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Desert Locavore 

Our intrepid writer decided to only eat local foods for a whole week; here's her diary

Practice blatant localism.

I saw those words on a bumper sticker, and it haunted me. I already eat in locally owned restaurants; I use a naturopath and acupuncturist to heal me instead of Blue Cross and the Walgreens prescription counter; I buy from independent bookstores and secondhand clothing stores.

After a stroll through a farmers' market, I decided to practice being a desert locavore by eating only locally grown foods for a week. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver's latest book, encourages buying local foods or growing your own to enhance nutritional offerings and to reduce environmental and financial costs from fuel transportation. For this week, my nourishment would come from people's gardens, farmers' markets and Native American products. My green goddess friends--Chris, Catherine, Christina and Trudy--contributed garden goodies.

On Saturday, I met Oracle Anne in Catalina at Our Garden, where proprietors Rebecca and Jesse provided a tour, proudly pointing to rows of shaded garlic and a peach-tree orchard full of fruits that were not yet ripe. Anne brought vegetables from the Florence Garden and goodies from the Oracle Farmers' Market, including delicious goat cheese.

I went to the St. Philip's Farmers Market on Sunday to buy some local bounty. Beyond more vegetables, additions included emmer, a grain from River Organica grown in Cascabel, along with a dense emmer roll; grass-fed beef from Double Check Ranch; honey from Three Points; Rainbow Valley herbed cow's milk cheese; Five Star beef jerky made from UA meat-lab cows; and olive oil from Queen Creek.

On the previous Friday, I'd purchased heirloom tomatoes and a dozen free-range eggs from the chicken ladies at Plants for the Southwest.

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," says Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food. I accepted his challenge.

The inside of my refrigerator took on a whole new look. Vases of various sizes held fresh herbs and vegetables. Just opening the door flooded me with waves of aromatherapy. One of the most amazing things about just-harvested vegetables is that they actually smell good, unlike vegetables dulled from traveling many miles to the grocery store.

The experiment started with Sunday lunch: I enjoyed part of the emmer roll spread with cow's cheese and tomato and then drizzled with olive oil, plus sweet carrots and grapefruit.

Dinner beheld a salad of lettuces, arugula, purple bell pepper, heirloom tomatoes, society garlic (in the chive family), cheese and oregano, drizzled with olive oil, plus two potatoes. Tip: When a purple potato is overcooked, it turns blue-gray; no food should ever be this hue.

Monday: I ate half of a grapefruit and then made a two-egg omelet with herbs and vegetables. Yum! Although coffee is not locally grown, it's locally roasted by Arbuckle Coffee Rosters. Pretty satiated, I nibbled on the emmer roll covered with goat cheese and tomato, along with more carrots and beef jerky. I marinated rib eye steak in garlic, herbs and olive oil. The steak was large enough to divide into three portions. Also on my plate were steamed beet greens and gray squash. (Again, gray should never be associated with food.) Later, I hand-squeezed grapefruit juice over ice and muddled mint.

Tuesday: Breakfast was grapefruit and another omelet, and for lunch, I had another salad with diced leftover steak. I made a pitcher of tea by pouring boiled water over fresh mint. I went out to dinner at Zona 78--one of two meals I'd have all week that weren't made with strictly local ingredients (I'd previously made plans)--and ordered fish, usually a staple in my diet but almost impossible to come by in the desert unless you're near the Salt River.

I also made brown tepary beans, which have sustained the Tohono O'odham for generations. The beans lingered in a crock pot with sautéed onions and garlic.

Wednesday: Tiring of omelets, I ate a small bowl of tepary beans and finished the emmer roll. For a snack, ate two hard-boiled eggs, and for lunch had more tepary beans, carrots and beef jerky. I went to Cuvée World Bistro's happy hour for a bowl of fragrant mussels and a glass of wine--the week's second and final nonlocal meal.

I found no directions on the Web for how to prepare this half-pound of emmer purchased for--shockingly--$50 per pound. I was instructed to soak the emmer in a pan with water, and was told that after 12 hours, it would sprout. After 16 hours, there were no sprouts, but the emmer was soft enough to eat and use like rice.

Thursday: Another omelet and more tepary beans mixed with emmer, which was very filling. I noshed on jerky, and ate more carrots and grapefruit.

On Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. during the summer, the Santa Cruz River Farmers' Market, sponsored by the Community Food Bank, offers garden-grown, on-consignment and local farmers' foods at extremely reasonable prices. Cash, credit cards, food stamps and WIC farmers' market vouchers are accepted. I bought only things I had not yet found: peaches, apricots, apples, green beans, sweet potatoes and a monster zucchini.

