Twenty-some-odd years ago, Frank Geminden and his wife moved to Camp Verde, Arizona, with a hankering to get into the farming business.

Though a desert state may seem an odd location for Geminden’s eight-plus-acre farming lot, the nearby Verde River is one of the of the last free-flowing rivers in the state, contributing to the fertile nature of the surrounding land. For this reason, organized agriculture has been a part of the landscape for generations, with many of the contemporary Verde Valley irrigation systems modeled after those used as early as the 1860s.

Hopeful that he, too, could harvest his land, Geminden began to farm. He started with vegetables and then moved to pecans. He currently has 170 pecan trees, which produced 5,000 pounds of nuts in 2017 alone.

Pecans

At first, Geminden adopted the irrigation systems that were in place before his time, which allowed him to utilize the water needed for his crops. In periods of low rainfall, however, Geminden and his fellow farmers would inadvertently leave sections of the river dry, though they used no more water than had been legally allotted to them.

Farmer Frank Geminden

Such water usage, while manageable for farming, was detrimental to people and native wildlife species downstream, who rely on a more substantial river flow.

That’s why The Nature Conservancy, whose mission is to protect the Earth’s natural resources and beauty, and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation stepped in, with Coca-Cola’s support, in 2012.

“The Verde River is the lifeblood of the community and it's central to water security in Arizona as a whole,” explains Kim Schonek, who manages Arizona’s Verde River project for The Nature Conservancy. “It supports communities along its banks, but also those downstream like Mesa, Tempe, Phoenix and others.”

Nature Conservancy

To promote irrigation efficiency and ultimately sustain that community lifeblood, The Nature Conservancy implemented technology to reduce water loss in the irrigation ditch. By piping the ditch, automating irrigation systems and working directly with local farmers on farm-based efficiency projects, these efforts have reduced water diversion by 40 to 50 pecent.

“Having Coca-Cola step up to fund these projects was catalytic in moving our work forward and being able to bring in additional private investment so we could try new things and be flexible, allowing us to expand our program over time," Schonek says.

Verde

Through its partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Coca-Cola has helped replenish more than 1.6 billion liters of water on the Verde annually, an amount of water far greater than what it uses in its Phoenix bottling plant.

“What these projects mean,” explains Schonek, “is more water flowing in the river all year while we're meeting the needs of the local user.”

Farmer Frank

It also means a more reliable and accessible water supply for farmers.

Geminden concludes, “When you realize how important water is here and downstream, we have to make sure we are allocated a certain percentage of it, and the most efficient use we can get out of it is much to our advantage.”

Farmer Frank Geminden