History, Irrigation

History of Community Garden Movement in America


Part 1: Hohokam Irrigation Canals

We will present in several blog postings an overview of the history of the community garden movement in America. For an introduction, we don’t need to look far to see evidence of some of the earliest and most advanced irrigated gardens in pre-Columbian America. The extensive irrigation canals that were built locally by the ancient Hohokam people in the Gila River and Salt River Valleys were engineering wonders, both for their design and size. Lush gardens grew on both sides of the Salt River where these canals brought precious water into the dry desert landscape.

The Hohokam (ancestors of today’s Tohono O’odham Nation) were skilled growers of corn, beans, squash and cotton.


The canal system they developed between 1100 and 1450 CE extended for more than 500 miles. It provided life-bringing water to 110,000 acres of land that provided a stable source of food for upwards of 80,000 people. It was the most complex canal system built by native people in North America. A typical main canal extended 12 miles from the Salt River. The longest canal measured 20 miles in length.

Remnants of two prehistoric canals can be found today in the Park of the Four Waters, adjacent to Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix. The canals measure 26 and 18 meters wide and 6 meters deep.  The larger canal was capable of irrigating 10,000 acres of nearby land. And just imagine, this incredible network of canals was created and maintained using only wood digging sticks and crude stone tools!


City Bountiful: a century of community gardening in America by Laura J. Lawson, University of California Press, 2005


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