I’m writing this from what I call the Sky Island Bureau, our small family cabin at 8,000 feet, near Bear Wallow drainage, in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Baja Arizona. It’s a place where I’ve spent countless hours working on this magazine.
In 2003, the cabin burned to the ground, along with a good portion of our surrounding forest, in the devastating Aspen Fire. We underwent the painstaking process of rebuilding, which at the time seemed almost like an act of faith. My first notion upon visiting the still-smoldering forest after the ravages of the fire was to leave the mountain and never return, so utter was the transformation of the landscape. What we had known and loved was simply gone.
But in the last 14 years, as the forest has remarkably regenerated, we’ve come to understand the power of new beginnings and the virtues of an observant patience. Where previously there was only deep forest, there is now a more open and vibrant landscape: young Arizona and Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, aspen, Gambel oak, big tooth maple, elderberry, and locust abound; the vast carpet of bracken fern in the summer and the riot of wildflowers that follows the monsoon rains are seasonal touchstones. There’s a notable increase in overall biodiversity since the fire. What was a seeming ending has become an ongoing process, where growth and change are defining aspects of what it means to be here in this island in the sky.
That sense of gratitude about the creative parameters of impermanence dominates my thoughts as we publish this issue. There are changes underway that deeply sadden me: the departures of editor Megan Kimble (see her farewell note on the opposite page) and business coordinator Kate Kretschmann, both off to pursue new challenges. There are other endings in process that portend new beginnings, fresh challenges, and exciting potential for growth. These kinds of intensely liminal intervals—especially when you live according to never-ending deadlines—require a bit of faith and a hopeful confidence in the power of regeneration. As I often admonish: Onward!
John Washington—an award-winning freelance writer we are sad to see relocate to New York City—delves deeply into the controversy surrounding Resolution Copper’s proposed mine at Oak Flat, a stunning landscape located in the Tonto National Forest about 70 miles east of Phoenix. For many members of the Apache tribe, the land has long been considered sacred, a vital part of their traditional lifeways. For environmentalists, the focus is on the impact of the mine on watersheds and habitat destruction. And for the rest of us, the difficult question remains: What are we willing to sacrifice to satiate our appetite for copper, a mineral that is almost omnipresent in our modern lives?
Margaret Regan chronicles the good work of intrepid produce wrangler Erik Stanford. Pivot Produce’s mission is to bring fresh food from Baja Arizona farms to the tables of local restaurants, and do it in a way that makes sustainable economic sense for all involved. It’s a labor of love that demonstrates the amazing power of localism to change business as usual.
As always, there is so much more to discover in these pages. Our heartfelt thanks to the advertising partners whose sustaining support makes our mission possible. Please patronize and thank them! Many thanks, too, to our loyal subscribers.
We’ll see you around the table and in the New Year. ¡Buen provecho!
-Douglas Biggers, editor and publisher
In July of 2016, I spent two days with New York Times reporter Kim Severson as she covered Tucson’s designation as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. It was hot, as it often is, and we squinted into the sun on farms and in gardens. We gathered mesquite, shook packets of heirloom seeds, and slurped raspados in the shade. And I talked about Tucson, my adopted home of six years. The following month, when Kim’s article was published, I was reminded of what I’d told her. Once Tucson gets in your soul, it’s in there.
That process happened quickly for me. Within weeks of moving to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, I knew that this place would shape me forever.
For nearly five years—over 27 issues—I have read, reviewed, edited, or written every word that has appeared in this magazine. I have scrutinized every photograph we have published. I know who wrote what and who photographed whom and when it happened. I know which captions have typos and words were misspelled (including, but only once, the word “Tuscon”). Like a parent, I know what this magazine was like when it was little, when we were still measuring margins and evaluating endnotes. I have watched it grow up, and seen how our community of readers and advertisers has rallied around its success. It truly takes a village.
After 27 issues, hundreds of articles, and more than 4,000 pages, this will be my last issue as editor of Edible Baja Arizona.
Although I am excited for the adventure ahead, this is a hard job to leave. It amazes me, still, every time I see a copy of this magazine out in the world—stacked in a rack at Time Market or spread on a coffee table in a friend’s home. I watch as a couple waiting for a table at 5 Points thumbs through the latest issue. I see it displayed on tables at farmers’ markets and notice it forgotten in waiting rooms at doctor’s offices. Every time, I am amazed, and grateful to be a part of it.
I’ve often said that what makes Edible Baja Arizona so successful is that our readers are proud of the magazine. We are a reflection of this place. What we’ve done over the past four and a half years is simply to put a frame around you, the readers and farmers and dreamers and business owners and teachers and harvesters—all of you who are working to make this community better, who believe that we are stronger when we eat together.
I am proud of every article contained in these pages, in this issue and in the 26 issues that preceded it. Thank you to our hard-working contributors—this magazine is what it is because of your passion, dedication, and talent. I have loved being your editor. In the coming issue, we’ll be welcoming the magazine’s new editor, Debbie Weingarten. You likely know Debbie from the many award-winning articles she’s written for Edible Baja Arizona over the years, covering everything from female farmers to competitive eaters with the same grace, skill, and excellence that she has brought to her work as a farmer, editor, activist, and essayist. Stay tuned, but in the meantime, know that this magazine could not be in more capable and compassionate hands.
Five years ago, Gary Nabhan called me and told me to have coffee with a guy named Doug Biggers. That coffee changed my life as, ultimately, did Doug, who gave an energetic 26-year-old the chance of a lifetime. Together, we’ve published a lot of words, and I am grateful for every single one. Thank you, jefe.
And thank you, Tucson.
The announcement by the U.S. Department of State that the United States will withdraw from UNESCO at the end of 2018 prompts the question: How will this affect Tucson’s designation as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy?
With our designation in 2015, we joined the Creative Cities Network of 116 cities around the world, recognized for using creativity for sustainable development, building partnerships, and sharing best practices. That means that the designation created a direct relationship between Tucson and UNESCO, and with other Creative Cities, that will likely be unaffected by withdrawal at the national level.
We are also encouraged by statements received from the UNESCO Director General expressing the value of partnerships with the United States, and by the executive director of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO assuring that the withdrawal does not alter U.S. policy supporting UNESCO’s mission.
The designation does not bring any outside funding, but has resulted in great benefits for our community, including media coverage worth more than $30 million in just the last 12 months—according to analysis conducted by Visit Tucson—and more rapid growth in jobs, businesses, and tax revenues in the food sector than in most other economic sectors.
The nonprofit Tucson City of Gastronomy will continue to collaborate with other Creative Cities in the U.S. and around the world, and with community partners, to leverage the designation for broad, sustainable economic and community development. The nonprofit board is confident that UNESCO will maintain its involvement in the United States to continue fostering collaborations among Creative Cities. ✜
Jonathan Mabry is the president of Tucson City of Gastronomy, the nonprofit organization working under the auspices of the City of Tucson.