The challenge: to eat foods only produced within 150 miles of Tucson.
The mission: to take the hot 'n' trendy idea of eating locally seriously.
The reason: The idea of preserving and protecting — not to mention expanding — Southern Arizona's historic farms has emerged as a national issue.
The result: You can do it. You probably won't even have to resort to eating rattlesnakes and other road kill — that's "road rescue" to you politically correct types — as the author of one famous experiment in eating locally did.
Gary Paul Nabhan, director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and a dean of the local food movement, envisions a future in which, just as visitors to the Pacific Northwest seek out foods such as wild salmon, Dungeness crab and chanterelle mushrooms, the tourists who are so vital to Arizona's economy come here hoping to eat our grass-fed beef, our special varieties of lamb, asparaguslike cholla buds, and other goodies they can't get anywhere else.
"We need to find authentic products from the region," said Nabhan, the co-founder of the Tucson-based NativeSeeds/ SEARCH. "It could be our chiles, our wild chiles, it could be the mesquite flour . . . it could be Arizona pecans. There's just a wide variety of things that could be redeveloped that Arizona had until about 50 years ago."
Nabhan would know. His 2002 book, "Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods," recounts a year he spent eating only foods grown within a 250-mile radius of Tucson. Nabhan did eat road kill, and deep-fried grasshoppers and other foods guaranteed to intimidate or nauseate all but the most enterprising diner.
Fortunately, you won't have to. Here's a guide to locally produced foods. (See Page E1 for where and how to find them.)
Sustainability, the buzz word of foodies
The whole idea of thinking globally but eating locally has emerged as a major national and international food trend — not to mention a political movement. Groups such as Slow Food are dedicating themselves to finding and saving historic goodies. Farmers markets are sprouting all over — so much so that many of them are having trouble finding enough farmers to come to the market.
Local farmers outlets such as the Sunday market in St. Philip's Plaza regularly sell out of their merchandise — even such pricey but absolutely wonderful items as homegrown eggs at $4.50 a dozen.
In the world of foodies, people talk less and less about organic foods. Instead, the preferred term is "sustainability." Local farmers, few of whom hold organic certification, use words like "all-natural" to designate foods they pledge are grown with little or no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones and other no-nos.
The argument for sustainability holds that the United States wastes tremendous amounts of energy — somewhere between one in 10 and one in five calories produced, depending on whose numbers you believe — just moving food around.
The food suffers — an organic plum that has come to Tucson from Chile is still a plum with a lot of miles on it. The environment suffers from unnecessary use of fossil fuels and loss of food types suited to various climates.
And farmers suffer because money they could be earning instead goes to shippers and processors. "None of that money is staying in our community. — if you buy locally, they keep 80 cents rather than 5 cents of every dollar spent," author and biologist Gary Nabhan said. "If we're ever going to see a halt to the drain of wealth away from our rural counties, it's going to be because urban consumers nearby want to see that money stay in the state rather than go to the corporate headquarters of Smithfield, of ConAgra Foods or Wal-Mart.
Two weeks ago, U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords introduced a bill that would designate much of Pima and Santa Cruz counties the nation's 38th National Heritage Area.
The farms here are a big reason why. "The Santa Cruz Valley is one of the longest continually cultivated regions in the United States, with an agricultural history extending back more than 4,000 years," Vanessa Bechtol, programs manager of the Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance, said via e-mail.
The legislation would send up to $10 million in federal matching funds to the local nonprofit to use in managing the site — and in creating programs to promote our local heritage, including heirloom foods. Already there are programs under way to rescue and propagate historic varieties of peaches and other fruits uniquely suited to growing in our harsh desert climates.
