Eating Locally In Tucson

By Adam Lehrman
March 25, 2009

Local radishes for sale at the Food Conspiracy Co-op
Local radishes for sale at the Food Conspiracy Co-op

There's a considerable amount of talk these days regarding eating locally. I first became turned on to the idea when a hippie co-worker mentioned something about a macrobiotic diet being a cure for cancer. I had no idea what macrobiotics was at the time and so I pursued the notion in random books from the library which took me from macrobiotics to Andrew Weil to Deepak Chopra. In very simple terms, macrobiotics has much to do with eating foods from one's climate, in season, and in balance - very in line with Michael Pollan's now famous mantra from In Defense of Food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Eating locally, however - depending upon your locale, might not prove so simple.

When I lived in San Francisco and discovered the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market I was introduced to a whole new world. The produce was so beautiful and fresh. You could find almost anything you wanted. I took it for granted that it would always be that easy to get food that good. Bounties of local cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, Kalamata olive rolls from the Acme Bread Company, and stand after stand of farmers vending their year-round harvests were mainstays.

Fast-forward to life in Tucson and I've had to search for local produce that rarely comes close to the quality coming out of the fertile land of Northern California. But that doesn't mean that what I've found here is no good. Far from it. In fact, the local produce in Tucson is better than anything you'll ever find in any grocery store that's been brought in from out of state - no matter where it's coming from. I've found the search to be pleasurable, enlightening, and it has introduced me to not only great food but amazing people that are just as passionate about food.

I believe struggle will continue for the local food movement here in Tucson until more people are demanding it. A recent newcomer, Local Harvest Marketplace, a market focused on providing local produce and food products have struggled to stay open. A determined group of customers were able to keep them open past one store closing, but, I've heard they've since closed up shop for good. A phone call to the number listed on their website was answered with, "We're sorry, but this mailbox is full."

Fortunately, Local Harvest Marketplace was not the only store offering local produce. Listed below are some of the stores that I've been able to find local produce and other local food products at. To truly find great produce, however, you'll have to get to one or more of the farmers markets which I'll list and describe in a future post. Or, you can either forage - there's an overabundance of olive and citrus trees, a shortage of fig and nut trees (but they do exist), rosemary, nopales, wild arugula, dandelion greens - or grow it yourself.


1. Aqua Vita Natural Foods Market

Aqua Vita Natural Foods Market
2801 N. Country Club Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85716
T (520) 293-7770
F (520) 696-3422

Aqua Vita is a very popular place for their steam distilled water, which I buy myself. They also have an excellent herb selection. Local produce will vary depending on season and what they've sold out of. Lately I've seen apples, citrus, salad greens, dates, and herbs. On a recent visit they had hydroponic Roma tomatoes from Willcox, and they usually have tortillas and tortilla chips from Alejandros, as well as various sprouts and breads from the Grassroots Company. I've found that Aqua Vita can be a bit more expensive than some of the other stores, but sometimes what you end up saving by shopping elsewhere you make up for in gas. (Unless your an avid cyclist). When the Nagami kumquats are in, be sure to try them. They're excellent.

2. The Food Conspiracy Co-op


The Food Conspiracy Co-op
412 N 4th Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85705
T (520) 624-4821
F (520) 792-2703

First of all, I love the co-op. Currently they're carrying apples, some citrus, herbs, and salad greens, local wines, the full line of bread from Tucson's own Small Planet Bakery, and dates. They're also carrying various sprouts from the Grassroots Company and on a recent visit I noticed some very attractive collard greens, radishes and butter lettuce from Forever Young Farms in Amado. In the freezer was grass fed beef, lamb and goat from Sky Island Brand while in the bulk section I found mesquite and prickly pear syrup from RPMS, and honey from Malcolm's Honey and Happy Bear Honey.

3. New Life Health Centers


4841 E. Speedway
Tucson, AZ 85712
T (520) 795-7862
F (520) 326-3360

1745 W Ajo
Tucson, AZ 85713
T (520) 294-4926
F (520) 434-9483

3954 N Oracle
Tucson, AZ 85705
T (520) 888-4830
F (520) 888-2581

5612E. Broadway
Tucson, AZ 85711
T (520) 747-0209
F (520) 747-3707

New Life opened in 1970 at the Speedway location, which was then 1,2oo square feet. It's now 7,000 and carries a large variety of food, however they're less robust with their local selection. On a recent visit I found dates, sprouts and high fiber essene bread from Grassroots Co., and prickly pear nectar and spread from AZ Cactus Ranch. As is the case with most of these stores, selection varies with the season.

4. 17th Street Farmers Market  - CLOSED


17th Street Farmers Market
810 East 17th Street
Tucson, AZ 85719
T (520) 624-8821
F (866) 803-9136

Technically not a farmers market, but a great place nonetheless. Awesome produce section. Locally, they're carrying bread from Viro's Italian Bakery and Small Planet Bakery, tortillas and tortilla chips from Mi Casita, and New York strip, ribeye and ground beef from Double Check Ranch.

5. Native Seeds|SEARCH


Native Seeds | SEARCH
526 N. 4th Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85705
T (520) 622.5561
F (520) 622.5591

Primarily a seed bank that has "endeavored to conserve the rich legacy of agro-biodiversity in the arid Southwest," Native Seeds | SEARCH also sells food. Listed on their website here for ordering or purchasing in the store are baking mixes, chile pastes, chile powder, corn products, grains, meals, herbs, teas, mole powder, salsas and sauces, smoked chiles, soup and stew mixes, sweets, whole chiles, and beans. If you've never been to Native Seeds | SEARCH it's a a great place to checkout regardless of if you need anything or not. They also have a great book selection.

6. San Xavier Cooperative


San Xavier Cooperative Farm
8100 S. Oidak Wog
Tucson, AZ 85746
T (520) 295-3774

I finally made it out to the San Xavier Cooperative Farm. The Tohono O'odham woman at the front desk was sorting through white tepary beans when I walked in. While they didn't have much, they assured me that during the summer, they grow and sell melon, cantaloupe, honeydew, squash, and 60-day corn. Year-round, or until they run out, you can find red and white tepary beans, Pima Lima beans, Pinto beans, Pima/Durham wheat flour, regular wheat flour, wheat berries, corn meal and mesquite flour. Definitely call before heading there.

7. Fruit-land Market (Corner of 6th Avenue and Speedway)


Fruit-Land Market (Larry Green)
1101 N. Sixth Ave
Tucson, AZ 85705
T (520) 792-1892

In operation since 1962 and covered in the Star in 2008, the Fruit-Land Market provides local citrus, almonds, pistachios, and pecans. Marmalades, jellies, and candies are available from the Cactus Candy Company as well as honey from the Sonoran Desert Honey Company and The Honeyman. Not all nuts and fruit are always in stock, so call first.


8. Craigslist Farm & Garden Section

Last but not least, I've found herbs, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and occasionally a pig or cow for butchering, which you may need quite a few friends and a large freezer for. Again, what's available will depend on the season.

I hope this will bring attention to some of the stores where local food and produce is sold. Unfortunately, sometimes we must frequent the non-local stores such as Whole Foods, Sunflower Market, Ike's and Sprouts and often (but not often enough) I see local produce there, too, so keep an eye out wherever you are. I've even found local pistachios at Walgreens. But shop locally if you can. It keeps your dollars in the community. And if I've missed anything, let me know and I'll add it.

Happy local shopping!

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