There is a connecting strand that weaves through this issue, a subtext of sorts that ties one grand subject—the reintroduction of a nearly lost local heritage grain—to a diverse group of committed individuals, to a gorgeous loaf of slow-fermented bread, to a fresh pint of local beer brewed from barley and wheat grown in Marana and hops from Cochise County. That resonance speaks plainly to the notion that food is a powerful force that coheres community and fosters collaboration. It’s a remarkable time to be eating and drinking in Baja Arizona.
The disappearance of a plant variety can happen suddenly, when no one is paying attention. And when it comes to an important food crop like wheat, it can mean a diminishment of critical biodiversity with far-reaching ramifications for our food supply, as well as a cultural loss. In the case of the heritage grain known as White Sonora wheat, a fortuitous group of collaborators came together in 2012 to bring the crop back to the local foodshed, as chronicled by Lisa O’Neill. For more than 300 years, White Sonora wheat was one of the principal crops grown in the Sonoran desert, “integrated into the social fabric of communities that grew it, harvested it, and consumed it,” says Maribel Alvarez, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center, who has written extensively on the heritage grain. Its triumphant return over the last three years—as a result of excitement and hard work by farmers, millers, bakers, brewers, and seed savers—has also helped to create a model for bringing back other wheat varieties that were near extinction.
The disappearance of a plant variety can happen suddenly, when no one is paying attention.
The value of cultivating true community around these foods is obvious in Megan Kimble’s profile of “community-supported baker” Don Guerra. As Matt Mars, an assistant professor in the UA’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, points out, Guerra is “someone who can transcend their own business to understand that the local system is stronger when competition is put aside.” Guerra says that his coveted loaves are a vehicle to connect community. We just think his bread is awesome.
Kati Standefer explores the exploding nanobrewing community, a cohort of collaborators who celebrate and actively support one another in pursuit of excellent beer made in small (nano) batches. The connecting strand runs through this story, as well: BKW Farms in Marana, who played an important role in the reintroduction of White Sonora wheat, is now growing barley for local breweries and distilleries, as well as providing wheat for beer.
And regular contributor Bill Steen’s photo essay is a glimpse of the past when grain mills numbered more than 44 in Arizona territory and more than 60 in the state of Sonora at the end of the 19th century.
As always, there is much more to discover in this issue. Enjoy!
Speaking of collaboration, Edible Baja Arizona is the result of the diligent efforts of many, many people, not the least of who are the full time staff. This eleventh issue marks the one-year anniversary of Steve McMackin joining the team as art director, and we just have to give him a hearty and appreciative shout-out. Steve’s combination of graphic design brilliance, organizational obsession, geeky technological prowess, positive professionalism, and a nonstop commitment to excellence has contributed immensely to the magazine’s development in the last 12 months. Thanks, Steve, for all you do! And if you haven’t yet, you should visit our website and see Steve’s work there (in collaboration with Lyric Peate at Impulse Nine Media). It’s another way to experience the magazine and share it with friends.
We’ll see you around the table. ¡Salud!
—Douglas Biggers, editor and publisher