June 30, 2011
Summer – a time of gardens, farmers markets, and an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit. Supporting local food initiatives is one of the most effective strategies for advancing sustainable economic development. Regional food economies help communities by providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables and enhancing livelihoods of local farmers. Investments into local food initiatives are sustainable because a community that is able to grow and distribute its own food is more resilient against food shortages, food prices are more stable, and less energy is used for food distribution.
For the past year and a half, SEDI has been working to understand the food economies in northern Arizona and we have found that local and regional food initiatives are numerous in northern Arizona and access and opportunities surrounding local foods and farming are plentiful. At the most visible point of local food production are the summertime farmers markets. There are at least six farmers markets that are held regularly on summer weekends and it is here that crowds gather to purchase foods directly from farmers across Arizona. Year round, residents may obtain locally grown food from Community Supported Agriculture efforts in Flagstaff, Verde Valley and Sedona. Additionally, there are a number of other on-going initiatives in northern Arizona that seek to promote the use of local foods and agriculture. From the Navajo Nation to the Verde Valley, the organizations and people behind these initiatives are not just seeking more locally produced foods; they are connecting the dots between local food and healthy, self-sufficient communities.
The Verde Food Council is a collaborative effort formed in the Verde Valley for the purpose of addressing the needs of the hungry. It is a collection of individuals and organizations ensuring that “everybody eats.” An appropriate qualification to that mission would be that everybody eats healthy foods.
The VFC’s initiatives use local foods and local resources to address the needs of the Verde Valley hungry. Among the VFC’s initiatives are a series of free community classes that teach community members food skills “from seed to plate.” The classes feature the donated time of Verde Valley cooks, nutritionists and gardeners.
Another VFC program provides food to children in need. Backpacks for Kids is a collaborative effort between Verde Valley school districts and the Central Arizona Food Bank. Children receive a backpack filled with food every Friday and return it empty on Monday. The cost is only $2.00 per child.
While the Verde Food Council is working to equalize access to nutritious foods, other organizations are discovering that local agriculture reinvigorates communities by reestablishing cultural values.
North Leupp Family Farm (NLFF) is located in the southwestern region of the Navajo Nation, near the Little Colorado River. Bill Edwards of NLFF described the produce of the farm as including white and blue corn, Navajo Squash, beans, and melons. Unlike a lot of other Arizona produce, the food grown at NLFF stays within the community instead of going to a farmers market.
“Most of the food produced on the farm is for local consumption,” Edwards said. “It seldom gets beyond the three communities of Leupp, Tolani Lake and Birdsprings.”
NLFF is working to build a food-secure community that reestablishes cultural traditions surrounding farming and diet. The NLFF also seeks to increase the health of the Diné people, after the “dramatic changes in dietary habits associated with a consumer culture and lack of concern by tribal leadership,” according to NLFF’s website.
NLFF is reestablishing the Diné link to food traditions, with both young and older community members.
“The greatest impact is with the senior citizens,” Edwards said. “When the farm gives these traditional foods to the senior citizens centers, our elders get a chance to re-experience foods that they do not have ready access to due to age and the infirmities of old age. We have working relationships with the local schools and get the chance to see the light go on in the eyes of young children when they see where their food comes from and how good it tastes when they get it straight from the source.”
Leupp Family Farm and the Verde Food Council are just a couple of ways that food initiatives are becoming manifest in northern Arizona. Some organizations are looking to develop entirely self-sufficient communities. These communities will not only implement local agriculture but will use other tools of sustainability as well, such as alternative energy and community cooperation.
Heather Bostian, a Flagstaff resident and massage therapist, has donated a 60-by-30 foot cinder block building in Doney Park to a collection of families that will be using the building as an all-season greenhouse.
“We hope to learn to grow not only healthy food choices but a healthy community to lean on one another as stress and expenses mount with foods, gas, et cetra,” Bostian said.
Bostian said that the greenhouse has the capacity to house about 50 families in all. “Currently we have about 16 delighted folks involved,” she said. Families will be able to grow and share nutritious produce and herbs the entire year.
For its part, SEDI is working to enhance the market for regional and local foods. Recently, SEDI Board member Jonathan Netzky worked with the USDA’s Food safety and Inspection Service to provide USDA pre-inspections for three small scale meat processing facilities in northern Arizona. At least one of these meat processors has decided to upgrade his facility to USDA standards. His decision will not only increase his production capacity, it will provide jobs and grow the increasing demand for beef and pork that is locally raised and processed.
These are just some of the food initiatives in northern Arizona. Check the SEDI RFPS page to read more about what N. AZ residents are doing to make a food-secure future.