Food Hub Network

One of the key missing elements of a local food system is all the capacities to collect food from where it is grown, store it, often process it, redistribute it, and do it all legally. A fairly new approach goes by the name FOOD HUB.Food Hub Poster - Urban Food Hub

“Traditionally” (how traditional is an idea that has only been around for about 10 years +/-?) food hubs have been set up to serve rural farms. The farmers/ranchers could bring their food to the food hub, where it could be shipped to the far away city without the individual producers having to separately make the trip.

In the last year or two several groups have attempted to create an urban food hub in Tucson, so far without success. Now a diverse group is trying a more collaborative approach, starting with basic research into needs and opportunities.

Recently, representatives from the Community Food Bank (which is serving as an informal food hub already), the City of Tucson, a real estate expert and farmer, and Feeding Tucson began a process to develop a “road map” for creating a food hub network to serve local market gardeners, peri-urban farms, and other local producers.

At this early stage, it is clear that Tucson will create something that draws from the best of other efforts, but will be unique to Tucson’s special needs. A traditional approach would have a central facility that serves dozens of rural farmers/ranchers, and transports food to the distant city. We are likely to create a network of smaller hubs that are scaled to a widely spread network of small and very small local suppliers. Some of these distributed hubs would specialize in serving rural farms. Many of these distributed hubs are likely to pair up with another initiative called a Kitchen Incubator, which does for processing, what a food hub does for production.

The initial step we are working on is to do a market analysis of the needs of local producers and potential institutional buyers. Members of this Food Hub working group are now assembling surveys from other groups around the country, and building a list of local providers and buyers, so that we can test out their needs and interests, and begin to clarify what is needed to really accelerate the development of a local food system.

If you are interested in helping develop and conduct this survey, please let me know.

Continue reading Food Hub Network

Breckenfeld garden

Breckenfeld gardenYou have undoubtedly heard that soil is the key to successful gardening. Did you also know that it is a battleground?

A healthy soil is perhaps the most important factor in growing anything.   It is teaming with trillions of micro-organisms competing and cooperating with each other for nutrients, water and oxygen. Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with plant roots, receiving food (carbohydrates) and providing a large network of filaments (hyphae) that extend the plant’s roots many-fold and bring back water and other nutrients.

Don Breckenfeld, retired USDA soils scientist, and wife Cris are firm believers in maintaining the health of the soil of Breckenfeld Garden. And it shows.

Cris is the keeper of the records. This year their first tomato crop has totaled about 1000 pounds, and the second crop is just starting. According to Cris’ careful records, last year, they harvested nearly a ton of tomatoes from 800 square feet of garden in two crops.

And to top it all off, they use about ½ the water of conventional agriculture.

Don keeps careful track of his water use. Not surprising, since it costs between ¼ and ½ their total income from the farmers markets they supply each week, just to pay the water bills. But there isn’t a “trick” to this efficiency, but a system of standard practices.

Don doesn’t allow his fields to “go fallow”. The vibrant biological activity would simply eat up the food and produce nothing in return. Instead, he works to maintain soil fertility and minimize exposed soil.

After every crop, Cris chops up the spent plants with a lawn mower and then Don adds manure and turns the residue into the top layer of soil to let it compost in-place. Every few years, he adds a lot more organic matter and turns it in deeply with a ripper bar mounted on a tiny tractor design for Asian rice paddies. The goal is to get these nutrients deeply into the soil, so they hold moisture and support the microbes that gather and become nutrients for the plants.

In addition to continuously building the soil, Don plants everything very close together with only the smallest space between rows. You almost can’t see the paths between the masses of plants, and this greatly reduces moisture loss. Don doesn’t mulch the space between plants, because there isn’t any.

To avoid most diseases, Don rotates crops whenever there is any sign of disease. Two or three years is the maximum, in most cases.

Because of this “system” for maintaining soil fertility and minimizing water, the Breckenfelds are able to produce large quantities of high quality fresh vegetable for one and sometimes two farmers markets in town. Don estimates that his 1/3 to ½ acre market garden could provide all the vegetables for 20-25, 4-person families.

While this is impressive, it really gives us a sense of the scale of creating a secure local food supply. At that rate, it would take about 2000 (very well managed) market gardens of similar size to produce 25% of the vegetables Tucsonans eat.

And that’s only the vegetables. Grains, whether corn or wheat, or others we aren’t familiar with, like barley or millet, take much more land. While a garden growing a high-weight, high value crop like tomatoes might produce as much as 20# per square foot per year, wheat is closer to 2#. A more secure food supply will require real expertise that we don’t currently have.

And that is one of the key lessons from the Breckenfelds. We aren’t limited by land or water, nearly as much as we are limited by our knowledge. In the discussion after the tour, Don identified three critical barriers to expanding the number of market gardens:

  •  knowledge
  •  outlets (e.g. Community Food Bank’s consignment program)
  •  time & energy

The biggest was knowledge.

