Essays for Hope and Reflection

An Agrarian Land Covenant: Food for Thought, For Becoming at Home in Our Place, For Thoughtfulness in Producing Food

With future generations in mind, my family will never leave the land we steward poorer, nor its water scarcer than conditions were before we acquired responsibility for their care.

My family will seek to enrich the soil, diversify its plant cover and deepen its roots both within and beyond its harvested fields, grazed pastures, and streamside areas.

My family will think of how our practices affect those who live above and below us in our foodshed and watershed— not only the human ...

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Gary Nabhan remembers Stewart Udall

By: Gary Paul Nabhan
Published: March 29, 2010

On Saturday, March 20, the West lost Stewart Udall, one of the greatest conservationists this region has given to the world. The man exemplified vision and decency, conservation and consilience, in an era when conflict and entrenchment have become all too common.

As Congress fought bitterly over health care reform that same weekend, voting almost entirely upon party lines, I remembered a story that Udall told me as we celebrated his 80th birthday ...

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What is the Relevance of Vavilov in the Year of 2010?

Gary Nabhan was recently given the honor of presenting the biennial Vavilov Memorial Lecture in Moscow and offering a similar lecture in Saint Petersburg, and was further honored with the gift of the Vavilov Medal. These are his reflections after years of retracing Vavilov through the centers of food diversity, while writing the book Where Our Food Comes From, and after spending time with the staff of the Vavilov General Genetics Institute in Moscow, and VIR in Saint Petersburg.

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Place based foods of the borderlands weather the economic downturn – not just for the elite

This last week, I went out into the desert to find an old friend in her trailer-turned-artesanal kitchen. My friend is an Hispanic woman who lost her job after 9/11 in a borderlands community that lost thousands of more jobs during the mortgage fiasco two years ago and the more recent economic downturn.  And yet, despite all the discouraging turns that have occurred in the Tucson, Arizona economy over the last decade, I did not hear discouraging words  in Esperanza ...

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Thanksgiving and the Food Crisis

It is an ironic time to be celebrating Thanksgiving, a sharing of the bounty of American farms and ranches among family, friends and neighbors. Not only are our traditional foods a fading feast, but fewer Americans than ever before may be able to access them. This year, while a million Americans may be losing their jobs, food prices have risen 5 to 7 percent; the use of food banks and food stamps is at a record high. The outlook for ...

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The Vavilov Legacy is Alive and Well

When I arrived at the National Agricultural Library just outside Washington D.C. one noon this October, a white-haired man with a commanding presence stood at the security check, impeccably dressed in an elegant suit, while his translator explained to the guard that he would be the guest of honor for an event that afternoon.

When he turned around to speak with his translator, I noticed that he had the same high brow and combed-back hair that the world’s greatest plant explorer ...

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The Food Crisis Is Our Energy Crisis

By Gary Paul Nabhan
for Slow Food Nation

The Earth has grown tired of making fossilized food
Tired of having to pump fossil fuel as well as
Ancient groundwater up from her very innards
To let them spill onto our fields & orchards
Where frantic crops are forced to suck it all up.
What oozed out of the aquifer and oil well
Now bleeds with additives, fertilizers & pesticides
So that we might eat.

We too have grown tired
Tired of all ...

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Some Like It Hot

Listen to this Interview

CURWOOD: Those red hot chili peppers that appear next to entrees on many restaurant menus today can mean different things to different people. Some might consider them a hot, yet savory, challenge, while others see them as red flags – a warning to sensitive taste buds.

Whether you like your food spicy or not is a personal choice, but as Gary Nabhan contends, it’s also likely to be ...

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Long Before the First Thanksgiving

By: Gary Paul Nabhan, RAFT founder

Gary Paul Nabhan is a MacArthur Fellow, cofounder of Native Seeds/SEARCH, and author of numerous books and articles on ethnobotany, nutrition, and plant conservation.

Try to recall the most remarkable lunch you’ve ever had in a grade school. Mine was remarkable not only because of the food that was served, but also because of the people—both young and old—with whom I ate. It was the people’s cultural traditions and their link with their distinctive ...

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The Beginning and the End of the Colorado River: Protecting the Sources, Ensuring Its Courses

Dedicated to Anita Alvarez de Williams, Nuestra Señora de la Delta

During the drought year of 2002, front-page headlines in Arizona’s largest newspaper declared “Colorado River Not Doing Job.” It was one of several notices making the national and regional headlines that year that referred to the worst drought to hit the bulk of the Colorado River basin in a century or more. In reading the Arizona Republic article that morning, I presumed that the journalists responsible for it understood ...

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Twelve Lessons on Water Conservation from Traditional Farmers of the Colorado Plateau

The cultivation and irrigation of crops adapted to an arid climate began on the Colorado Plateau more than four thousand years ago, as we know from desiccated corncobs found near Zuni, Black Mesa, and Canyon de Chelly. An unbroken chain of some 160 generations has been engaged in rain-fed and runoff-supplemented production of food, fiber, and dyes with seeds and water-conserving practices adapted to the peculiar soils and microclimates of this region. Many environmental conditions and agricultural technologies have changed, ...

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A Terroir-ist’s Manifesto for Eating in Place

Know where your food has come from
through knowing those who produced it for you,
from farmer to forager, rancher or fisher
to earthworms building a deeper, richer soil,
to the heirloom vegetable, the nitrogen-fixing legume,
the pollinator, the heritage breed of livestock,
& the sourdough culture rising in your flour.

Know where your food has come from
by the very way it tastes:
its freshness telling you
how far it may have traveled,
the hint of mint in the cheese
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American Terroir

Sit down at the table with your countrymen & friends
And ask your lips, tongues, minds & bellies some questions,
Questions that remind us that our bodies & spirits
Are either nurtured by place
Or swallowed up by tasteless placelessness.

Ask aloud: Just what exactly is it
That we want to have cross our lips,
To roll off our tongues & down our throats
To be transformed & conjured into something
Altogether new by thousands of gut microbes
To surge into ...

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In Praise, and in Appraisal of, the Working Landscapes of the West

By: Gary Paul Nabhan with Ken Meter

The simplest fact about Western ranches tends to be the one which most folks tend to forget: raising range-fed livestock is one of the few economic activities that produces food — and potentially ecosystem health and financial wealth– by keeping landscapes relatively wild, diverse and resilient.

Only a small percentage of the foods eaten by humankind come from wildlands. Yes, livestock are given supplemental feed during drought, pregnancy, or just before slaughter, but the bulk ...

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NAU Professor Feels Lebanese Grief Personally

By SZABOLCS KORDOS
Sun Staff Reporter
Wednesday, July 19, 2006 11:48 AM CDT

Gary Nabhan is invited to his cousin’s wedding in Beirut this fall.

But now, the director of Northern Arizona University’s Center for Sustainable Environments doesn’t know if there will be a ceremony at all in the war-torn city. He can only hope that his relatives are unharmed.

As the son of an immigrant Lebanese family, the Nabhan grieves the losses on both sides in the Middle East crisis. He also ...

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Desert is a Homeland that Has Migrated

“Our ancestors need to hear from us.” Vivienne Jake, Kaibab Paiute elder

It is well after midnight, and I have found myself in the backseat of a rented Lexus with a driver named Ahmed who is speeding 150 kilometers per hour along the shores of the Arabian Gulf. There is desert here right up to the sea, but both dry ground and ocean water are hard to make out. There are floodlights beaming down on the eight lane super highway between ...

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