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When Local is Binational: Borderland Food in Nogales

When the food relocalization movement revved up its engines a dozen years ago, I would often see maps that circumscribed “local foodsheds” by county, state,  or region of our sprawling nation, but they never crossed international boundaries. But when I recently moved to southern Arizona to plant an heirloom orchard just twelve miles north of the U.S./Mexico line, such maps suddenly made little sense to me. As I searched for low chill fruit and nut varieties to plant in my orchard, I learned that the Mission olive, fig, grape, pomegranate and quince selections best suited to my microclimate were once widely cultivated on both sides of the line, but had so dramatically declined north of the border than few American nurseries offered them anymore. When I searched for commercial availability of native foods and beverages of our Sonoran Desert region—chiltepines, Emory oak acorns, mescal and mesquite—most of the harvests were being wild-foraged from landscapes like ours just south of the line. Baffled by this food flowing in from just south of the international boundary—for I had always dismissed it as being unnecessarily “outsourced”—I began to ask tougher questions that demolished the old assumptions I had held. Was it better for me to source fresh fruits and vegetables from small Sonoran farms just fifty miles from my home, or purchase the same kinds that had been shipped in from California more than eight hundred miles in the trucks of Veritable Vegetable? Are my neighboring Mexican farmers using less fossil fuel and government subsidized water than farmers in California, especially those which irrigate crops from large irrigation projects which have cost us all billions of dollars and depleted the flows of many rivers? Are Mexican-born farmworkers better off staying in their home villages and working for lower wages, or better off migrating to the U.S. where wages are higher but the cost of living is too? Where is occupation health care more responsive to their needs? Where will their children get a better education? Now a new report—Hungry for Change: Borderlands Food and Water in the Balance—attempts to pose such questions about our inherently binational food system, and answers—at least provisionally—some of those more difficult questions.  Further, it reminds Americans just how much of our entire food supply is dependent upon labor, expertise, ingenuity, seeds, seafood and water originating in Mexico. The report, released this last week by the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center, was prepared for discussion at the first-ever Border Food Summit to be held September 16th to 18th near Nogales, Arizona. Read the rest on Gary’s website.

Gary Nabhan is co-author of the book Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail


Financing Food and Creating Jobs from the Bottom Up

In the days between the 2012 Republican and Democratic Conventions, a group of eighty farmers, ranchers, grocers, produce distributors and food activists met in Carbondale, Colorado. They hunkered down in a big tent on a farm nestled below the drought-stricken peaks of the Rocky Mountains as dry winds gusted around them. Like many who spoke […] Read More..

Healing the Lands of the Border

Around the time that Joe Quiroga turned 60, he began a new endeavor that has ultimately had more land conservation impact than most of us will ever achieve over in our lives. Joe looked out over the uneven cover and ailing forage quality of the Sonoita Plains in Santa Cruz County near Elgin, AZ, and […] Read More..

Coalition Receives Grant to Promote Arid-Adapted Heritage Grains in Southern Arizona

A ground-breaking collaboration of farmers and organizations in southern Arizona has been awarded a two-year, $50,000 grant by the Western SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) program to revive the production, milling, distribution, and marketing of the oldest extant grain varieties adapted to the arid Southwest: White Sonora soft bread wheat and Chapalote flint corn. […] Read More..

The Return of the Natives: Designing and Planting Hedgerows for Pollinator Habitat to Bring Wild Diversity Back to Farms and Gardens

Native pollinators, it seems, were once forgotten as playing an essential role in providing ecological services for food security, but no longer.  We have witnessed a surge in grassroots interest in returning pollinators to their proper place in sustainable agriculture, as witnessed by the enthusiastic participation recently seen at a workshop regarding on-farm pollinator habitat […] Read More..

Mom-and-pop vs. big-box stores in the food desert

By: Gary Nabhan and Kelly Watters A few weeks ago, when the Obama administration released its Food Desert Locator, many of us realized that a once-good idea has spoiled like a bag of old bread. If you go online and find that your family lives in a food desert, don’t worry: You have plenty of […] Read More..