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History of the Tucson Organic Gardeners:
as compiled by the Board of Directors

Surviving written documentation of the inception of the Tucson Organic Gardeners (TOG) could not be located.  Two versions of the founding exist; nevertheless, both versions concur that TOG was organized and functioning by the late 1960’s.  In those years, organic gardening was considered a fringe activity that was equated with hippies and outcasts.  The founding members of TOG appear to have been anything but outcasts; both versions indicate that the founders were upstanding, mainstream citizens who shared a love of gardening and zeal to inform others of the joys and benefits of gardening organically. 
In light of this, it appears that the original purpose of TOG was to establish a forum for organic gardeners to gather, share information on gardening in the Sonoran desert, and sell their produce.   In addition, TOG members desired to establish the credibility and promulgate the benefits of and information on organic gardening.  As best can be documented, the mission of TOG from 1970-1975 appears to have been providing the forum for members beginning at the Polish Club of Tucson, then to Amphi H.S., and, eventually, Porter Hall (now Tucson Botanical Gardens [TBG]).  Furthermore, potluck meals were begun as a means to facilitate camaraderie and interaction among the members and the sharing of members’ garden harvests.  Membership during this time appears to have been 20-30 families from 1970-1975, but no information on finances or outreach was available for this time period.

A dearth of written documentation of TOG’s first two decades has survived.  From available financial statements, meeting minutes, and officers’ notes, it was found that in 1975 TOG adopted a “new” constitution that provided for, among others, the offices of Librarian and Editor.  This indicates TOG placed an emphasis on establishing/maintaining a repository of information (e.g., books, periodicals, pamphlets, etc.) on organic gardening and disseminating such information.  A library/database was established during the late 1970’s and the first documented TOG newsletter published was in March 1977.  The first documented organic gardening course was offered by TOG in February 1976 and composting education was introduced, also.  During this time period, general membership meetings included guest lecturers who spoke on gardening-related topics, seed exchanges, and plant sales; potluck meals were continued, also.
  TOG established regular sources of income from membership dues, and the meetings’ and the Reid Park Annual Flower and Garden Shows’ plant sales.  In 1979, a change in the constitution was made whereby the officer positions of Librarian and Editor were removed and replaced with committees.  The reason for this change was not established, but it was surmised that the change was meant to streamline the Board of Directors so that the Board would function more as a governing and less as an administrative body.  TOG’s purpose from 1976-1980 is an extension of its original purpose whereby it wished to provide a forum for organic gardeners, organic gardening education, and to maintain an organic gardening database.  TOG’s mission was carried out through classes in organic gardening, designing a composting slide show, and participation in community events.  Membership at the end of this time period approached 40 families, financial statements indicated yearly expenses were about $500.00 with income of about $700.00.

In the 1980’s, TOG meetings were held exclusively at TBG and, thus, TOG began paying a monthly “rent” to TBG.  Monthly plant and yard sales were held by TOG at TBG, with the proceeds being split 50:50 between TOG and TBG (in 1982, this was re-negotiated so that the proceeds of the plant sales were split 70:30 between TOG and TBG); an additional source of income in 1981 was the “Tree Project.”  During the early 1980’s, TOG began to be a sponsor of a regional science and engineering fair; this sponsorship provides further evidence of TOG’s commitment to education.  TOG’s purpose continued to be the advancement of organic gardening and composting in the Sonoran desert while trying to maintain the financial viability of the organization; its mission was carried out through community outreach and education, and stabilizing its income foundation with additional funding projects.  Membership during the early to mid-1980’s fluctuated from 25 to 40 families, financial statements were generally unavailable for this time period but estimates are that yearly income and expenses averaged less than $1000.00.

In the mid-1980’s, TOG began to write its mission (actually, its purpose) in the monthly newsletter (i.e., The Composter).  The “mission” stated at this time was “ to promote interest in, and the knowledge and practice of, organic gardening.”   This purpose is a natural extension of TOG’s original, inferred purpose first proposed in the early 1970’s.  A regular pattern for TOG began to emerge during this time period, with invited speakers presenting talks at monthly meetings at TBG, regular pot luck/picnic meetings being held, an annual plant sale held to raise funds, field trips to members’ gardens, and sponsorship of the regional science and engineering fair.  However, this was also a “stressful time” for TOG as the organization underwent “major changes” including the resignation of the president at one point.  Members were not satisfied with the informal management of the organization, which was (apparently) evident to them when TOG was unable to keep its commitments to the community and to members. 

In 1988, TOG began a transformation of its character and finances, and began re-building itself.  A more responsive slate of officers was elected, a cable television gardening show was hosted by the TOG Vice President, a “communications center” was started so that members could exchange information on where to obtain organic produce, and a produce auction was initiated at the monthly membership meetings so that members could offer their extra produce for sale and provide TOG with additional income.  Furthermore, a generous bequeath from the estate of longtime TOG members Sid and Louise Boyson provided a solid financial foundation for TOG and its efforts to provide composting education.   By 1989, TOG began to envision itself as not only a club for members to exchange produce and gardening tips but as the community leader/educator in gardening, composting and sustainable resources. 

