When considering who we might want to lead food tours in Baja Arizona, Tana Fryer seemed like an obvious choice. When she opened up Blu: A Wine and Cheese Stop in October 2012, she called on her personal passion for supporting the makers who bring real, sustainably produced food to the table, and set about bringing the work of those makers to a community eager to share in the real food love. With Edible Excursions, Tana gets to do the reverse: bringing the community to the makers themselves, with on-site visits to wineries, coffee roasters, farms, breweries, and more. I sat down with her to talk about this past Sunday’s flagship Excursion around Tucson, to find out how it went, and to talk about what she’s planning for the future.
Edible Baja Arizona has never done this type of Excursion programming before. What made you decide to get involved?
My passion is around connecting people with good food through good stories. It is in this way that people have firsthand experiences that change the way they think and where they spend their money, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
You have a considerable amount of experience planning events through your company Blu: A Wine and Cheese Stop. What’s different for you when planning an Edible Excursion as opposed to one of Blu’s tasting events?
The biggest difference is taking people to the source versus them coming to Blu. When people come to me with Blu, I share the stories and flavors for the people behind the products. With Edible Excursions, I get to bring people right to where it happens. Also, with Blu it was limited to our scope of products. With Edible Excursions that scope gets broadened to the entire food economy. We get to see behind the scenes on how a restaurant comes into being, where the chickens are wandering, what the food bank’s culinary program is all about, why it’s important to support your local farmer, and what makes Arizona wine country a great place to make world class wines.
You planned this tour in the wake of Tucson being named the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States. How did that play into your decision of where the tour should go?
I was watching so many of the responses to the announcement, and many people seemed surprised, thinking it was just about the restaurant arena. This is a great opportunity to broaden people’s understanding of the breadth of what is happening here. The hardest job I have is narrowing down a tour to just a day’s worth of stops. I am so excited that each tour is different so that I can continue to expose participants to this great region.
As one day events, Excursions can’t visit everywhere we might want them to go. How do you decide who makes it onto the itinerary?
We hear so much about farm to table and that is important, but there is so much more than that. I want people to have a deep and wide understanding of our food economy. There are farmers, ranchers, restauranteurs. There are architects, designers, health department folks, teachers, and entrepreneurs. It is my hope that each tour give a glimpse into the whole picture.
You led the City of Gastronomy Excursion this past Sunday. How would you describe your experience, and what did you witness Excursion attendees experiencing?
Eye opening! The Tucson Village Farm works with people in Antartica. People who have been trained through Caridad Kitchen (the folks who provided our lunch) and are now working in some of the most loved restaurants in town were once recipients of food from the food bank. We experienced cupping at Presta Coffee Roasters to hone our senses for coffee, met the farmers who provided the chickens for our lunch, tasted carrots we pulled fresh from the ground. As Anne, one of our guests, said, “This was just the push I needed to support more local businesses.”
Although we have some urban farms in Tucson, much of what is produced in Baja Arizona comes from outside of Tucson proper. Upcoming Edible Excursions will be visiting much of Baja Arizona to get a fuller understanding of what is happening right in our back yard.
Arizona’s wine country has been described as being where California’s wine country was in the 1970s, and is anticipated to continue to rise in popularity. What’s great about the wine scene in Willcox right now and what should Excursion attendees look forward to?
As they say, ‘We’ve come a long way baby!’ So much is being learned about what does well here. In California there are fogs that roll in that give the grapes a rest almost every day. In Arizona’s grape growing regions we see cloud cover that we don’t see in Tucson. The knowledge that people will be exposed to through visiting these producers I think will surprise them. The Arizona Vignerons Alliance has just been formed as a way to ensure the wine the consumer is getting in the bottle is what they expect, and we will be visiting one of the founding vineyards in this group, Sand-Reckoner Vineyards. What is happening here is world class and I am excited to let people experience that first hand.
What did you look for when evaluating stops for the Willcox and Kansas Settlement Excursion? Why did certain places make the cut?
The exciting piece of all of the Edible Excursions is that they start in Tucson. We’ll start our day learning about coffee roasting at Exo Coffee and get a behind-the-scenes look at Design Collaborations, a landscape architectural firm that specializes in using molded glass as part of both their indoor and outdoor designs, including designs for restaurants. That’s all before we leave town! As with all of the Excursions, when picking places to stop, I looked for people who are doing great work, have amazing stories to tell and whom I would be proud to share with others. Getting to meet the folks behind Sand-Reckoner and Bodega-Pierce is an exciting part of the upcoming Excursion on February 21.
There are a number of Excursions still coming up: one to the Heritage Orchards south of the border in March, and one to the Sonoita and Elgin area wine country in April, with more being planned. What inspires you when planning an Excursion? Do you have an overarching goal for what attendees experience?
The people and passion behind the work that people do inspires me. Hearing why they do what they do and the impact that makes pushes me to make local choices, to think about where my money goes, who it supports and why it matters. That is something worth sharing. It is exciting to think that people not only have a great time on these Sunday excursions, but on Monday can think about what they are having for dinner and where it came from, who it supported, and how that makes a difference. Those are the connections I want to see happening, the impact that I want to see, and the influence I hope people encounter.
It’s impossible to visit everywhere worthy of note in Baja Arizona with just one trip to each area. Do you anticipate repeat visits to any regions?
The dates are already on the calendar for another Tucson, Willcox and Sonoita trip with new tours to Bisbee and beyond in the works. I look forward to doing this for a long time!
See more images from our recent City of Gastronomy Excursion tour on our Instagram.