students, and the students will have the chance to prove that their generation isn’t what the stereotypes describe them to be. Pina hopes that, with the generations working side by side in the community garden, they will be able to learn from each other.

“So our teenagers get to learn in wisdom and our seniors get to see that – hey – not all teenagers are goofy kids with no drive or ambition,” he said.


jolanieheadshotJolanie is a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication with a minor in criminal justice. Her main focus is to become a multimedia journalist, and she is currently interning at Arizona Capitol Television.

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