Courtyard Garden   Photo credit: Jewel Clearwater / ISDA

Courtyard Garden Photo credit: Jewel Clearwater / ISDA

So you are booking your arts workshop next year at a beautiful new international retreat center in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Did they really just ask if you want any particular vegetables grown for your gathering?

In Ajo, Arizona, the International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA) is converting a dilapidated historic elementary school into a retreat center for artists and desert lovers (known locally as desert rats). The hacienda style school building surrounds a large courtyard that used to be covered with cracked asphalt.

Unusual partnership

ISDA has formed an unusual partnership with the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture (Ajo CSA). ISDA is giving Ajo CSA the use of the land to create beautiful vegetable and flower gardens in the courtyard. In return, the retreat center has preferred customer status and the Ajo CSA will grow to order. Retreat center guests will also be invited to participate in garden activities.

While the Ajo CSA is working on the land, ISDA is converting the former elementary school into 21 spacious bed/bath units, multi-purpose rooms, a commercial kitchen and dining facility, all adjacent to a great clay studio and wood shop and just behind the Curley School live/work artist buildings where 30 artists are long-term residents.

Immediate local impact

For big construction projects in Ajo, contractors from Tucson or Phoenix bring their crews to town and the money they make leaves town along with the crew at the end of each week. Not so for this ArtPlace project. ISDA developed a 4,000 hour certified apprenticeship program in Building Maintenance and Repair. The retreat center is now an on-the-job training site for the apprentices. Doing the project this way may take a little longer. But it won’t cost more. Plus it has double benefits! Local women and men are gaining work skills. And the money is staying in Ajo.

Courtyard Garden   Photo credit: Jewel Clearwater / ISDA

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AUGUST 17, 2013

Sonoran Desert Retreat Center

Ajo, AZ