LITCHFIELD PARK, AZ — As more houses are built across the Valley, farmland is disappearing, and a local farm is just days away from losing its land. But luckily, someone has stepped in to help.
In December, ABC15 reported on how Blue Sky Organic Farms in Litchfield Park was losing the land they lease because the owner was selling it to developers.
After months of searching for new land, Justice Brothers Ranch stepped in and offered them 40 acres to lease.
"It was unexpected that it could not only be what I needed but a little more," said Blue Sky Organic Farms Owner David Vose. “The dream that I’ve been holding and wanting to bring into fruition, I saw a possibility that there was a start."
Selwin Justice, with Justice Brothers Ranch, says he regularly sells produce to Blue Sky Organic Farms. He says they always wanted to help, but at the time, their water infrastructure system was having some problems. He says things are sorted out now, and it's perfect timing for Blue Sky to move in.
“It’s also nice to have an impact on preserving what little farm presence we have left in Maricopa County and the West Valley specifically," said Justice.
However, there is still work to be done. Blue Sky is now raising money so they can build an irrigation system on the new land and prepare for the upcoming planting season.
Why is farmland disappearing?
The USDA data shows that in the past 50 years, there's been a steady decline of farmland from 1.5 million acres in the 1970s to just under 500,000 acres today.
Developers are buying up this land to build more homes. But farmers like Vose and Justice fear fewer local farms could drive up prices and make it more difficult for residents to access fresh food. At the start of the pandemic, for example, many relied on locally grown food when grocery store shelves were empty.
Mark Stapp, a real estate expert at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business says developing this land is necessary to keep up with Phoenix's growing population.
“Are we developing too fast? No, we’re actually not developing fast enough," said Stapp. "If we were developing a little bit faster I think it would take the pressure off of pricing."
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows from July of 2019 to July of 2020, Arizona gained about 130,000 more residents.
Stapp says to keep up with that demand, there would need to be at least 30,000 new homes built every year.
He says while there are large pieces of land throughout the Valley that are not farmland, in many cases, developers cannot build there because it is state trust land and not publicly available.
“If you’ve got that amount of land that’s not readily available you’ve got to go find it somewhere else," Stapp said. "So, fee simple owned land that’s now being farmed in growth communities is highly attractive.”