Market-garden sprouts up on historic Riggs farm SanTan Sun News

Market-garden sprouts up on historic Riggs farm

January 7th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Market-garden sprouts up on historic Riggs farm
Business
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By COLLEEN SPARKS. Staff

Crowds eager to eat fruits and vegetables fresh from the ground are flocking to a farmers market where they are also getting a taste of history.

Cameron and Jeannine McChesney grow seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs and raise hens that lay eggs that they sell at their Greenhouse Gardens on East Chandler Heights Road every Saturday.

The couple runs their outdoor farmers market on four acres of land they bought last year between Gilbert and Cooper roads that was once owned by the well-known Riggs family. Visitors can still walk through the original barn, built in 1950, as well as see tools Lyle Riggs used and the family’s antique tractor.

“Everything’s grown on the property,” Jeannine said. “Everything’s chemical-free and pesticide-free. We’re just growing things the old-fashioned way. It’s clean food. We’re showing people how you can do it, too, in your backyard. Everybody can do it.”

Jeannine and Cameron, who also own a marketing/advertising/public relations company called Greenhouse Creative, grow the food themselves.

They say the produce is ideal for anyone with food allergies who is sensitive to fruit and vegetables treated with pesticides, as well as people with weakened immune systems. They say their produce will make people feel better and have more energy.

“We can take you out and show you where the beet was pulled out yesterday,” Cameron said.

The McChesneys’ market is open every Saturday except those in August.

The free-range, organic eggs come from 13 hens the couple owns on their property, as well as from numerous chickens that two neighbors own.

Kelly Penuela, who lives in the area, loves to buy produce at Greenhouse Gardens.

“I love the fact that they are an organically grown garden a half-mile away from me that has amazing produce,” Penuela said. “Not to mention they are friends of ours! That’s just a bonus, though. They have such knowledge and passion for what they do. It shows in what they grow and how they interact with their customers.”

Customer Deanna Reynolds also enjoys the food at the local farmers market.

“I love that Greenhouse Gardens is local and does not use harmful chemicals and pesticides to grow their produce,” she said. “My family can’t stand to eat grocery store lettuce anymore Greenhouse Gardens has completely spoiled us with their varieties of lettuce.

“We barely use salt or salad dressing anymore in our salads. Our 8-year-old son is partial to their carrots and enjoys being able to help Jeannine and Cameron pick them.”

Many other people praised the quality of the vegetables and other foods, as well as the friendly owners on the Greenhouse Gardens Facebook page.

“I just discovered this gem around the corner from home,” Susanna Orozco Rios posted on Facebook. “The owners Jeanine and Cameron gave me a very warm welcome. Beautiful vegetables and ambiance. I’ll be back!”

William Leroy Jenkins also expressed enthusiasm for Greenhouse Gardens.

“This place is great!” he posted on Facebook. “You can look around and see the veggies growing right there. Can’t get any fresher than that. I love it and we try to go every Saturday and stock up for the week.”

Cathy Ward wrote that she has “severe food allergies and chemical sensitivities” and she gets most of her produce at Greenhouse Gardens because their fruit and vegetables are not chemically processed.

“I don’t tolerate any grocery store produce, not even USDA-certified ‘organic,’” Ward said. “Jeannine and Cameron go out of their way to custom-pick my orders for me every week due to my severe allergies and sensitivities and are very caring, lovely people in addition to being highly talented farmers. Their tangerines and grapefruit are the only ones I’ve been able to tolerate for years because they’re truly grown the way nature intended.”

Ward’s experience is not new, said John Zortman, who owns John’s Amish Country, which sells produce in downtown Phoenix and in Goodyear. He sells apples, grapefruits, oranges and lemons that are “non-genetically modified.” Genetically modified foods have had their DNA changed in some way that does not naturally occur by mating and/or natural recombination.

“I think it’s very important to know where you’re getting your food from,” Zortman said. “The biggest problem we have right now is genetic modification, which affects your gut. You’re seeing a lot more Irritable Bowel Syndrome, gut problems. It just follows suit with the introduction of Roundup into the food system. Roundup is a weed killer.”

He said the opening of Greenhouse Gardens is “great.”

“It’s wonderful,” Zortman said. “It’s a good, positive trend that we need and not just in our local communities but in the whole general food supply.”

Beth McRae of Paradise Valley said she goes to “a lot of farmers markets” and loves “the sound of Greenhouse Gardens.”

“I love farmers markets because of their fresh produce, delicious food and artisan products,” McRae said.

Everything customers buy on Saturdays, when the market is open from 9 a.m. to noon, has been harvested either the day before that or two days prior to the sales. About 50 people typically come to the Saturday market, often grabbing much of the produce from a table within the first hour.

Usually about 15 different kinds of vegetables are sold at each market and about five or six different herbs and four to five different kinds of fruit.

