The turf of Rio Salado Golf Course in Tempe will be hacked up not by irons but spades after Ken Singh of Singh Organic Soils, LLC, and Singh Farms in Scottsdale reinvigorates the landscape.
In May, the Tempe City Council authorized Mayor Mark Mitchell to sign a lease agreement with Singh to transform Rio Salado into a sustainable urban farm and community space. The lease is valid for 10 years and includes the potential for renewal.
Arizona State University’s Engineering Projects in Community Service program (EPICS) will partner with Singh to transform the space.
“It was very exciting to city leadership, ASU and other partners to look at something that’s very different and unique. It maintains that space as open space, but is something that we don’t have in the community already in Tempe,” said Amanda Nelson, Tempe spokeswoman for community development.
Kemper Sports Management formerly operated the golf course, which was one of three municipal courses in the Tempe area. However, the company announced in 2012 it would not renew the lease, prompting the city of Tempe to seek a new operator for the 63-acre property located in the Indian Bend Wash outlet near Miller Road.
Nelson said other plans for the property consisted of traditional golf course concepts, but Singh’s stood out for its uniqueness.
The urban farm will operate a farmer’s market and function as a 100 percent natural garden operating without the use of chemicals, herbicides, or pesticides according to the lease agreement.
Singh said he intends to include orchards, gardens, walkways and some recreational aspects, such as tree houses and sandboxes in place of the sand traps. He also said he spoke with local golfers to potentially develop a golf theme.
“You can come here, take your shoes off, run through the field, look at the lake, do a somersault. I don’t know, simplicity!” Singh said, “Basically we want to have a community gathering place if such a thing can be created.”
Work to renew the soil and replenish the property has started, Singh said, and he hopes to design the gardens next month with a goal of opening the farm’s first phase at the end of this year or the beginning of 2015.
“Further down the road, we’re looking at a number of things that could be included such as campsites for families and bikes for people to ride around the property,” Nelson said.
Working with the community to grow food and encouraging others to grow their own food is one of Singh’s missions, and he said the creation of an urban farm is an opportunity to show the community how nature works and how food can be cultivated.
Singh Farms, located at 8900 E. Thomas Road, has a weekly farmer’s market featuring produce grown on-site, which draws large crowds on most Saturdays and causes some parking problems, Singh said.
“The existing farm is kind of outgrowing itself.” Singh said. “This was a natural extension and the opportunity came up; the city wanted to know if I had an interest in doing something here besides a golf course.”
Singh Farms in Scottsdale takes a natural, organic approach to crop growth and produces its own compost under his direction. The nutrient-rich soil enhancer transformed the dry landscape that existed before the compost was added to the soil, creating a garden Nelson called a “little oasis.”
“Seeing what he and his company have done there, it really helps to visualize how this golf course can really transform into something completely different,” she said.
“I just want to be able to show nature,” Singh said, “how beautiful it is, what it does for us and basically you know that we should be looking a little closer and protecting mother earth. The more we clean the earth, water, the air, I think the better we live.”
• Sam Gauvain is a junior at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is an intern with the Tribune this semester. Reach her at email@example.com.