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Seeking Food Justice with Forgotten Fruit

Gary Nabhan wants to create new opportunities for immigrant populations in Patagonia while reviving a taste for forgotten desert fruits, and he needs your help.

November 24, 2015

Fans of locally sourced food have until January 31, 2016 to join the effort to save our desert’s forgotten fruits – and create new green jobs in Arizona’s borderland while they’re at it.

The Project

MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award recipient and Edible Baja Arizona senior contributing editor Gary Nabhan is leading the charge with a Barnraiser fundraiser. His goal? To fund the creation of a commercial kitchen within easy reach of five orchards growing arid-adapted fruits and herbs in Patagonia, Arizona, and then work with local immigrant and refugee populations to create shrubs, preserved fruit syrups made using millennia-old recipes consisting of vinegar, fruit, sugar, and herbs.


Shrubs created using fruit from desert-adapted trees.

Nabhan is no stranger the concept of shrubs, whose name comes from the Arabic word sharab, “a drink.” The beverage has been experiencing a comeback, as bartenders seek a new flavor for cocktails and traditionally preserved foods continue to rise in popularity. When considered in conjunction with the need to establish localized, sustainable food systems (another concept Nabhan is familiar with, as the W.K. Kellogg Chair of Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona), shrubs offer a unique way to use the bounty of the 125 desert-adapted, heirloom fruit tree varieties currently growing in the orchards, along with a range of native herbs that are rare or threatened.

Not content with introducing modern palates to the flavors of these forgotten desert fruits, Nabhan’s project also seeks to address regional income inequality by creating new green jobs available to residents of Arizona’s border towns, where less than 1 in 3 adults may be gainfully employed and lack access to healthy whole foods. Many members of these communities have prior experience tending orchards, and Nabhan believes providing jobs that build on that experience will help create greater economic stability and further opportunity, effecting food justice in the region.


To achieve these goals, Nabhan and his partners need a minimum of $8,000 of startup capital in order to begin retro-fitting an existing canning kitchen in Patagonia so it can meet commercial kitchen requirements. The build-out of the current kitchen can be completed in less than 3 months after $15,000 of funding support is gained, which would allow training, food permitting and community use to begin even before the 2016 harvest. Another $5000 on top of that would allow the kitchen to acquire a small scale processor for pomegranate syrup, capable of producing 25 pounds of pomegranate syrup in one hour.

As a community-focused food project, it seems appropriate that Barnraiser, a food and farming -focused crowdfunding site, is the platform through which Nabhan seeks to raise the necessary funds. Of course, such a project is interesting to the editorial staff at Edible Baja Arizona, not only as a new development in the local food scene but also as an experiment in what can be accomplished using highly localized crowdfunding. Megan Kimble, managing editor for Edible Baja Arizona, explains that “Edible will be watching and helping with the Patagonia fruits campaign over the next eight weeks as means to see what crowdfunding can do for other local food entrepreneurs in Baja Arizona.”

Those wanting to learn more or wishing to help fund Nabhan’s project can do so by visiting the project’s page on Barnraiser. With 17% of the initial goal already raised as of November 24, there is still a significant portion of fundraising ground to cover before the fundraising drive ends on January 31, 2016. Should the initial goal of $8,000 not be reached by that date, the project will not be funded at all, so spreading the word and increasing community involvement in the project is paramount.

Should the project succeed, there are a number of locally sourced shrubs to look for coming out of the kitchen, including:

Sonoran quince and green chiltepin shrub
Mission fig and basil shrub
Winter Banana apple and rosemary shrub
Jujube, anise and stevia shrub
Prickly pear fruit and Sierra Madrean wild oregano shrub
Mission pear and desert lavender shrub
Kumquat and Lebanese spearmint shrub
Elderberry and sage shrub

Further information on the project and on shrubs in general is featured in the promotional video for the project:

Spread the Word

To learn more about the “Saving Forgotten Fruits of the Desert” Barnraiser, visit the project page.

TO DONATE, click here.

, or post this link on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms:

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