By Nicole Underwood / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(CASA GRANDE, AZ) - Looking across the vast desert landscape in Arizona, it’s interesting to consider how important farming is to our state’s history. Being the 5th largest state in the country, we are currently home to nearly 20,000 farms across our state, according to the Arizona Department of Agriculture, with each farm having an average size of approximately 1,600 acres.
Of these large farms, many are active — like fifth generation Caywood Farms in Casa Grande — and are doing their best to supply local citizens and commercial businesses with organic food. They are also responsible for producing and exporting agriculture to over 70 countries, generating a $23.3 billion industry and creating approximately 138,000 jobs in Arizona alone.
It’s important to note that while agriculture has played a major role in our state’s history and economy, Arizona farming began over 4,000 years ago by the Hohokam peoples indigenous to this land, who predominantly grew corn, beans, squash, and cotton, and notoriously created a state-of-the-art canal and irrigation system that is still used to this day.
According to the National Park Service, the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People who lived near Casa Grande Ruins, irrigated as many as 19,000 acres of crops, with the earliest canals built some 3,500 years ago. Currently, 18,475 indigenous farmers and ranchers are in operation in Arizona, producing food on over 20 million acres of land. Today, farms like Caywood Farms still contribute to some of the largest cotton-producing areas in the U.S.
However, major drought problems have created serious challenges for the majority of local farm owners. With irrigation, many crops can be grown year round in the southern part of the state. But, moving water is crucial for these farms to survive. And while we have efficient irrigation systems, the supply is scarce. The Colorado River is a vital resource for not only Arizonans, but for millions of Americans.
With endless drought concerts, the water cutbacks have hurt farms like Caywood and countless others. In a recent interview, Nancy shared that as of April 1 this year, water was not available for crops like alfalfa and cotton, which are water-intensive crops. Their farm is connected to the San Carlos reservoir approximately 130 miles away. It’s now hit zero-acre feet for water.
While Caywood Farms offers tours of their grounds to allow curious visitors an opportunity to explore the cotton fields and learn what it takes to grow them, the dry land currently doesn’t have much to offer the public other than its history, until more water becomes available.
Their history goes a little like this: Purchased in 1930 by Nancy’s grandfather, Caywood Farms has been an Arizona staple for generations. The 230-acre acres is a family affair, with children and grandchildren of the founding owners of the farm participating in Caywood Farms’ success.
Nancy, who serves as a co-owner and pseudo spokesperson for the farm (as well as an agriculture advocate), holds a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Education from the University of Arizona, after previously teaching 1st and 2nd graders about agriculture during her teaching days.
“It is my goal in life to make people aware of the importance of natural and renewable natural resources including agriculture so they can be conserved, managed and available for future generations,” Nancy shares via LinkedIn. “I am also a fiddle player, guitar player and singer. and incorporate my music into agriculture programs to make them more exciting.”
As a unit, the family is focused on sustainability of their farm, to create the next generation of farmers. According to a recent interview by the Arizona Farm Bureau, the family is looking into the possibility of growing olives, which takes very little water to grow and five years to harvest once planted. Any crop options that require lower water consumption are up for consideration to keep the tradition alive.
Still, you can be part of the family’s success by supporting their farm. Their mission is to nurture an awareness of natural and renewable natural resources, including agriculture, so they can be conserved, managed and available for future generations. For instance, for the past 20 years, they have partnered with the University of California Desert Research and Extension Center and the Golden High School Senior Seminar Program to offer a history of farming, explore the farm, and inspire youth to be involved in agriculture.
Farmers like the Caywoods are vital to our local food needs in Arizona communities. You can also explore the bios of their eight family members who participate in the farm’s daily activities. Visit their website to learn more about their history and tour options when they are in season.