Food Sketch Plan

The Present:
1.  How is your topic area (Food & Agriculture) operating today? 

  1. Our current food production and supply system is far too dependent on fossil fuels, leaving us potentially very vulnerable to price and supply crises.
  2. Reliance on harmful and/or resource intensive methods of large-scale agriculture for both produce and meats supports widespread consumption of resources that may not be easily and/or rapidly replenished.  We’re destroying our soil and water quality and availability on a national scale, with special concerns for those of us who live in the desert.
  3. A small but growing public awareness is in motion about the value of natural and organic and local food, but not as much about what it will take to supply natural foods in large quantities from local sources on a long term, sustainable basis.  Community Food Banks, coops, and other non-profit organizations have contributed awareness plus food preparation and gardening skills to the community-at-large, but on a relatively small scale.  Tucson and Arizona have probably not organized around these issues as well as other communities (e.g., West Coast, Boulder, etc.); we have a lot to learn and a ways to go.
  4. There is no food security.  How much food would we need to support Tucson’s 1 million people if the trucks stopped coming to Tucson?  Only a small % of food is local, and we don’t have large-scale and local food-storage. Stores are supplied by warehouses in Phoenix or Los Angeles with only about 3-days supply of perishable groceries and 1 week’s supply of non-perishable goods on hand at any time.  Are we served well by a commercial food system that stocks food “just in time”?

2.  What currently exists that contributes to or is working toward long-term sustainability in this area (businesses, organizations, practices, regulations, incentives, etc.)?  

  1. Lots of organizations, web sites, etc., but it seems like there’s almost no coordination or cross-checking of information, e.g., find 5 lists of farm markets and they will have 5 slightly different sets of information on hours, even location!.  Also, disparate individuals and groups that will be harder to identify.  Recently, a young couple, new to the farmers’ market, was selling produce raised in a cooperative arrangement with a neighbor – using both back yards.  They have already surveyed their neighborhood – knocking on doors – for others interested in or already doing the same.
  2. What are we talking about when we speak about “in this area” – Tucson, Pima County, Eastern Pima County, Southern Arizona (if so, how defined)?
  3. How do we ensure that information on legislative, regulatory and political initiatives is distributed in a straightforward and accurate way to the people who need it.  How do we help them (do we help them) learn how to have their voices heard?
  4. We need more farms and farmers.  How can we grow them?  Support local farmers.  How can we make this community sustainable for and through farmers?  Teach children to garden.
  5. Farmers markets, CSAs (including Tucson CSA of about 400, supplied primarily from a farm in south Phoenix metro area)  Active markets and other food operations in various communities in Southern Arizona from Catalina to Tubac and Arivaca to Willcox, Dragoon, Safford and San Simon.
  6. Desert food growers and harvesters, including Tohono O’odham and San Xavier community farm and coop (TOCA), Native Seed/SEARCH.
  7. Is it possible that commercial “farmers markets” and natural/organic/health food stores (or for that matter, Basha’s, Fry’s, Safeway) could be encouraged to develop a food contingency plan in cooperation with Sustainable Tucson?  Is this desirable?.
  8. Non-profit support of community gardening and farming and farmers’ markets (especially Community Food Bank)
  9. Connect other (nonfood) businesses together to create local philosophy-in-practice for fair work practices and rating systems to shop for real needs by local business vs. big corporations.  Encourage related local businesses, such as compounding pharmacies, which are often below the public radar.  Support a community resource center to identify local garden, farms, and other businesses (Local First Arizona?)  Study and quantify how much local food is in restaurants and grocery stores?  Also, local plants/flowers and other products.

3.  What current practices, etc., are at-odds with respect to long-term sustainability in this area?

  1. Conventional grocery stores; even successful forays into “organic” (a la Safeway), still arrive here on trucks – are not really local and therefore, not sustainable.   Sunflower and Whole Foods managers have both shown an  interest in improving their local supply of food, including produce, salsas, etc. – BECAUSE people are coming in their stores expecting it.  They mostly advertise “local” but are beginning to admit that it’s difficult to supply true local fruit and produce and meats – partly because the quantities raised by many local producers are too small for their stores.  They need to be more creative, and flexible.  We need to demand more local food! 
  2. Water is privatized.
  3. Food is imported.  (What percent of food sold at local farm markets is grown in Mexico?)
  4. No composting.
  5. No solar.
  6. Not using yard waste.
  7. Too many additives to food & drink.
  8. Small amounts of arable land available.
  9. Takeout food containers and utensils (recyclable/compostable are available commercially!)
  10. Country of origin knowledge re: food sources, quality.  New labeling required, but not for small businesses.  More information on questionable and troubled sources.


The Vision:   (The preferred state where Tucson becomes sustainable.)