What's cultivated and raised within 150 miles of Tucson
Availability depends on the seasons and the weather
Eggs (various chicken and duck)
Milk (cow and goat)
Watermelon, red- and yellow-fleshed
Winter squash, such as spaghetti
Summer squash, such as zucchini and pattypan
Assorted greens for cooking
Sugar snap peas
Cabbage, red and green
Edible flowers — calendula, nasturtium, squash blossoms
Prickly pear syrups, extracts, fruit leathers
I'itois onions (a type of shallot)
Tepary (brown and white)
Olive oil (Queen Creek Olive Mill)
Winter Squash Cakes
Makes 20-25 miniatures pancakes
These delicious lacy and crispy pancakes are full of wonderful fresh ingredients. They can be served as is for a savory side dish, or topped with crème fraiche and caviar for a (nonlocal) appetize.r
* 2 eggs
* 1 cup grated green and yellow squash
* 1 cup raw grated Tohono O'odham squash, pumpkin, acorn or butternut squash (peel and seed before grating)
* 1 cup roasted fresh corn kernels (you can substitute canned or frozen, thawed)
* 1 cup shredded winter greens such as orach, mustard, chard or collards (optional)
* 2 tablespoons green onions, chopped
* 1/2 of a diced jalapeño pepper, seeds removed
* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh herbs, basil, thyme, marjoram, sage or parsley (optional)
* salt and pepper to taste
* 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne, if you like spicy
* Olive oil or additional butter for frying
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients, seasoning to taste with salt and black pepper.
Using a soup spoon, form the mixture into small patties 1 1/2-2 inches in diameter.
Sauté in olive oil or melted butter in a nonstick pan until golden brown on each side, approximately 3 minutes per side.
Pancakes can be cooked ahead of time and warmed in the oven for 10 minutes at 250 degrees before serving.
Created for Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA) by John Sharpe, chef/owner of the Turquoise Room at La Posada Hotel, Winslow
Tepary Bean Gratin
Makes 6 to 8 servings
* 2 cups dry tepary beans
* 1/4 cup olive oil or sunflower seed oil
* 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
* 1 celery branch, finely diced
* 1 small to medium onion, peeled and finely diced
* 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
* salt and freshly ground pepper
* 3 garlic cloves chopped with a handful of parsley
* 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (or 1 small can diced tomatoes)
* 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
Rinse the beans and put them in a pressure cooker with 6 cups water. Bring to pressure then maintain it on high for 30 minutes. Release the pressure quickly.
When the beans are almost done, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Warm 2 tablespoons of the olive or sunflower seed oil in a medium skillet. Add the carrot, celery, onion and thyme, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until partially softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped parsley and garlic and cook 5 minutes longer, then stir in the tomatoes and turn off the heat.
Put the cooked beans in a 2-quart gratin dish with enough cooking liquid to come to the top. Add more water if needed. Stir in the vegetable mixture. Season with 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste) and freshly ground pepper.
Mix the breadcrumbs with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and pat them over the top. Bake at 350 degrees until the beans are hot and the crumbs have browned, about 25 minutes.
One of the chief difficulties in eating locally is actually finding the food. Much of what is produced hereabouts comes from guerrilla agriculture — backyard gardens, hobby farms, community projects. Here are some places to look.
• Aqua Vita Natural Foods Market, 2801 N. Country Club Road, 293-7770.
• Food Conspiracy Co-op, 412 N. Fourth Ave. 624-4821.
• New Life Health Centers, multiple locations.
• Wild Oats Natural Marketplace, 3360 E. Speedway, 795-9844; 7133 N. Oracle Road, 742-1761.
• AJ's Fine Foods, 2805 E. Skyline Drive, 232-6340.
• Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) means subscription farming. Participants pay in advance and receive a share of a farmer's crop throughout the season. Local programs tend to require that you pick up your food at a designated location in the city.
• Agua Linda Farm. Historic farm in Amado offers a wide variety of produce, local honey, and other goodies. www.agualinda farm.net. 398-3218.
• Tucson Community Supported Agriculture. Produce from Glendale, goat cheese. www. tucsoncsa.org. 203-6500.
• Matt's Organics. Only some of the fruit is local, but this Tucson-based program delivers certified organic produce to your home. www. mattsorganics.com. 790-4360.
(See Page E2 for a listing of markets.)
• See Willcox Chamber of Commerce & Agriculture Web site for a listing of major spots. www.willcox chamber.com.
• Agua Linda Farm (see above).
• Briggs & Eggers Orchards. www. briggs-eggers.com. 1-520-384-2539
• Desert Sweet Shrimp, www.desertsweet shrimp.com). 1-623-393-0136
• Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA), Main Street, Sells, www. tocaonline.org. 1-520-383-4966.
• San Xavier Cooperative Farm, 8100 S. Oidak Wog. 295-3774.
Many U-pick farms also sell picked fruits and veggies on-site.
• "Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods" by Gary Paul Nabhan (W.W. Norton, 2002, $15.95).
• "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver (HarperCollins, 2007, $26.95).