Gary Nabhan

Released February 5, The State of Southwestern Foodsheds is the first assessment of the health and well-being of food systems in the borderlands states. It emerged out of workshops with farmers, ranchers, food bank professionals, gardeners, scholars, restaurateurs and others affiliated with the Sabores Sin Fronteras/Flavors Without Borders Foodways Alliance based at the University of Arizona Southwest Center.

Among its findings:

1. The innovations in the food systems of Arizona and New Mexico can be compared for the last decade (2000-2010) to understand how these advances affect the otherwise deteriorating environmental, economic and nutritional health of borderlands residents. By discerning where leverage points are for positive change, the researches’ hope is to stimulate more innovation.

2. Arizona has recently suffered from the largest jump in poverty levels compared to any state in the union, and New Mexico was the third highest of any state. Both are ranked in the lowest 13 for food security, and both are ranked among the 6 worst states for dealing with childhood food insecurity. Arizona now ranks as the second poorest state in the nation. NM is ranked third.

3. At the same times, the desert borderlands have suffered various insults to their food producing capacity. A quarter of America’s ranch and farmland loss from 1982 to 2007 occurred in the four states along the Mexican border, with 925,700 acres lost in Arizona and 465,300 acres lost in NM. In addition, recent droughts have impacted the availability of water for food production, with Lake Mead recording its lowest-ever levels in 2010. Other reservoirs used for irrigation have been filled to 12-15 percent of their normal capacity, triggering water rationing in many places.

4. The number of residents in these states now relying on food banks and other forms of food relief hit an all-time high following the 2009 economic downturn. All five of the major food banks in the two states reported to Feeding America that they are struggling to meet their demands. For instance, the Roadrunner Food Bank had a 50% increase in demand following the downturn, due to a doubling of unemployment in its area. Other food banks, soup kitchens and relief organizations report similar trends.

5. Despite these discouraging trends, now, more than ever, borderlands residents are engaged in innovation and redesign of their foodsheds to resolve such problems. While NM has achieved more positive policy change, Arizona has excelled at market-driven solutions.

6. Arizona now has 72 farmers’ markets and NM has 63 markets, have had over a million dollar increase in gross sales since 2001. There are now 29 community-supported agriculture (CSA) projects in Arizona and 25 in NM. NM has 43 restaurants featuring locally grown foods and Arizona has 33. Arizona has 58 farmers who direct-market heritage foods and NM has 35.

7. Innovations are occurring in rural ranching landscapes. At least 58 Arizona livestock and poultry producers are now direct-marketing their meats, and 52 New Mexican producers are doing the same. In Arizona at least 13 livestock producers market their meats as grass-fed and 34 New Mexican ranchers and poultry producers do the same. Many ranchers are now engaged with land and water trusts to protect the food-production potential of “working landscapes” upon which we all depend.

8. In urban areas, there are 24 urban farms and homesteads in Arizona and 15 in NM that are directly-marketing their food and fiber products. Native American communities on Indian reservations are also engaged in redesigning their food systems to ensure the health of their youth and elders and to prevent further rises in the already-astronomic rates of diabetes.

The report offers many preliminary recommendations for innovations that arose out of workshops over the last year. It encourages communities to host town hall-like meetings to discuss their food and farming future.

Hard copies of the report for community discussion purposes are available for $5, and it can be downloaded from www.saboresfronteras.com and www.garynabhan.com/1/archives/1008.