SAFFORD — A variety of local organizations came together at the Safford City Hall Annex on Thursday, Jan. 9, with a goal of ensuring an effective food system for Gila Valley residents.
Thursday’s community planning session was the second meeting of the Gila Valley Food System Coalition, hosted by Our Neighbors Farm and Pantry. Coalition objectives include networking with other stakeholders, mapping local food system resources, and identifying gaps and opportunities to increase food security.
The coalition’s first meeting, in October 2019, mapped food system resources and identified four priorities; data collection, centralized information and referral, a commercial kitchen and kitchen co-op space, and a farmers’ market. A working group were assigned to look into each priority.
The group’s first meeting also brought information sharing and new connections between local organizations; United Way of Graham and Greenlee Counties CEO Adam O’Doherty said he learned a lot about Southeastern Arizona Community Unique Services’ Meals on Wheels program.
Through funding by Freeport-McMoRan, Our Neighbors Farm and Pantry enlisted the services of consultant Jenny Carrillo, of the Tucson firm Alexander|Carrillo Consulting.
Attendees at Thursday’s session included representatives of Our Neighbors Farm and Pantry, Graham County Health Department, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Graham County Chamber of Commerce, Southeastern Arizona Community Unique Services, Safford City-Graham County Library and United Way of Graham and Greenlee Counties.
“We’ve got a lot of assets in this community, and could accomplish a great deal if we could all work together,” said Carrillo, who heard updates from each of the working groups.
The farmers’ market group planned to start small, and was discussing a pop-up market at the Safford Wine, Art and History Festival. The commercial kitchen/co-op group reported a great need for co-op work space, and that a space for nonprofit organizations and small businesses was in process. Cooperative Extension Director Bill Brandau added that another need was for a teaching kitchen.
Goals of the information and referral group include gathering and inputting data, building a database, promoting that database and keeping it current. Carrillo said the database would help organizations find each other, and that staff with those organizations would be trained in its use. The group is studying other communities’ online resource guides so they will not have to, as Carrillo said, “reinvent the wheel.”
The coalition was also briefed on Good Food Finder, part of the Local First Arizona Foundation’s Local Food Initiative, which provides consumers and institutional food buyers a hub to learn about and connect with local food providers. Good Food Finder offers a searchable directory of providers throughout the state. To learn more, visit https://www.goodfoodfinderaz.com/.
Guest speaker Barbara Eiswerth, of the Arizona Agricultural Workforce Development Coalition, spoke on a workforce development program bill that would set aside $250,000 annually from the state general fund to support an apprenticeship program for beginning farmers and ranchers.. Eiswerth, who is also executive director of the Iskashiita Refugee Network, said agriculture contributes $23 billion to Arizona’s economy. Eiswerth said she was also trying to raise awareness of the issues of food waste and hunger.