While blue corn and paste tomatoes may not seem appealing to New Englanders, esteemed Arizona-based author and professor Gary Nabhan dished out reasons for consuming locally grown crops — including the less palatable ones — to an audience of about 50 people in the Marsh Hall rotunda at the Forestry School Thursday afternoon.
Nabhan, director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at North Arizona University, promoted his latest book, “Coming Home to Eat: Making Local Food Systems Sustainable,” while recounting his attempts to promote local farming in the midst of the worst drought to hit Arizona in 40 years.
“We must advance food security, sustainability and safety by forecasting impending threats, documenting the changes our actions bring about and forging connections,” he said.
The lecture was the first of a series of four sponsored by the Yale Coalition for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE).
Nabhan began his talk with an assessment of the damage wrought by the severe drought currently afflicting Arizona, which he said has resulted in declines in range-fed livestock and farm acreage. In addition, water deliveries to farmers have been reduced 25-33 percent for the second time in 52 years, he said.
But while Nabhan did not dispute the drought’s adverse impact on farming, he said increased urban development is also culpable.
“The drought has increased farm debt, and [in turn] the conversion of working landscapes to residential developments,” Nabhan said.
Nabhan cited statistics reporting that while there were 11,400 farms in Arizona in 1950, that number had dwindled to just 7,300 in 2000. According to Nabhan, the loss of farmlands, coupled with continued population growth due to urbanization, affects food security.
“Twenty-five thousand more food-insecure individuals are added to the state population each year,” Nabhan said. “We need to think deeply about what food security is because we’re undermining it faster than any bioterrorist could.”
Nabhan reconciled food security with his efforts to promote sustainable food production through the Flagstaff Local Food Initiative. He spoke of the Initiative as a model for Yale students pursuing similar goals, and reported on its success — the Initiative has promoted a 20-fold increase in the purchase of locally grown foods in North Arizona.
“Ninety percent of the profits go to the farmer, and the food is fresher, safer,” Nabhan said. “There has been a growth in the number of vendors, as well as the diversity of the food.”
Nabhan said the ultimate goal of the organization is to assist both the people who are most at risk of food insecurity and financially at-risk farmers. To this aim, Nabhan said his organization recruited people for foraging projects from locations with 50-70 percent unemployment rates. Payment comes in the form of locally grown foods or cash.
The organization also initiated a regional branding campaign to promote the sale of locally grown foods. The result — “Get Yours from Canyon Country” — was intended to attract consumers by appealing to their sense of place, Nabhan said.
“Freshness and quality is as much a key issue [to consumers] as the traceability of getting things locally,” he said.
CAFE member Kelly Coleman FES ’05 said Nabhan was the ideal speaker to kick off their lecture series.
“What’s exciting is that most of his work has been on building a locally sustainable food system,” she said. “He brings in both environmental and local issues, so he’s a good start for our speaker series.”
Corrina Steward FES ’04 said Nabhan reflected the growing popularity of organic foods on campus.
“My first impression was that he captured the incredible energy for agriculture at Yale,” she said. “[He captured] the student motivation to draw connections between food safety, local farming and sustainability.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”18546″ ]