Tucson is one of the top cities in the United States conserving and disseminating edible biodiversity and local heritage foods, a new report reveals. Released by the University of Arizona Center for Regional Food Studies, the second annual “State of Tucson’s Food System” documents Tucson’s rich variety of common, heritage, native, and heirloom plant species and varieties available, often at little or no cost, in its local economy.
“This report shows that Tucson’s community organizations have done more to improve affordable access to food biodiversity than efforts known in any other major city in North America,” says Gary Paul Nabhan, the founding Director of the Center for Regional Food Studies and the report’s lead author.
The report estimates that Tucsonans have local access to more than 2000 seed varieties of desert-adapted vegetables, grains, legumes and herbs, and more than 200 species of domesticated fruit, nut, berry, and succulent edibles. These food crop varieties originated in many indigenous, immigrant, and refugee communities, many of whom now directly-marketing their heritage produce and artisanally-prepared food products for local consumption.
According to the report, close to 20 community organizations, including free seed libraries, nonprofit or community-owned nurseries, and gleaning and gardening programs, are working together to ensure broad and affordable public access to these seeds, plants, and produce. And at least 80 percent of the annual food crop varieties and 40 percent of the woody perennial food species are available for free or at a discounted cost to food-insecure families. These families can now grow their own produce or glean it from public spaces, increasing their dietary diversity and nutrition and reducing food costs.
“Rather than witnessing a decline in access to food diversity that has resulted in more homogeneous, nutrient-poor diets in most cities and countries in the world over the last 50 years, Tucsonans can take pride in the fact that their innovations are helping reverse such trends,” said Nabhan.
According to the Slow Food International Ark of Taste, Tucson farmers, foragers, and ranchers preserve more rare edible plant seeds and rare livestock breeds than those in any other metro region of the U.S. of comparable size. Due to its rich agricultural heritage, food traditions, and innovative programmes and regulations for food security, Tucson is also the first American city to be designated a City of Gastronomy by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in December 2015.