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NGO Panel in D.C. Discusses Value and Veracity of Agricultural Data

May 19, 2022

By: John Gifford, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

A panel of non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders spoke to ASU’s sustainable food systems graduate students during a May 2022 food-policy immersion experience in Washington, DC. Included among this panel were Ferd Hoefner, Michael Fernandez, Ann Mills, and Doug O’Brien.

Ferd Hoefner is a Washington, DC-based consultant working on behalf of multiple organizations with interests in federal farm, food, and environmental policy. His background includes over 30 years as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s policy director and lead Washington representative. Additionally, Ferd is a senior fellow with Arizona State University’s Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems. 

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The Land Ethic of the Hopi Tribe

April 27, 2022

By: Allison Perkins, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

Throughout my childhood, it never occurred to me to question where my food came from. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized how disconnected I am from my food and the people that grow it. Most people in America share this experience with me, having no knowledge of who grows their food, let alone where it comes from. However, this is not the case for Native American tribes such as the Hopi Tribe located in northeastern Arizona. The Hopi Tribe has been farming for at least 3,000 years, and consequently has deeply rooted connections to their land, food, and culture. During our travels for the Arizona Immersive, my cohort had the privilege of listening to a podcast episode conducted by the Swette Center in which they interviewed Dr. Michael Kotutwa Johnson of the Hopi Tribe. He graciously explained to us how sustainable agriculture has been a part of his tribe’s way of life for hundreds of generations.

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Arizona Conservationist Describes Her Path to Becoming an Agriculture Advocate

April 14, 2022

By: John Gifford, ASU Food Systems graduate student

Graduate students in Arizona State University’s MS in Sustainable Food Systems program were introduced to Sharma Torrens during a December 2021 farm and ranch immersion experience in Prescott, Arizona. Sharma owns her own business, Ag-Conserve Consulting LLC, and is a contractor for two nonprofit organizations.  She is the Conservation Education Director with the Arizona Association of Conservation Districts, and the Conservation Specialist with the Central Arizona Land Trust. A longtime advocate for wildlife and wild lands, she says that at the outset of her career she viewed agriculture as detrimental to our planet and its species. For this reason, she was opposed to it. 

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The Power of Resiliency at Gila River Farms

March 30, 2022

By: Zac DeJovine, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

As a part of our week-long Sustainability Food Systems immersive trip, my classmates and I visited Gila River Farms on December 6th in order to get a look at one of the most prominent and promising local agriculture projects here in the Valley of the Sun. Agriculture has a long history in the Phoenix area. From the Hohokam people and their irrigation canals, all the way up to the historic Gila River water settlement in 2004, agriculture and water usage have helped shape the story of the valley, much as a river shapes the landscapes it traverses. The Gila River used to traverse the valley, providing a much-needed lifeline in the middle of an expansive desert. But the droves of settlers coming to Phoenix since the late 1800s, and the resultant demand for irrigation, soon dried up this lynchpin of the ecosystem, altering life downstream massively.

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Behind-the-Scenes with the Largest Olive Oil Producers in AZ

March 25, 2022

By: Shelby Kaplan, ASU Food Systems graduate student. 

Perry Rea and his wife Brenda decided to take a vacation in 1997 to Scottsdale, AZ. They discovered olive trees growing in the area, prompting visits to olive oil operations in order to understand oil production. This sparked an interest for the Reas, and eventually Queen Creek Olive Mill was born. The mill was established in 2005, starting with about 1,000 trees on 100 acres of land. 16 years later, the operation has expanded to over 7,000 trees, including 16 different varieties. The Queen Creek area has strong roots in farming, part of the reason the Reas began production here. Although they started from a very small-scale mill (producing about 100lbs of oil per hour), Perry and Brenda are now the largest olive oil producers in AZ (producing closer to 3 tons per hour of olive oil). It is also the only family owned and farmed olive mill in the state. 

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Water We Doing?

March 23, 2022

By: Keith Arnold, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

What keeps you up at night? What worries you about the future of food? When asked this, the gentleman answered by sharing relatable responses. Will my grandchildren have food to eat? Will there be enough resources for their own families and friends to farm as their present-day ancestors? What does the future hold for the United States? Not only for the government but also for the land and people. When will urban leaders understand the importance of agriculture in the face of booming technology? These were a few aspects provided by Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) Director Mark W. Killian. 

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Spaces of Opportunity: Increasing Access to “Desert Food”

March 20, 2022

By Jason Pena, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

It was a cool December morning just south of the Salt River near Phoenix when we arrived at Spaces of Opportunity. This part of the community has historically been marginalized by economic hardships, but in 2015 something changed for the better of the community. Spaces of Opportunity was founded in 2015 on the idea brought forth by the Roosevelt School District to turn 19 acres of vacant property, which for over 40 years was cotton and maize, into an urban community garden. 

