What is your ambition for the foodshed of Baja Arizona?

We asked a dozen local food leaders to tell us what they envision for the Baja Arizona foodshed.

June 23, 2013

Issue 1: Summer 2013Voices

Why food? I’m asked this question a lot. Not as in, “Why eat?” but rather, “Why write about it?”

I began my career in journalism wanting to write about The Environment, about Global Warming and Big Energy, the problems I was sure would define my generation. But where to begin? Some challenges, like global warming, feel so insurmountable that it seems as though nothing can be done. Without small specificity, without localness and precision of place, it is hard to ask and harder to answer: What do we want to change and how do we want to do it?

Although it’s easily obscured in a culture where hundreds of new edible products appear in the supermarket every year, what we eat becomes part of our bodies, landscapes, and communities in ways that are irreversible. The lesson  is as old Persephone, who ate four pomegranate seeds and was stuck living with the God of the Underworld for a third of her life: Sometimes, food is fate. We can change our fates by changing our food, and we can do it here and now. What follows is the beginning of the conversation, a start to a dialogue that will continue in these pages in issues to come. What will be—what can be—the fate of our food, bodies, economies, and communities? Be in touch. ✜

— Megan Kimble, Managing Editor


Indigenous lifeways endure in the traditional knowledge of desert edibles, essential to the well-being of our communities. My work with the Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona “Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention” will explore how our desert food sources can contribute significantly to the revitalization of our health and the sustainability of our integrated physical and spiritual wellness.

Octaviana Trujillo is a professor of Indigenous Studies at Northern Arizona University.


My biggest concern is: will new/young/innovative farmers, urban and rural, find access to land and and make a fair living, now and tomorrow, and can changes in current state and local taxes and ordinances recognize their contribution to the health and security of our region?

Barbara Rose harvests, cooks, and teaches about Sonoran Desert foods at Bean Tree Farm.


As an applied anthropologist, my work has focused on removing some of the policy barriers to local food production at the city and county levels. It is important to not only develop community policies that promote household food security, but to also promote informed community participation in local governance.

Merrill Eisenberg is a retired professor in the UA’s College of Public Health. 


I want people to know this desert can feed them. I hope to inspire you to chew a péchita, harvest nopalitos for Pipian Rojo or gather quelites for a meal in tune with the season.

Amy Valdés Schwemm makes mole powders as Mano Y Metate, L.L.C. 


For me, the promise of local, culturally-rooted, place-specific food is best expressed in the idea of conviviality—a sharing of flavors and trespassing of sensory boundaries. A shared meal is a mode of storytelling. Without story, there is no sabor, or taste, in anything we ingest. The history of our identities, migrations, life-trajectories, adventures, heartbreaks, and triumphs is all coded and revealed in specific moments that we share with one another over food.

Maribel Alvaraez is Associate Research Professor at UA’s School of Anthropology and The Southwest Center. She directs the folklore festival Tucson Meet Yourself.


Food is perhaps the most important, and controllable, element in one’s health over the course of a lifetime. The enormity of the processed food industry effectively blinds people from understanding what they’re eating, and the cumulative effects of diet. Sharpening the focus on local food raises awareness of this critical relationship; food becomes less anonymous, more about true sustenance.

Ari Shapiro started, owns and operates Sparkroot Coffee, Xoom Juice, and Falora Pizzeria. 


As an educator and interpreter of natural history and culture of the Sonoran Desert, the most important goal for me is to connect people to the deep heritage of the region. As far as I am concerned, Baja Arizona is Northern Sonora and Northern Sonora is Baja Arizona. Some people call it the Pimería Alta. I simply call it home.

Jesús García was born and raised in Magdalena, Sonora and he is an Education Specialist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.


This is an exciting time for our ‘Local Food’ in many ways, from the way it is being grown, to the way it’s been brought to markets and for the way we are cooking it. At Penca, I love to be able to bring to the table traditional Mexican dishes that use very local ingredients like nopales or prickly pear.

Patricia Schwabe owns and operates Penca Restaurante, Mexico City Cusine and International Bar in Downtown Tucson. She and her family have owned Tooley’s Cafe in the Lost Barrio since the 1980s.


I hope our towns become more and more like fruitful oases that provide food and shelter for an ever-greater diversity of species of flora and fauna. I aim to collaborate with the innumerable creatures living around our house and garden in the convivial creation of sustenance for us all.

Dena Cowan is a writer, translator and editor. She also works on Community Outreach at the Mission Garden with Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace.


Learning the stories behind the products, knowing the faces behind the names, sharing moments with those who have so painstakingly produced a delicate, gloriously edible product in a seemingly fragile, and harsh, environment sparks a connection to this wondrous desert landscape —and all of us that live in it—in such a way that is both humbling and inspiring.

Joy Vargo is the former proprietor of Canela Bistro, a local-centric restaurant in Santa Cruz County.


I imagine Baja Arizona as a sustainable, self-sufficient desert region where the people who live in the borderlands and the Santa Cruz River watershed think, act and dream as a desert culture. This means treating water as a scarce, sacred resource, selecting crop species that thrive during periods of high heat and low moisture, and using our community relationships to support urban and rural community action.

Rafael de Grenade works on the Tucson Oasis Initiative and is a post-doctorate Research Associate at the University of Arizona and Pima County.


Ramona: By growing the traditional crops of our people, and explaining to the children and young people of our tribe how our ancestors grew the 60 day corn, tepary beans, White Sonora and Pima Club wheat, Pima limas, blackeye peas and garbanzo beans, we are setting an example for our community that they can follow and be proud of the contributions of the Akimel O’odham to Arizona’s development.

Terry: It is our hope that, by raising awareness of the variety of wholesome and delicious traditional Indian food crops grown here in the desert Southwest, there will be an increase in the demand for these wonderful food crops that will enable our family and others of our Indian community to continue to grow them profitably and preserve the traditions of the Akimel O’odham

Ramona Button is the owner of Ramona’s American Indian Foods, commonly known as Ramona Farms. Terry Button is the manager of Ramona Farms. 

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