What We Want for Our Binational, Multicultural Foodshed
By: Gary Paul Nabhan
Values: We believe that the many traditional cultures and innovative individuals of this region have developed a rich heritage of both tangible resources and intangible knowledge, practices and values that need recognition, respect and safeguarding if they are to contribute to a just, equitable, sustainable and resilient food system for our region. We support the many communities in their efforts toward achieving food security, food sovereignty, food democracy and health diets for all generations, but especially for youth and elders at risk.
Current Quality of Life and State of the Foodshed in Our Region: We are concerned by the high rates of poverty and food insecurity on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border; which creates more disparity in economic opportunity and nutritional health than along any other border in the world. Less than two percent of the food eaten in the Sonoran Desert is grown and processed here, leading to enormous imports of highly processed and nutritionally-compromised foods that make our elders and youth vulnerable to nutrition-related diseases. The current state also impoverishes or community economies by sending profits back to distant headquarters It also inhibits full democratic choices directing our shared food future.
Current State of the Land, Water and Energy Resource Base: The Sunbelt border states of the U.S. have contributed disproportionately to the tragic loss and fragmentation of ranch- and farmlands in the United States as a whole. Similar development of arable land for urban expansion and coastal land for tourist developments is also occurring in Northern Mexico. Our food prices are rising dramatically in lock-step with rising oil prices and declining groundwater for irrigated agriculture. As climate change advances, our rivers and springs—the life source of our wildlife and ultimately, our food security—are being diminished, depleted and dried up.
Barriers to Advancing Land Health, Human Health and Community Economic Health: Most decisions about the future of our food system are being made by politicians, corporations and water developers without full democratic participation of the region’s residents. However, many people fail to engage in civic and civil discourse about the future of our foodshed, feeling that they are powerless, even though they vote every day for one kind of food system or another by the foods they choose to eat, the beverages they choose to drink, and the politicians they choose to support or vilify. We need to bring diverse stakeholders together to imagine, co-design, fund and implement a healthier food system before one out of every two residents in the region are afflicted with nutrition-related diseases.
Our Theory of Change: We believe that food democracy can best be activated by engaging residents of all ages in tangible interactions with one another, with the land and water, and the foods which have historically nourished us. Civil dialogue can then follow because people of diverse backgrounds have already found they can work together. Our theory draws upon the insights of collaborative conservation efforts in working landscapes, the New Urbanism and the New Agrarianism, and the Radical Center.
Strategies We Wish to Employ to Foster Positive Change:
- We host hands-on workshops that feature traditional elders as well as young innovators who can inspire as well as inform the cultural creatives of our community.
- We demonstrate on-ground the time-tried techniques for growing and processing food which have staying power as sustainable means of producing food in a hot, water-limited landscape.
- We bring people from both sides of the border together for landscape-level solutions to our food security, from restoring pollinator habitats on farmlands, to teaching culinary practices, to producing digital stories of dilemmas in our foodshed, to conserving and recovering markets for heritage crops.
Goals which We Wish to Achieve in the Foodshed:
Quality of Life: We hope to restore or sustain the physical, cultural and spiritual health of our neighbors, friends and communities in ways that create live-able wages, cross-cultural respect and inner peace among all, but especially the people currently marginalized, displaced or disrupted by dysfunctions in our industrialized food system.
Land Quality: We wish for a more biologically diverse land, with fertile soil, high water-holding capacity, reduced waste and productivity which can be sustained with a minimum of fossil fuels and fossil groundwater.
Community Economic Well-Being: We imagine a world in which are communities are both healthier and wealthier in the things that matter, where the skills and talents of our neighbors are economically valued, and where conflict, factionalization and needless competition are reduced or extinguished.
Gary Paul Nabhan, a MacArthur Fellow who sometimes is referred to as the father of the local food movement, is the Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems for the Borderlands at the University of Arizona, and is on the leadership team of the Borderlands Habitat Restoration Initiative that has spawned the Borderlands Restoration L3C. He will be a speaker at Slow Money’s 4th National Gathering in Boulder, Colo., April 29–30. He welcomes other Slow Money activists to speak in southern Arizona as follow-up to recent visits by Woody Tasch and Marco Vangelisti (co-leader of Slow Money Northern California), facilitating the formation of a state chapter and several more localized investment clubs. Visit Nabhan’s website for his many writings and his schedule of upcoming lectures and workshops.