Interview with Gary Paul Nabhan

Photo courtesy of Gary’s personal website

I’m traveling in Arizona right now, and was fortunate enough to meet up with Gary Paul Nabhan at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. He is the director of the Center for Sustainable Environments (CSE), founder of the Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Project, acclaimed author, and an inspiring champion for biodiversity. Gary is a focused man, who found a few minutes last Friday to sit down and talk with me about wild foods.

Sunny: Are there specific policy recommendations you would make to ensure a secure future of wild foods?
Gary: Wild foods are in danger due to habitat loss and cities usurping our water supplies. The policies should be to safeguard a proportion of each watershed’s water for wild habitats and agricultural lands, so that there’s local food security as one of the highest priorities for water uses.

Sunny: What are the most commonly available (those already found in their own yards) wild plants available to the urban Sonoran desert dweller ?
Gary: Most people in urban areas think the carrying capacity of metropolitan areas is too much to support wild harvesting without driving some plants into extinction. I would say that it’s the opposite, that there’s thousands of pounds of wild foods being wasted in cities because they’re being neglected.

Wild foods commonly available in urban areas of the Sonoran desert:
1. Amaranth
2. Purslane
3. Mesquite Pods
4. Barrel cactus fruit & seeds
5. Prickly pear pads & fruits
6. Lambsquarters

Wild foods commonly available in wild spaces of the Sonoran desert:
1. Mesquite pods
2. Ironwood seeds
3. Prickly pear pads & fruits
4. Saguaro fruits
5. Cholla buds

Sunny: Why are you no longer offering the Flagstaff Community Wild Food Foraging Project, which was the first community supported wild foraging project –similar to a CSA- in the country?
Gary: Three years ago we offered about 50 wild foods to between 15-20 households in the Flagstaff area. We found that the interest was there, but that people still don’t have the familiarity with the foods. The following year we focused on providing those foods to caterers and restaurants, and demonstrated how to use them at Farmer’s Markets. Education has to be a part of any future program. Providing those foods to the restaurants and caterer’s, where they won’t be wasted, is what I recommend for those interested in developing similar projects.

Gary is hopeful because we’re moving into the post-fossil fuel age. We will have to give up our addiction to the exotic and learn more about the world right out our own back doorstep. He has been working on a book, to be released soon through the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum Press, called ‘Renewing the Food Traditions of Chili Pepper Nation.’ Click here to visit Gary’s website and to purchase his already-published books.

Click here to read more about the Renewing America’s Food Traditions Project (RAFT), which brings seven of the country’s most prominent education, conservation, and food organizations together to identify and restore America’s endangered heritage foods.

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