How a 2-cent Sales Tax on Food Germinates an Employee Garden

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau

Did you know that last year’s 2-cent Phoenix sales tax on food purchased from grocery stores inspired an employee garden at Desert Tree Farms? Passed by Phoenix City Council, the five-year sales tax was promoted as a way to stop staffing cuts in the police and fire departments.

Dedicated to managing successful business enterprises, John Augustine considers his employees key to his success.

But did anyone remind them that often the ones hurt more by these kinds of taxes are low and middle-income families with budgets stretched too thin already?

Well, one of Arizona Farm Bureau’s agriculture members decided to do something about it after he heard the Phoenix City Council has passed the food sales tax.

John Augustine, owner of Desert Tree Farms and also an Iowa farmer started an employee garden. “It just made me mad that they would arbitrarily pass this kind of tax and not consider the hardship it could impose on families,” he says.

In production agriculture all his life, and in the plant nursery business for about 40 years, Augustine knows about hard times. “I’ve now lived through six recessions, and each time I learn a little more.”

Though the garden is only a year old, it’s a big hit with employees and excess produce is sold to a local, direct market farmer.

On land he leases to a cotton farmer, Augustine takes about six of the rows at the end of the field and plants seasonal vegetables. Right now he’s growing carrots, tomatoes, a variety of peppers, onions, squash and more.

The employees manage the garden and can work the field during their work time. Then, the employees can harvest whatever they want from the garden to add to their mix of food for their families.

In just its first year, the garden has become so successful that the excess is sold in bulk to a local, direct market farmer who then sells it at farmers’ market around the valley.

The carrots are sweet, the onions tasty and there is always an air of anticipation as the next vegetable is ready for harvest. “It’s amazing how many vegetables you can get from a year-around garden,” says Augustine.

Augustine’s business knowledge is reflected even in the way he’s done the garden. “Do something that interests you and it will teach you,” Augustine says in a YouTube video to Junior Achievement. “Push yourself. Enterprising means taking a chance. Failure is not fatal. It’s always a lesson learned.”


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