To fulfill its vision as community leader/educator, TOG desired to obtain extramural funding of community-based projects and establishing a composting demonstration site.  Towards this end, during 1989-1991 TOG applied to the Internal Revenue Service for non-profit status, developed the Home Education Program, started composting workshops at TBG, solicited donations for the demonstration site, and, through the effort of numerous member volunteers, built and maintained (through volunteer hours and the hiring of a site coordinator) the public demonstration site at TBG.  TOG’s mission included public composting workshops, outreach with a traveling information booth presented at public events, consulting with other organic gardening groups, and sponsorship of the regional science and engineering fair.  Membership during 1986-1991 grew to approximately 50 families, and financial statements available at the end of this time period indicate that TOG maintained a balance in excess of $2000.00.

In 1992, TOG was incorporated in the State of Arizona as a non-profit corporation; the importance of this to TOG was substantial (e.g., it would now allow TOG to apply for grants that were only available to non-profits, purchases could be made for TOG activities without having to pay sales tax).  Also during 1992, TOG received its first extramural grant funding; this funding ($17,560.00) was from the Arizona Dept. of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) for waste reduction education.  Included in this proposal were funds to complete the demonstration site at TBG, develop a composting video, and publish composting literature for distribution to the public. 

During this time period, the Composting Education Committee (CEPAC) was formed to oversee grant activities and provide leadership within TOG in the area of composting (as opposed to gardening).  Volunteers and paid personnel performed the grant-work and maintained the demonstration site; in 1993, a permanent site manager was hired.

During the early 1990’s, TOG continued to publish The Composter, hold monthly membership meetings and composting workshops at TBG, and continued its community outreach programs (e.g., information booth at local fairs/festivals, publishing a composting brochure in Spanish, and many informational papers were written for dissemination).  Also in the early 1990’s, TOG held the first “Beat The Heap” (BTH) composting education workshops and composting bin distribution (intended to assist the City of Tucson in helping establish a recycling program; unintentionally, TOG was able to earn income from the sales of the bins), Master Composter training was begun, and a WRiTE grant ($8,000.00) was awarded to TOG to develop composting educational classroom material.  A Heritage Foundation grant was also received. 
In addition to promoting interest in, and the knowledge and practice of, organic gardening, the purpose of TOG during this time period appears to have been the professional improvement of the organization, establishing TOG’s credibility as a diligent and successful grantee, and increasing fundraising.  To these ends, TOG’s mission was to start CEPAC and bring in other organizations (e.g., YouthWorks) to complement TOG’s members’ expertise, take part in government forums on waste reduction, approaching City of Tucson officials to inform them of TOG’s waste reduction education capabilities and about its composting activities, applying for additional grants, and establishing a composting telephone hotline, and continuing outreach.  Membership during 1991-1995 grew to approximately 150 families, and financial statements available at the end of this time period indicate that TOG maintained a balance in excess of $12,000.00.

During the later part of the 1990’s, TOG’s purpose was stated as, “to promote and encourage the use of Nature’s resources as a guide for gardening and sustainable living.” In addition, TOG’s unstated purpose included the promotion of composting, education of its members and the public in organic gardening and composting, continuing to establish a resource database, and to acquire land for a permanent site.  The mission of TOG was stated as, “We avoid the use of toxic materials in our relationship with Earth.  We promote interest in and the knowledge of organic gardening, including composting, through programs open to the public, workshops, public events and other means of communication.”   Other ways to fulfill the purpose of TOG were maintenance of the demonstration site, tours of members’ gardens, holding monthly membership meetings, and having regular potluck meals.

In the mid-1990’s, TOG began to apply for and receive regular contracts from the City of Tucson to distribute bins and conduct education workshops for “Beat The Heap;” from this, TOG began to receive a regular source of annual income.  Nevertheless, in order to recoup publishing and other cost outlays, membership dues during this time period were raised to $10.00/family.  Also during this time period, a Board retreat was held to generate new ideas for TOG and to define TOG’s future direction, TOG was offered a new site to develop another compost demonstration site (the site was not developed due to logistics), and TOG approached Pima County officials about land for organic gardening and composting education sites.
In the late 1990’s, TOG began to undertake a re-assessment of its current programs and its future as an organization.  This occurred because the Board felt new and fresh leadership was needed, and declining membership participation and volunteering in TOG activities was occurring.  Furthermore, income from BTH had been declining due to oversight technicalities; this resulted in projected financial difficulties for TOG if not resolved.   Membership during this period increased to over 180 families, and TOG maintained a balance of approximately $12,000.00.

In 2000 TOG developed a relationship with St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church and the Miramonte neighborhood to help with their neighborhood garden. This has given TOG new meeting and storage space along with a garden and another compost demonstration site to develop.

In 2001 TOG’s Board presented new by-laws that were voted on and approved by the membership. Updating the purpose:
To advocate and educate about the use and benefits of organic gardening, home composting and sustainable living; and the mission (see page 1). Membership fees were increased to $12/family which includes a subscription to The Composter, a membership sticker and the right to vote. $15 membership also includes a bumper sticker. For a $25 membership we add a limited edition canvas grocery tote. A $10 subscription to The Composter is available with no membership benefits. Also, BTH has been reorganized and is contracted with City of Tucson Solid Waste which has turned around the financial difficulties of the late 1990’s.

Because of the influence of TOG’s education program, more gardeners are in tune with the environment and are turning to sustainable agriculture.

 

   
 
Tucson Organic Gardeners is a 501(c)3 non-profit.