I started loving the Queen Creek area years before I actually lived here. I heard stories about the wonderful times people would have when they would visit Schnepf Farms to pick organic peaches or visit the U Pick Garden, and the beauty of sweeping, desert vistas available only from trails in San Tan Mountain Regional Park.
Fast forward several years: As my family grew, so did my love for painting and gardening. There is nothing like Arizona sunlight when you are oil painting — something about it just makes the paints a little more vibrant, the canvas a little more crisp.
But the soil in Arizona, well, that was another matter altogether. At first, my gardening efforts resulted in the most pitiful, sorry looking plants. But I didn’t give up. I learned about the soil, and watering and the growing seasons. I tried again and again, and soon something magical began to happen. I began to see results. Soon we had 50-pound pumpkins, 13-feet sunflowers, and sweet, juicy watermelons. The only problem was my house was too small for my family and my backyard was too small for my garden.
Where could we find a place a to live that would allow us to raise a family, get out of the city, be close enough to work yet have enough space to allow us to grow a little of our own food? Where could we find small town values, safely raise our kids, and try to instill in them a little bit of old fashioned thinking? The answer was in my heart and on the tip of my tongue: Queen Creek.
Thanks to the housing boom, we were able to purchase our first house with an extra large backyard. Back then there weren’t any stop lights. Buzzards were more common on the roadways than other cars and San Tan Valley didn’t exist. The population of Queen Creek was about 4,000 and there was only one high school. The Pork Shop soon became our favorite shopping place. Not only for the outrageously great pork, but because Greg and Jason treated us like family.
With our move from the city came new situations. Like floods of fuzzy caterpillars crawling across the roads while we were in the car and our kids screaming “NO! NO! NO! Stop or you will SQUISH them!” Loose horses running through the neighborhood. Fluffy white cotton floating through the air. Roping arenas and lots of horses, cows on the side of the road, a “scary forest” of pecan trees, farmers harvesting crops. Monsoons and dust storms blowing in fast, followed by flash floods and torrents of rain that turned Queen Creek wash into a raging, uncontrollable river. And afterward, smelling gentle desert breezes of mesquite and palo verde and feasting our eyes as the desert turned vibrant green while masses of orange, yellow, and pink wildflowers marched up the San Tan Mountains.
We took our time with our backyard. Instead of having it landscaped by a company, we put it together piece by piece, our kids working by our side. First came a little patches of grass and a swing set, then we marked out our vegetable garden and flower beds, next came a split rail fence, retaining wall and fruit trees, and last but not least, our sheds and chicken coop. And, yes, we were on a first-name basis with Russ at True Value the first week we moved in.
Nowadays, our little urban farm yard is complete with plenty of room to plant a variety of things in the garden. We have planted and raised corn, tomatoes, cantaloupe, squash, okra, watermelon, apples, peaches, figs, oranges, radish, turnip, cucumber, broccoli, spinach, a variety of lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, beets, eggplant, chickens, eggs and turkeys. We have worked together as a family and have weeded, picked, fried, canned, baked, roasted, steamed, simmered, stewed, grilled, cleaned and plucked just about everything we have raised. Our kids know and understand where good food comes from.
As our children grew and flourished here, we tried to teach them about the history, the landmarks, and the cultures of those who came before us and to instill in them a sense of pride for our town, state, country. We taught them landmarks and visited important sites like Desert Wells Stage Stop, San Tan Historical Museum, Casa Grande Ruins, Superstition Mountain, Florence, Tucson, Mexico. We cried, said goodbye and watched our 18-year-old son leave to fight in a war; 364 nights of heartache and lost sleep I never want to repeat.
And what of the people in this area? Friends and neighbors, who watch out for your kids and your animals, friends who stay up all night and knit you blankets, help you change a flat, talk to you over the fence, call and email to ask how you are doing, send business your way when things are slow and people who drive 15 miles to bring you a Blue Star to hang in your window, just because they “were in the neighborhood.” These are the types of people who live here.
Over the years this area has seen many changes. It is truly a unique place with special circumstances and outstanding people. The housing boom brought many new faces, within the town as well as across the Pinal County line. We have a hospital, an equestrian center, restaurants that serve locally grown food, organic farms, shopping centers, art galleries, a museum, excelling schools and community colleges that are growing. Regional parks, historical sites, protected open space and trails, special events, world class golf courses and resorts and fun places to eat and relax.
And now, two vibrant young communities, Queen Creek and San Tan Valley, are learning to co-exist and work together to bring in new businesses, jobs and talented people.
Good things are happening in this area and it’s just the beginning. The economy has improved a little, people are coming together, putting differences aside and building positive community.
Like my garden, opportunity is blooming here.