1.  What is the overall benefit in becoming sustainable in your topic area?

  1. Tremendous.  We can only benefit – both today and tomorrow – from the steps taken to expand the number of local residents who seek out local produce, other local producers and retailers, restaurants featuring local foods, etc.
  2. Encourage the joy of growing.  Food plants of any kind and amount growing in each home.  Everyone contributing to compost.  Education on preparation and preservation of home grown foods.
  3. Reduce dependence on trucked-in food.  Provide a buffer to extreme fluctuations in food and oil price and supply.
  4. Work together as a community (not just for the poor, but all) – gardening, building food supplies, bartering.  We won’t starve.

2.  What activities, businesses, and/or practices** don’t exist today in this area that can lead Tucson towards greater sustainability?

  1. More production!    Getting rid of false beliefs by identifying the “real” reasons that we don’t have more food producers in Southern Arizona any more.  Encourage every new and especially younger producer we can find!  Support them with our food dollars.
  2. Promote all producers through mapping and other web site applications to promote current food source information.
  3. Get the real scoop on water, and how it impacts (positively and negatively) the availability of locally produced food supply.
  4. Generate knowledge and understanding of current issues, government regulations functions, policies, public and private collaborations.
  5. “Pay-what-you-can-café” in community partnership with CFB, CSA, local farmers, maybe even business school.
  6. City funding (or other support, eg., land) for community gardens.  Education for kids.
  7. Education for all.  Education especially for kids.
  8. Form groups of urban gardeners to sell excess produce (much small and is given away by small gardeners.)  Should this system be rearranged to get food to those truly in need?


Practical Steps:  ( What are the next actions toward the above goals that our working group on [Food, Transportation, etc.] can take towards the creation of a comprehensive sustainability plan for Tucson?)

1.  Identify the organizations, businesses, etc. who are engaged in current sustainability practices.

  1. Yes. Absolutely.  The mapping approach is really attractive– i.e., it appears to be the most effective method to inform and educate all local consumers as to what’s happening in the community that they may want to tap into.  It will, of course, also become a tracking opportunity for improvements (or losses) in sustainability and sourcing in the community.
  2. Community gardens of Tucson, Tucson Organic Gardens, Desert Harvesters.  .Local Harvest (RIP).  Stores who sell organics (Whole Foods, Sunflower)
  3. Encourage more professionalism at a practical level – many local producers cannot literally afford to become certified organic; it’s too much of an investment.  There is an alternative:  Certified Naturally Grown, organized by farmers for farmers.  It costs considerably less and takes only a few months.
  4. Support existing community gardens.  Help create more community gardens.  Educate with examples.
  5. Broad education of the general public.  Public awareness of links between food and health.  Encourage more local food production.  Decrease energy used in food processing, storage and transportation.

2.  Identify the organizations, businesses, etc. who are engaged in practices that are not considered to be sustainable for our Tucson community.

  1. Any person or business who takes more from the community than they give back, or are prepared to give back in the event of a national or local emergency – raw materials, water, energy, etc.
  2. Personal planning for sustainability.
  3. Local businesses that need to be sustainable – now, and in the future, or an emergency.
  4. Discourage and educate junk food junkies.  A recent verbal report on decreased diabetes among young people in the tribal communities was especially encouraging. It needs to be replicated in the community-at-large.
  5. Unopened, unused land should be converted into gardens.  Hospital food should be locally produced.
  6. Find ways to reverse the trend of less expensive food from half a world away to encourage more local, appropriately priced food. 

3.  Identify realistic projects and activities that our group on (Food, Transportation, etc.) would like to spearhead during the next few years.

  1. Identification of all community resources involved in local food production and distribution, along with supporting organizations (farm markets, etc)
  2. Promote logistical and economic incentives for local farmers to stabilize our local food system.
  3. Encourage community engagement in gardening and city food scaping (i.e., citrus).
  4. Identify interdependent factors and resources that will determine our path to sustainability.
  5. Support Tucson permaculture. Examples (education) for “real people”.  Help organize groups of urban growers.
  6. Eaters education and awareness – what sustains, what destroys.

4.  How do these group projects and activities address the core problems Tucson is facing at present in terms of such sustainability areas as fossil fuel use, resource depletion, green jobs, and quality of life?

  1. Insist that every planning group and agency at the local, county, and state level address sustainable food supply (and related water, energy and land use issues) in every plan created…from today forward.
  2. Separate food security from sustainability.
  3. Set a target – i.e., work toward achieving xx% locally grown food by 2020 (or whatever).

Top 5 Action Items

Map our resources.

Define “local” for the purpose of mapping information on resources.

Identify functional food community topics (farms, ranches, orchards, farm markets, and so forth).

Identify specific data (and/or data sources) in each functional area.

Locate existing sources of food needs.

Locate existing distribution systems.