The knowledge of how to raise food, has skipped a generation. Most people today have no direct experience with either farm life, or even know how to successfully garden. High school may be too late to get kids interested/ involved.

The key to our success, they feel, is to gather and share the knowledge we have. Some individuals know a lot, but the challenge will be to bring it all together and share what we have.

You can say that about a lot of the problems we face.

Potential tour sites for our next FT Champions’ Network tour are:

  •  Community Food Bank garden (Brandon Merchant)
  •  Compost Cats (Brandon Merchant)
  •  Las Milpitas (Tres English)

Attending: Candice Porter, Leticia McCune, Sheryl Joy, Anastasia Smith, Brandon Merchant, Paula Libsitz, Melissa Gant (Foodie Fleet), Leslie Hunten, Tres English, Cris Breckenfeld, Don Breckenfeld

Come on Tucson – What are we waiting for?!

Tucson and Phoenix have rather different views of something called a “drywell”. In Phoenix there are about 100,000 drywells. In Tucson there are about 0.

Drywells are exactly that – dry wells. You put water into them, rather than take it out. After filtering thru hundreds of feet of dirt, a network of drywells could potentially add 3 billion gallons (or more) of new water to our groundwater supply in an average year. Continue reading Come on Tucson – What are we waiting for?!

Creating links in a vibrant local food system

Tucson locally produces less than 2% of the food we consume — maybe much less.

For us to produce enough local food to matter, we must increase what we produce 10- to 30-times what we do today – and do it as fast as possible.

Ballard Farmers Market
Ballard Farmers Market

Piece of cake! That is, a cake made with Mesquite and White Sonoran Wheat flours, neighborhood eggs, goat milk, and local honey.

Food, and how we think about it, prepare it, and come together over it, is a central feature of all human cultures. It is also one of our most powerful tools to create a complete local food system that provides us with a secure food supply.
Continue reading Creating links in a vibrant local food system

Market garden in central Tucson

By Brandon Merchant, with Tres English

The most recent gathering of the Feeding Tucson Champions’ Network took place on July 20 at Dreamflower Gardens located in the heart mid-town Tucson. Nearly two dozen peoplDreamflower Gardens - Urban market garden in Central Tucsone gathered for the tour guided by proprietors Lorien and Dale Teresy. Lorien and Dale have taken advantage of their ¾ acre location by creating a thriving market garden where they grow vegetables that they sell at farmer’s markets and at their own food stand located at the rear of their property. In addition to fresh produce, Dreamflower also grows and sells a variety of herbs and potted plants as well as seasonal flower arrangements. Some highlights of the tour included the newly expanded vegetable growing area located on the western edge of the property, both Lorien and Dale say that this added space will allow them to bring even more produce to market. Continue reading Market garden in central Tucson

UA Garden Kitchen – Seed to Table training

By Nick Quaglietta

The most recent meeting of the Feeding Tucson Champion’s Network took place on the morning of Saturday, June 28th and was devoted to an orientation and tour of The Garden Kitchen, which is located in South Tucson at 2205 S 4th Ave. This facility was opened two years ago and is a joint venture of Pima County and the UA Cooperative Extension service, which is part of the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and is responsible for operating the Kitchen.

Ms. Louisa O’Meara, a first-year UA public health graduate student, provided the group with an IMG_0276overview of the history of The Garden Kitchen, a description of its educational programs, as well as a tour of the facility and garden. She also talked about their vision, which is to reduce the incidence of obesity and diabetes in adults-primarily those living in low-income areas. They strive to accomplish this by promoting a “seed-to-table” approach to Continue reading UA Garden Kitchen – Seed to Table training

Urban farming – River Road Gardens

Where will Tucson’s secure food supply come from? Part of the answer lies in places like the River Road Gardens.

Located on four acres of the Tucson Waldorf School on River Road, the River Road Gardens is run by the husband and wife team of Jon McNamara and Emily Mabry. With the help of a full-time Wwoof-er (a world wide program of organic farming apprentices), and help from the CSA members they serve, Jon and Emily tend an acre of plants on a four-acre site owned by the Waldorf School.

Even in 102-degree heat, the Gardens has dozens of long rows of lushFeeding Tucson - River Road Gardens sunflowers vegetables that are being harvested now or in the coming few months. The tallest plants are sunflowers, which provide shade, both within the rows and as personal companions for each of the newly planted fruit trees in the new water-harvesting orchard built by Watershed Management Group volunteers. Continue reading Urban farming – River Road Gardens

Food Biodiversity: Homogeneity and implications for food security

Colin Khoury, of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and a former employee of Tucson’s own Native Seeds/SEARCH, will review evidence of dramatic changes in the genetic diversity of the world’s main food crops and it relevance for human health and food security. Khoury will offer solutions to the narrowing of the diversity of the world’s food supplies and the increasing interdependence on a limited number and range of crops. The talk is sponsored by UA Kellogg Program of the SW Center, WEES Food Systems Scholars, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Native Seeds/SEARCH. Talk is at UA Harvill Building, Rm 404.

Creating a Secure Food Supply with our rain