Annual date sale celebrates commitment to fresh produce and sustainability

ASU has the largest date palm collection of any public garden in the country

While many ASU students may not have ever eaten a date, they might be walking by — or on — them on campus every day. The iconic Palm Walk is newly lined with date palms that contribute to the University’s production, harvest and sale of fresh dates.

ASU’s annual date markets opened in late September this year and have been selling the produce at the Polytechnic campus since the date palm grove was moved from Tempe in 2004, said grounds services program coordinator Deborah Thirkhill.

According to the ASU arboretum’s website, the University’s more than 40 date palm varieties make it the largest date palm collection of any public garden in the country.

Read more: ASU arboretum promotes environmental-community engagement

“It’s a really neat program,” Thirkhill said. “It’s embedded in ASU’s culture.”

She said that because the dates are grown and sold on campus and do not have to be shipped anywhere, the operation’s carbon footprint is low, making the practice more sustainable. 

Ultimately, Thirkhill said she is passionate about the growing of dates and enthusiastic about their great taste and health benefits.

“They have potassium, fiber, all the good stuff that your body needs,” she said. 

And however ubiquitous the date palms are with ASU's campus, the fruit may be a new experience for some.

“On the Tempe campus, we have a lot of students who have never tasted a date before,” she said.

Thirkhill said she was so adamant about her boss trying a date for the first time that he ended up in the hospital due to an allergic reaction. He was fine, she said, and she does not see date allergies very often.

For those who have never tried a date, Thirkhill described them as “sweet, caramelly deliciousness.”

She was not the only one excited about eating fresh dates. 

Gail Armstrong, a volunteer with the Maricopa County Master Gardener program, was there to help spread the tasty message. 

According to its website, the program trains volunteers to become certified to aid people with gardening questions. Master Gardeners are required to complete 20 hours of volunteer work, so Armstrong gave the date sale a try.

“I have fallen in love with it,” she said. 

Armstrong said she is a trained chef as well, so she often takes home dates that do not make the cut to be sold and cooks with them.

“I come every week and try to bring something I’ve made with dates,” Armstrong said. “As long as I have dates in my house, I’m going to keep trying recipes.” 

This Saturday, Armstrong brought a bread made with nuts and cognac-soaked dates to show people the delicious recipes that can be made with the fruit.

Evan Tobias, an ASU associate music professor, discovered the date sale last year and said he had to come back for more.

“The dates were fantastic,” he said. “I was looking for (the sale). I’m glad I caught it today.”

Tobias, who brought his wife and young son who wanted to see the date palms, said he was happy to be a part of the program keeping the acres of palms alive.

“I really like the idea of supporting local agriculture, and I like that it’s a part of the campus,” he said. “It’s pretty incredible to think these dates were just on a tree and now we’re eating them.”

For only $5 a pound, less than the price of a Chipotle burrito, dates will be available for the last time this year on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and this Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Tempe campus for purchase.

 Reach the reporter at or follow @mackinleyjade on Twitter. 

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