When you first meet Kim Fox, you may think that all she ever talks about are her 21 backyard egg-producing chickens and the greens she grows and sells to neighbors and local restaurants.
However, Fox also talks passionately about ... well, dirt and poop. Lots of poop.
Fox says the only way to grow anything in the desert is to cultivate good soil—and in order to do that, you need really good poop.
"If I was in charge of the health-care system in the U.S., I would begin with the soil. ... I realized that some of the most detrimental measures we take in industrial farming have killed our soils, polluted our waterways and contaminated our air. It's decimated the health of America," Fox says.
Fox's interest in soil and food production grew during her serendipitous career journey, as she went from being an ecology restoration manager for the Nature Conservancy in Tucson, to working for the Community Food Bank, where she helped restore the organization's 8,000-square-foot garden.
Compelled by Sept. 11, Fox decided to take a sabbatical and travel for 10 months through Russia, Finland, Eastern and Central Europe, Italy, England and India, to learn about what farmers, urban and rural, were doing in these countries.
"Working at the Food Bank when (Sept. 11) happened, I felt so helpless and shocked. I felt like I didn't know what to do. I ended up sitting in my garden. Gardens are peaceful places, and I realized this is where I need to be. I need to keep gardening. That's where my purpose is," Fox says.
When Fox returned, she re-committed herself to raising backyard chickens and growing her own produce—all while teaching people that just about anyone can be an urban farmer. She calls her business Pachamama's Garden, and beyond the produce and eggs, Fox also sells compost kits with worms—and compost made out of poop.
Pigeon poop is her favorite, and luckily, Tucson has a lot of pigeons. If you see a tall, short-haired redhead standing under an overpass with a respirator mask and a shovel, it's Fox; she's harvesting pigeon poop for the compost and fertilizer kits she sells through Desert Survivors.
"It's like gold," Fox says.
While Fox's face lights up at the poop-and-soil talk, she's also excited about another travel sabbatical she's taking, starting in June. She'll land in Paris, and from there, she'll bicycle to Vilnius, Lithuania.
A few friends are helping her take care of the chickens and garden while she's gone, and she's working on subletting her little house on Arizona Avenue. (It comes with an old city farm cat as part of the deal.) Friends and supporters are also helping her raise money to pay for the trip.
"I want to visit organic farms, farmers' markets, food banks, seed banks, nonprofit agencies, Friends of the Earth representatives and other anti-GMO (genetic modified organisms) stuff," Fox says. "I'll have a blog site where I'll put up video and turn this into a food-journalist trip. Right now, I'm just overwhelmed that friends and supporters want to help make this trip a reality."
Sabine Blaese, owner of Café Passé on Fourth Avenue, is one of those supporters. She purchases greens from Fox for the café's salads, and says that they share a similar philosophy when it comes to food.
"If it tastes good, then it is good for you, and it nurtures you, and it nurtures your soul," Blaese says. "Kimski gets that. That's her whole philosophy (and was) long before it was hip. It's just what she does and who she is.
"It's refreshing to have someone like her in our community. I wish there were more people like her. She reminds us to be more neighborly. If we all focus more on buying local—and I have to say that because I have a local business—but, really, if we all did that, the supermarkets would adjust their practices. I think right now, we are having an impact in Tucson. We are growing more conscious about what we eat."
Fox estimates that last year, more than 200 people and school children toured her Pachamama's Garden—but none of those people were hit over the head to change their ways.
"I don't try to push my living style on everyone. I'm glad to dialogue with anyone who opposes the way I live. We've been conditioned to eat fast food, but I think people are happier to see a refreshing example. People will say to me, 'I want to get where you're at,' and I tell them to plant a basil plant in a pot. Take that first step," Fox says.
Fox guarantees the result will be a better sense of community.
"Growing food connects me to my Tucson community," she says, "and I know I have community because of food."
To learn more about Kim Fox's work and keep up with her travels, visit theoriginalhoe.blogspot.com, or search for Kim Fox's Food Trek 2010 on Facebook.