While standing over the sink, the peak ripeness of the apricots and peaches drove me into a fruit frenzy as I greedily gobbled several. Flashbacks crossed my mind of the times when my brother and I would wait impatiently for the fruit on my grandmother's peach trees to ripen--and then gobbling up the peaches to the point of sickness. I put the fruit away, ate the remaining piece of steak and steamed some green beans.

Lots of people dislike fruits and vegetables. Maybe if they ate locally grown produce picked at their peak (instead of ripening during the journey from the farm to the grocery bin), tastes would change.

Friday: Another omelet and more grapefruit. Fry's had Arizona-grown hami melons and Eurofresh greenhouse-grown tomatoes on the vine from Willcox. I ate a light lunch of tomatoes, basil, cucumber and goat cheese drizzled with olive oil. Dinner was inspired by my dad's "icebox treat" when he would clean out the refrigerator, chopping everything up and sautéing it all with leftover scraps of meat doused with ketchup. I did the same with ground beef, herbs, various vegetables, sweet potato and emmer topped with Arizona's Finest poblano hot sauce.

Saturday: I repeated previous days' menus for breakfast and lunch. Amazingly, there was hardly any waste: no cans and no packaging. If I had a garden, the rest could have been easily been composted.

For dinner, Nick came over bearing Budweiser (What, no Nimbus?) and hamburger buns. I sautéed onions and made burgers from the remaining ground beef. Determined to clean out my refrigerator, I steamed zucchini, carrots, beets and beet greens, patty-pan squash and boiled potatoes. Patty-pan squash is white and looks like a vegetarian dreidel with scalloped edges; it even twirled across the counter. This veggie platter popped with bright colors. While Nick raved about his burgers, I finished Friday's leftovers, which tasted fabulous after spending a night co-mingling in the refrigerator. All of this chewing made me fuller faster. Dinner ended with melon and mint frescas made in the blender.

Obviously, my week was a bit extreme, but it made me think about what small changes were easily doable: Join community supported agriculture (CSA); shop at farmers' markets; demand that chain grocery stores sell more local produce; and/or start a garden.

By day 8, I had lost three pounds, so I indulged on caramelized banana pancakes at Bobo's.


DESERT LOCAVORE RESOURCES

Farmers' Markets: See the listing that runs most weeks in the Tucson Weekly under Bulletin Board announcements.

Urban Agriculture Community Gardens of Tucson: 795-8823; communitygardensoftucson.org.

Sonoran Kitchen Garden: 325-8752; sonorankitchengardens.org.

Tucson Organic Gardeners: 670-9158; iwhome.com/nonprofits/TOG.

UA Cooperative Extension (Southwest gardening information): ag.arizona.edu/gardening.

Native Foods

Desert Harvesters (desertharvesters.org) plants, harvests and mills native, multifunctional food and medicine-producing trees and hosts events throughout the community.

Native Seeds/SEARCH (nativeseeds.org) is a nonprofit conservation organization that conserves, distributes and documents varieties of agricultural seeds from the American Southwest. You can buy seeds, tepary beans and other Native American products at 526 N. Fourth Ave.; 622-5561.

Miscellaneous Resources

Aqua Vita Natural Foods sells local and organic produce, herbal remedies and a holistic view of well-being at 2801 N. Country Club Road; 293-7770; aquavitanaturals.com.

Arbuckle Coffee Roasters' locally roasted beans can be found at the 17th Street Market and Rincon Market; 790-5282; arbucklecoffee.com.

Double Check Ranch from Dudleyville sells grass-fed beef at the Oro Valley and St. Philip's farmers markets; (520) 357-6515; doublecheckranch.com.

Food Conspiracy Co-Op is a not-for-profit natural-foods market, owned by its members and open to the public at 412 N. Fourth Ave.; 624-4821; foodconspiracy.org.

Our Garden Catalina offers seasonal, just-picked produce, at 16500 N. Stallion Place in Catalina; open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon; 825-3861; ourgardencatalina.com.

Queen Creek Olive Mill sells numbered bottles of olive oil at the St. Philip's Farmers' Market; queencreekolivemill.com.

River Organica offers emmer (grown in Cascabel) and emmer baked goods at the Bisbee and St. Philip's farmers' markets, (360) 840-7802, riverorganica.com.

Tucson Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members pick up produce every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at the Historic Y at 300 University Blvd. CSA gets its pesticide-free produce from Crooked Sky Farms and Agua Linda Farm. CSA members are invited to visit the farms to develop a face-to-face relationship. You can join by the season or be prorated in; tucsoncsa.org; 203-6500.

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