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The Inspiring Story of Heidi Lane Cafe

March 17, 2022

By Mary Mik, ASU Food Systems graduate student. 

Relocating for a Dream

Joe and Emily relocated to Arizona three years ago from California. There, they spent 25-year working in bars, restaurants, and clubs. With their track record in hospitality, desire to connect people with fresh food, and Emily’s green thumb, Joe and Emily imagined a new kind of work in their new home of Arizona.

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Hayden Flour Mills: The Intersection of Crops and Community

March 14, 2022

By: Nicholas Benard, ASU Food Systems graduate student. 

As our group from ASU’s Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Cohort gathered in front of Jeff Zimmerman, founder of Hayden Flour Mills, you could feel his excitement begin to build up. He almost seemed to hum with energy. Part of that excitement came from having our group visit his mill in-person at Queen Creek, Arizona, as last year the visit was conducted virtually due to the pandemic.  “I had also come down with Covid,” Jeff added, explaining how last year he pulled himself from bed and roused himself to still give his Zoom talk about growing heirloom grains in the desert. As our visit and conversation with Jeff continued, it became clear that there are few forces in the world that could deter Jeff from sharing his passion and vision for these crops.

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A Look at Small-Scale Farming on Aguiar Farm

March 10, 2022

By: Kate Seybold, ASU Food Systems graduate student.  

Aguiar Farm is owned and operated by Fernando Aguiar and his family. Originally from Mexico, Fernando grew up on a farm and learned the trade working alongside his father and grandfather. After moving to the United States in 1981, Fernando worked in construction for 10 years before returning to his agricultural roots and starting Aguiar Farm in Paulden, AZ. Today, Aguiar Farm sells direct-to-consumer at farmers markets, such as the Prescott Farmers Market. They also sell to restaurants and other wholesale customers via Sun Produce Cooperative, a Phoenix-based organization dedicated to creating market access and alternative distribution channels for Arizona’s small-scale producers.

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Prescott Farmers Market: A Vital Part of Yavapai County

March 8, 2022

By: Abigail Martone-Richards, ASU Food Systems graduate student. 

The Prescott Farmers Market in Prescott, Arizona was founded in 1997 as a seasonal market, expanding to year-round in 2014. Heading up the market is Executive Director Kathleen Yetman who, in addition to running the market, is pursuing a master’s degree in Sustainable Foods Systems through Arizona State University. Currently, Kathleen oversees a staff of 9 people who run all operational aspects of the market and has plans to double her staff as the market continues to grow. Each week the market is made up of 50-60 vendors and averages 4,000 visitors from Prescott and the surrounding area, resulting in approximately $30,000 in weekly sales. The market’s mission, “to support and expand local agriculture, cultivate a healthy community and increase access to affordable local food,” is the guiding force as it looks to expand its current programming and meet ambitious future goals.

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Insight on the Dairy Industry from Kerr Family Farms

March 1, 2022

By: Deborah Sadler, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

In December of 2021, the new cohort of ASU graduate students in the Sustainable Food Systems  program spent a morning visiting and touring Kerr Family Farms in the West Valley area of  Maricopa County, Arizona. Farmer Wes Kerr explained the history of the family farm, daily logistics on the farm, and his passion for dairy farming. 

Wes Kerr’s great-grandfather first started dairy farming in 1927, and moved his operation to  Arizona in 1940. Their current facility was built in 1990 and remodeled in 2014 to accommodate  milking 40 cows at a time. Kerr Family Farms milks around 1,150 cows a day, for around 75,000  pounds per day of milk. While Kerr Family Farms is a big dairy on the national scale, the farm is  considered small by Arizona standards, which has a small number of dairies, most very large. However, Wes thinks that the focus should not be on the size of the farms, but rather on their  management practices. He says that “farms can be well-managed or poorly-managed at all  sizes.”  

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Water in the West

February 28, 2022

By: Wazenn Nithesh, ASU Food Systems graduate student. 

Water security is a major – and often growing – challenge for many countries today. The magnitude of impact is profound as water scarcity drives the bottom line for food sovereignty and food security. According to the World Bank, feeding 9 billion people by 2050 will require a 60% increase in agricultural production, which accounts for approximately 70% of all freshwater withdrawals globally. 

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Restoring Ancient Aquifers to Secure Water for the Future Within the Gila River Indian Community

February 25, 2022

By: Sharla Strong, ASU Food Systems graduate student. 