Input and provide enhanced display capability through a computerized mapping system.

Educate the public on availability of the resource.

Explore the issue of providing a secure food supply through local producers of all types.

Connect markets with local food producers.

Support a pricing and distribution system that allows local food producers to support their families and build their businesses… mutual security.

Promote logistical & economic incentives for local food producers, include various sizes of operations under local control.  Encourage organic seeds for food security.

Stabilize our local food system through local food systems.

Encourage local producer cooperatives, whenever practical.

Encourage community business outreach to local food producers.

Consider new alternative logistical and economic systems, such as land trusts, local equipment coops,

Encourage job creation and economic growth through the local producer economy.

Encourage local producer control of food distribution through farm and public markets and mercados organized and operated by local producers..

Explore available sources of funding through government, community foundations, private businesses and other sources.

Address the security of the local food supply, including processing, storage, transportation and distribution.

Focus on regional, desert-friendly foods and food knowledge.

Address the existing and continuing fertility of the soil.

Encourage signage in all places of distribution and sale of food to support identification of sources by food item.

Encourage community engagement in home, school, community, institutional and green-spaces gardening, including foodscaping, community gardens and local networks for garden sharing..

Strive to understand the other elements influencing the sustainability of the food supply in Tucson and Southern Arizona, such as water, energy, transportation, land use, and other critical areas so that the community can intelligently balance Food Security and Food Sustainability.

Eaters Education & Awareness

Create broad public education and public service announcements about the value/need/reason for investing in local food.

Encourage healthy and natural food choices.

Provide information on what foods are appropriate to our geography.

Encourage hands-on in local food production – help your farmer weed the rows!

Support youth apprenticeship for all activities in sustainability and local food production.

Change the meaning of the Standard American Diet = SAD to GLAD Generate Local Agricultural Diversity.

Provide community education regarding the benefits and potential negative impacts of different types of agriculture.


A 2007 concept  proposal by Judy Knox ~

Our emerging crisis of global warming and its many effects, energy supply insecurity,  increasing global demand for decreasing natural resources, terrorism threats, and increasing natural and man-caused disasters create a very possible, even likely, scenario of collapsing distribution lines and resulting food shortages. Today, the food we eat travels an average of 1500 miles from where it is grown and/or processed to our dining tables. This simply is not sustainable in the face of certain dwindling fossil fuel supplies.

Decentralized, local food production by the citizens of Tucson and surrounding areas is a simple, responsible, economical, healthy and doable response to an insecure future. Farmer’s markets, CSA’s(Community Supported Agriculture groups), learning to gather and process wild foods from our abundant Sonoran Desert, along with gleaning and distributing fruit tree excess in the city (grapefruit, oranges, lemons, figs, plums, pomegranates grow here in abundance) have all combined to increase local food availability. All these activities should be actively supported and encouraged to expand by local government, business and the non-profit sector.

However, we will need to do far more. During World War11, we responded to the urgent need to redirect national resources and severely ration food and energy supplies with Victory Gardens.  Nearly every home grew food in their backyards, which directly involved the citizenry in the national crisis and response, and contributed fresh, healthy food to each local community.

Backyard gardens at homes throughout Tucson, combined with neighborhood community gardens (at schools as part of the curriculum?), will bring fresh, organic vegetables, salad greens and fruit to rich and poor, young and old. I propose organized assistance with the delivery and construction of a simple backyard garden kit, consisting of:

~  a 10’ by 3’, easily constructed, raised garden bed, with attached compost bin*

~ composted garden soil,

~ a simple drip system,

~ seeds and

~ instruction booklet for planting, growing, harvesting and composting.

This project will bring backyard and neighborhood gardening to people of all ages and abilities, including those confined to wheelchairs and the elderly; will allow gardens to be located in a wide variety of backyard conditions, since they are placed on ground surface rather than having to dig into compacted ground; will conserve water and minimize weeds and maintenance.

In summary, backyard and neighborhood gardening throughout Tucson is an economical response that promotes sustainability, active citizen involvement, and reconnects us all to the natural process and joy of growing our own food, year round.  It is a kind, smart, healthy vision for our city and its citizens.


*Multiple modular 10’ by 3’ units could be set up at multiple- family dwellings, neighborhood gardens, and those wanting to grow more food.  The addition of simple rainwater harvesting systems would further enhance the benefits of backyard gardening.

2 comments about “Food Sketch Plan” ...

Wow. What great work you are doing!
I would like to cite some information from your food sketch plan in my Master’s thesis. Do you have any bibliographic information? Author? Date? etc.


I’ve got a sustainable gardening project that is a Kickstarter project running from September 26, 2012 to October 23rd. Check out The Nursetree Gardener’s Arch at: Any support I could get from Sustainable Tucson members or readers of this site would be appreciated.

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