Culinary Arts and Indigenous Foods

By Chef Elizabeth Mikesell

On June 7, 2015, my Pima Community College culinary education students and I were invited to be guest chefs at the Desert Rain Café, in Sells, AZ. This fun and exciting project used native desert foods in every course developed with my students, one of whom is Tohono O’odham. Local author Janet Taylor helped us prepare and serve the meal. Our menu’s first course was blue corn sopes and a multi-layered tepary bean salad including avocado, corn, hearts of palm, microgreens, fresh cilantro with chipotle lime salad dressing. Next, we made H’aal squash soup with jalapeño chimichurri, a South American sauce now featured in new Southwestern cuisine. The third course was marinated mesquite smoked chicken on a bed of nopales in red chile sauce, cilantro rice and mesquite flour bruschetta with cholla bud salsa. We offered prickly pear meringue pie sweetened with agave nectar and saguaro syrup for dessert.

Having instructed in Pima Community College’s Culinary Arts program for over 10 years, I’m familiar with all the standard practices—what students need to know to survive in the restaurant industry, to open a bakery, or just to ensure they (not to mention their friends and their family!) will eat good food for the rest of their lives. But over that time, I have also come to see how necessary it is for my students to understand their local food system. For that reason, experiences like the one we had at the Desert Rain Café—where, through food, my students can connect with the history and heritage of this area—are my favorite part of being a chef.

The Pima County Food Alliance Wants You!

The Pima County Food Alliance wants YOU!

We’re now accepting applications for our Leadership Council, a roughly 16-member body that meets monthly to work on projects related to food and food policy in Pima County. Leadership Council members commit to a two-year term with a roughly 10-hour commitment per month. We’re looking for a range of skills and interests, from grant writing to project management and event coordination. Think you’d be a good fit? Fill out the application and submit to info@pimafoodalliance.org by May 4.

Urban Ag Zoning Update

You’ve heard from us before on the City of Tucson’s proposed urban ag zoning code changes.  Last time around, we were mostly supportive, but had a few lingering concerns.  A specific one was around the number of small animals allowed…  More generally, we wondered about the quantity of red tape being required even to do the things the City said it wanted to support.  As an example, you could have an urban farm or a farmer’s market, but only if you jumped through many hoops…

We worked hard with the City over the summer to address those concerns.  We sat down with them through many a meeting and dug into the nitty gritty, asking questions like “What is a farmers’ market?  Where should they be allowed to operate and during what hours?”  All that work is now included in the latest draft.  Overall, the changes look very positive.  As an example, the process for opening a farmers’ market is significantly streamlined, and less limited in their hours of operation.  And when it comes to animals, there’s now a system of “animal units,” which allows more animals to be kept on larger lot sizes, and across the board.  This, though slightly more complicated, makes a lot more sense than the universal limit they were proposing last time around: 12 hens.

If you want to dig deeper into the changes, we suggest looking at the City’s Sustainable Zoning Code Project Page.  In particular, check out the Comparison Sheet, which shows you side by side how the latest version differs from both the last version and the current regs.

Urban Ag in the Desert

[Update: The next meeting has been scheduled for June 10, 6:30-8pm at the YWCA (525 N. Bonita Avenue).  You can find the official flyers here: English and Spanish.]

The City of Tucson is holding public meetings over May and June as part of an effort to revise the City’s zoning regulations on urban agriculture, including farmers’ markets, community gardens, urban farms, and the keeping of small animals.  To help you understand what’s going on, we’ve put together some background info, including some highlights in bullet form.

Background Information

As part of the Sustainable Code Integration Project, the City of Tucson is revamping the city’s zoning ordinances related to urban agriculture and local food sales in Tucson. Although urban food production has been going on for many years in Tucson, this is the first effort to bring the city code up-to-date to reflect those activities. Members of the Pima County Food Alliance (PCFA) and others have actively followed the zoning code process, and have provided input on the proposed changes.

For the most part, the proposed zoning changes are coming together nicely and will be instrumental to creating a greener and more edible landscape in Tucson. Nonetheless, there has been pushback from some neighborhood members who are concerned about the potential implications of the new ordinances. These residents have been (and will likely continue) insisting on more restrictive regulations for urban agriculture. In addition, there are a few issues that still need clarification (particularly regarding the raising of small farm animals).

Given the controversy that these zoning changes have raised among some neighborhoods, it is important that we generate a large showing at the two public meetings to demonstrate widespread support for continued (and expanded) food production in the City of Tucson. It is particularly important that Tucson residents who keep farm animals (or their neighbors) attend these meetings. There has been a lot of disagreement on issues regarding the keeping of urban farm animals. Please consider attending the meeting and/or extending the invitation to other interested parties!

Highlights of the Proposed Zoning Changes

  • The proposed changes provide guidelines to allow garden sales from homes, community gardens, urban farms, and small and large farmers’ markets
  • They propose guidelines for the size and placement of greenhouses, animal housing/corrals, and compost
  • They attempt to define appropriate set-backs and guidelines (including number limits) for raising small farm animals

Potential Problems with the Proposed Zoning Changes

  • Farmers’ markets in residential areas will require a Special Exception Procedure, an annually-renewed permit, and can only operate between 7 am and 5 pm  (this is more restrictive than current regulations).
  • The number of fowl permitted is reduced from 24 to 8. In addition, the keeping of up to 3 small animals is permitted.Small animals include miniature goats, rabbits, rodents, fowl, and other similar animals. Larger properties can have one additional animal for every additional 5,000 square feet of property. Property owners may request the number of animals be increased through a Design Development Option. No animal shelters are permitted between the building and the front street.
  • Although on-site sales of home-produced agricultural products are permitted, the sale hours are restricted to between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.

If you want to delve deeper, consider investigating the following resources:

Arizona Public Media’s May article

Summary of Public Comments from May Meeting

Side by Side Comparison of Current vs. Proposed Urban Ag Changes

If you can’t make the meeting, but have comments to make, you can always contact:

Rebecca Ruopp, Office of Integrated Planning
(520) 837-6973; Rebecca.Ruopp@tucsonaz.gov

Also feel free to contact the Pima County Food Alliance with any comments or concerns: info@pimafoodalliance.org