As sustainability and food systems students, it is inspiring to witness successful environmental projects and a privilege to learn from indigenous people. Over Fall term, our class of graduate students with the ASU Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems had been learning about managing natural resources. Now we were on a Food and Farm Tour of Arizona, visiting different types of farms, ranches, and orchards while learning about different aspects of our food system.

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The History of Kuechel Farms and the Future of Arizona Lemons

February 21, 2022

By: Michael Ryan, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

It’s not by accident that the history of Kuechel Farms, a large citrus grower in Yuma, Arizona begins in a town called Orange. His family is largely responsible for creating the ubiquitous orange groves that sprawled across the town and county that would later bear that fruit’s name. The lessons he learned from the rise and fall of his family farm in Orange, California may be the very thing that saves his current citrus farm in Yuma, Arizona. 

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Transforming the Food System Through Elementary Schools

February 18, 2022

By: Stephanie Lip, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

During our December immersive, we had the pleasure of touring and participating in the farm-to-school and “edible education” program called Garfield’s Garden on the Corner. Led and managed by the Mollen Foundation, we experienced the collaborative efforts between the Foundation and Garfield Elementary School. We met with Paige Mollen, co-founder of the Mollen Foundation, and Katie Poirier, Executive Director of the Mollen Foundation – both are alumni of ASU’s Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Graduate Program. We also met with Maya Dailey, Garden Site Manager, Alex Layshock, Garden Specialist, and Jessie Hess, Kitchen Classroom Specialist. I was particularly excited to get a glimpse of Garfield’s Garden on the Corner because a partnership with a program like this is my hope as a school food service director.   

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Western Rangeland Management and Conservation at Arizona’s Bar Heart Ranch

February 14, 2022

By John Gifford, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

Increasingly, ranching and conservation are viewed as mutually exclusive practices. One is centered on resource consumption while the other advocates for the protection of wildlife, wild lands, and natural habitats. As wild species worldwide continue to lose vital habitat to suburban and exurban development, sprawl, and agriculture, the relationship between ranching and conservation grows more complicated. Ranchers claim the right to utilize public lands—even lands that are deemed “critical” in the effort to save wildlife—citing grazing agreements that go back decades and generations, while environmentalists argue that cattle have no place in arid regions like the American Southwest. Their rationale? Cattle destroy vital wildlife habitat. And as the number of imperiled species grows, more of our public lands are designated as critical habitat in the effort to save them from extinction. Of course, this deepens the rift between ranching and conservation. One wonders: can the two coexist? Can economically viable ranching occur on lands simultaneously managed for natural-resources conservation? 

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Duncan Family Farms: From Feeding People to Feeding the Soil

February 11, 2022

By Ami Freeberg, ASU Food Systems graduate student. 

On December 7, the Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership students visited Duncan Family Farms during a week-long immersive exploring farms, ranches, food processors, and gardens around Arizona. 

If you buy organic salad mixes from the grocery store, chances are good that you have eaten greens grown by Duncan Family Farms. As one of the leading certified organic farms in the country, Duncan Family Farms has expanded from their headquarters in Goodyear, Arizona to grow in California, Oregon, and New York to ensure a year-round supply of greens. However, they didn’t start as a multi-region salad green farm. Arnott Duncan is a 4th generation Arizona farmer with roots in the region’s standard commodity crops of cotton and alfalfa. In 1985, he left his family’s farm to grow on his own, starting off with a few hundred acres of row crops. By 1992, Arnott and his wife Kathleen wanted to expand their impact through education so they turned part of their farm into a destination for students to learn about agriculture and rural life, hosting 40,000 kids each year. 

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An Eye-Opening Journey Through the Vibrant Desert

February 10, 2022

By Jillian Dy, ASU Food Systems graduate student. 

Five Days. Eighteen students hailing from thirteen states. Fifteen sites throughout central Arizona. 

The ASU Farm Immersive was a journey through the desert to meet some of the innovative and hardworking people who are growing and processing our food, conserving our natural resources, and managing land in Arizona. Our visits included a fourth generation 1,100 cow dairy, a multi-region Certified Organic vegetable operation, a Native farm growing olives, citrus, and alfalfa, an urban community farm incubator, a 72,000 acre ranch managing a mix of private and public land, and a thriving elementary school garden. 

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The Potential of Pulses

February 10, 2022

By Jane Coghlan, Swette Center Student Worker.

Can you envision the value and versatility of a food that can grow in any climate, is highly nutritious, requires low water input, can self-fertilize, and has a long shelf-life? These are the prominent advantages of an ancient food called pulses. Pulses are among the first plants to be domesticated by humans for sustenance, in turn making them a fundamental ingredient in recipes across old and new cultures in every continent (FAO, 2016, pg. 12-13). The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has designated today, February 10, as World Pulses Day to celebrate the extensive benefits of this resilient food. 

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