Most of us who live in Tucson spend an inordinate amount of time on what I call “the grid,” the maze of streets that we traverse on a daily basis. Do you ever find yourself waiting at yet another intersection and stopping to think, “You know, it’s amazing that I live in a sprawling desert city that has a 4,000-year history of agricultural cultivation and a deep culinary heritage, a city once an oasis self-sufficient in food?”
Well, you just might after reading Megan Kimble’s story “A Gastronomy of Place,” where she traces the long history of Tucson’s food heritage, from the ancient Hohokam farmers who tilled fields along the Santa Cruz River for thousands of years, to the arrival of the Europeans including the Jesuit missionary Eusebio Kino in 1692, to the contributions of Chinese immigrants in the late 1880s, to the revival of traditional indigenous crops by Tohono O’odham farmers in the 1970s, to the creation of the three-day celebration of Tucson’s glorious multicultural strands in the annual festival Tucson Meet Yourself. But in the end, you might want to ponder the important lessons we can draw from our agricultural and cultural past as we attempt to create a sustainable food system in an age of climate and resource uncertainty.
Tucson’s nonprofit organization Iskashitaa—the word means “working cooperatively together” in Somali—works with more than 30 local groups of immigrants from as many ethnic backgrounds to connect them with familiar foods from their homelands. They do this through an ingenious program of “gleaning,” harvesting fruits and vegetables from all over the city that would otherwise go to waste.
In separate stories, we introduce you to Patagonia Orchards and Wholesum Harvest, innovative companies that are working to make organic produce widely available at a reasonable cost. At produce distributor Patagonia Orchards, the owners and the farmers they work with see the fields and orchards they till as part of the land and waters around them. Wholesum Harvest is using cutting-edge greenhouse technologies to produce organic tomatoes that are shipped all over the United States. As Laurel Bellante notes in her story: “A food-production process creates a ripple effect in the human, environmental, and political economic context connected to how we eat.” Two fascinating food system players in Baja Arizona.
Bisbee’s Café Roka is almost an anomaly. For 22 years, Rod Kass and Sally Holcomb have managed to maintain a restaurant on the historic mining town’s main street that is dependably excellent, satisfying, and overwhelmingly popular with locals and tourists alike. And in the process, they’ve created an extended family of longtime employees and have contributed immeasurably to the small community. A longtime Roka waitress, Gretchen Baer, aka Paintress Gretchen, is one of Bisbee’s most beloved artists and contributed fantastic oil paintings to illustrate the story. Thanks, Gretchen!
In a story about a little local business that could, Mark Thomson’s Plaza Liquors and Fine Wines has figured out a way to outsmart big-box retailers and keep customers coming back for more than 30 years. What’s his secret?
And at Renee’s Organic Oven, for nearly a decade Steve and Renee Kreager, the co-owners, have built a business based on educating their customers about the ecosystem of Baja Arizona farmers, ranchers, beekeepers, brewers, wine-makers, cheese- and ice cream-makers, coffee roasters, tea importers, and other organic merchants, all of whom are supported by their patronage.
There’s much, much more to enjoy and discover in this 10th issue.
And please check out our house ad on Page 174 inviting you to participate in our first Reader Survey. We’d love to know more about our readers, and we’re offering a slew of incredible prizes to entice you to spend a few minutes online answering some questions. Thanks!
Happy New Year! We’ll see you around the table. ¡Salud!
—Douglas Biggers, editor and publisher