Land and community stewardship at Gila River Farms

By: Payton Moore, ASU Sustainable Food Systems graduate student. 

A week-long immersive tour around diverse Arizona agricultural areas brought my classmates and I to Gila River Farms in Sacaton and Casa Blanca, Arizona. Covering almost 11,000 acres, Gila River Farms provides for the Gila River Indian Community by offering a wide range of food products and employment opportunities.

Throughout our tour, the importance of communities was emphasized on various occasions. The land at Gila River Farms is owned by the Gila River Indian Community as tribal land or owned by individuals as allotted lands. As such, there is significant importance on being able to provide and take care of the elderly and youth within these communities. With an operation as large as this, seeing so much focus on the local community was incredible. They even provide bins just outside the farm headquarters for anyone who might need fresh produce for themselves, family members, or neighbors. Clearly, the farm retains a lot of respect and understanding for their environment and the importance of being able to provide for one another.

Gila River Farms provides multiple production sources throughout the farm, including olives, citrus, sweet corn, wheat, cotton, vegetables, hay, and alfalfa. Formerly beginning as a single crop operation with cotton, Gila River Farms decided to expand into other forms of production. A minor breakdown of acres associated with various crops are as such: 5285 acres are reserved for alfalfa, 2424 acres for cotton, 356 acres for olive trees, 297 for citrus trees, and 235 acres are set aside for Durum wheat. It is easy to see where this incredible farm began, as their logo consists of cotton and wheat.

Now to delve deeper into some of their signature products: citrus orchards! Amongst the citrus being grown on the farm are navels, grapefruit, ruby red grapefruit, tangelos, and lemons. We were able to travel to the orchards and get an up close and personal look at these large trees, even being allowed to pick some right off the tree. These orchards were recently restored by trimming, topping, and cleaning out fields to bring the rows of glorious citrus back to production. It is estimated that Gila River Farms has 153.9 acres of minneolas, 56.8 acres of lemons, 34.8 acres of navels, 27.5 acres of grapefruit, and 16.7 acres of ruby red grapefruit. While lemons are the main selling product, other fruits are donated to communities.

Olives were also a staple on our tour. In 2015, approximately 298,000 trees were planted on 355.9 acres. Their first harvest began in October 2019; their second harvest in October 2020; and their third harvest in September 2021. In 2021, the weather greatly affected yields. The farm was exposed to heavy rainfall and storms. At this point in the year, the trees were still in their sprout stage and into the flower bud stage before the fruit could develop. This caused a substantial loss of fruit growth, prompting the need for an early harvest.

Visiting Gila River Farms has opened my eyes to better understand the relationships between the environment and agriculture, and farms to the community. I appreciate all the time that was taken out of their busy schedules to help further our education, and we will take that knowledge with us throughout our future careers. Thank you to the Gila River Farms staff and the Gila River Indian Community.

The views expressed in the blog are solely that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gila River Indian Community or the Gila River Farms.


(n.d.). Gila River Farms Sales: Hay Propane and In-Season Lemons, Navels, Minneola's Grapefruits and Ruby Red Grapefruits Sacaton AZ. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from

This blog is part of a series from the December 2022 Arizona immersive component of the MS in Sustainable Food Systems Program. Students toured the state, meeting with farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, government staff, and non-profit leaders.