Some of the herbs they grow are thyme, oregano, garlic and basil. On a recent Saturday, visitors could buy lettuce, rainbow chard, kale, Chinese cabbage, tangerines, scallions, sweet peppers, hot peppers, bell peppers, carrots and eggplant.

Shoppers can find unusual varieties of vegetables they might not find in grocery stores including ping tung, an Asian eggplant that resembles a purple cucumber.

Cameron said he and Jeannine try to keep their prices reasonable and comparable to what shoppers would find at Whole Foods stores.

A bag of eggplant costs $2, a bag of peppers costs $3, a head of lettuces costs $3 and a dozen, farm-fresh eggs cost $6.

Lettuce and carrots are among the most popular vegetables customers buy at Greenhouse Gardens. Detroit red beets are also a big hit.

“Everyone is really into a fresh-grown carrot,” Cameron said.

“Our lettuce is so tender and delicious and healthy,” Jeannine said. “It’s more effective in your body.”

Tangerines and red grapefruits are big sellers among the fruits.

Cameron and Jeannine also have sold some of their produce to local restaurants.

Jeannine said she loves the marketing world but also really enjoys growing food and selling it on the farm.

“I love design; I love advertising,” Jeannine said. “This was a new challenge. I love working outside. It’s really good for the mind, body and soul. I sleep better. I feel like I’m changing, making something happen. We have a lot of families coming in with young kids, retirees, people trying to have a more healthy diet.”

She and Cameron said they are longtime backyard gardeners. Cameron and Jeannine had started growing vegetables in their backyard garden and giving them to friends.

“The seed was being planted,” Jeannine said. “We swapped our full-time gig for our passion and hobby.”

The couple decided to pursue agriculture more seriously in 2014 and put a garden in their friend’s backyard, where they grew vegetables. They sold produce at a farmers market in Gilbert for about a year.

“We loved it and had great response,” Cameron said.

Jeannine and Cameron bought about two and a half acres on the old Riggs property in February of last year from the nephew of the late Willetta Riggs. Willetta and her husband, Lyle had bought the property in 1948 and raised their five children there. Later, their youngest daughter, Sherrill Sumrall, lived on another part of the property with her husband, Dan Sumrall, until they sold the rest of the family land to Jeannine and Cameron.

Sherrill, now 67, said her family kept chickens, cows, horses and equipment on the land where Greenhouse Gardens is located but farmed in other areas of Chandler. She said she loved growing up in the rural area with her grandparents and uncle and cousins nearby.

“We all grew up together there,” Sherrill said. “We would all meet and ride horses. Life was a lot simpler back then.”

Sherrill is happy Cameron and Jeannine are running Greenhouse Gardens on the site now.

“They’re very nice and they’ve been very nice,” she said. “They’ve let some of the family members come back and take pictures there by the shop. We had tried to do a garden; we were just too far ahead of ourselves at the time. I raised some really good tomatoes. People from Scottsdale and Carefree and Phoenix would drive out to pick tomatoes. We’ve tried a little bit of everything.

“I’m glad Cameron and them are able to do what they’re doing. It’s needed. People need to be able to go get fresh vegetables and stuff.”

Sherrill and Dan now live in Fort Thomas in Graham County, about 30 miles northwest of Safford.

Cameron said he and Jeannine are honored to be the first people who are not part of the Riggs family to live on the land.

He and his wife rent out the front of the old farmhouse to a family and use the rest of it for their business. Jeannine said the farmhouse was built in the 1930s. Cameron and Jeannine live in a house in the neighborhood.

Lyle Riggs was born in 1916 in Mesa and his father farmed at Jep Peterson’s land, which was a mile and a half south of Williams Field Road on Gilbert Road, according to an oral history from the Chandler Museum.

Willetta was born in 1917 on the John and Fanny Nelson farm at Gilbert Road and Chandler Heights Road, according to “Driving Chandler’s Streets, The History of Chandler’s Streets as told by CGCC Students” out of Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Lyle and Willetta met at Chandler High School.

Lyle’s family moved to different farms between Gilbert and Chandler and as a young man, Lyle worked for various farms, including harvesting hay for the Chandler Improvement Company, the CGCC report said.

Lyle Riggs created a seeder, a device for spreading seeds, on a frame of a Ford Model A vehicle, and the prototype is in the Chandler Museum, said Nate Meyers, Chandler Museum curator of collections.

“It was such a great little piece of innovation and ingenuity,” Meyers said. “They sold the idea to John Deere. The Riggs obviously contributed a lot to this community.”

He said Greenhouse Gardens “sounds like a really cool idea. It seems like a great reuse of that historic farmland,.

The Greenhouse Gardens farmers market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at 13103 East Chandler Heights Road. Information: facebook.com/GreenhouseGardensAZ.

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