Monday, October 17, 2011

Tohono O’odham Food Sovereignty

At the community garden, we work to create a local food system. This involves not only growing food geographically closer to the community that uses it, but also growing food that more closely matches the environment and culture of the neighborhood and region.

While researching how to do this, I stumbled upon an impressive organization in our area. The Tohono O'odham Community Action group has been focusing on rebuilding a method of agriculture that is build precisely for the environment we are in. The Tohono O'odham are a tribe who built up a complex society and agriculture specifically designed for growing in the Sonoran Desert. This included a certain amount of gathering wild foods, but also included some amazing crop varieties.

The Tohono O'odham have a variety of corn that matures in 60 days. To put this in perspective, in Iowa (the leading grower of corn in the US) farmers rush to fit their corn varieties into a over 120 day long growing season. This quick growing corn is meant to take advantage of the short monsoon seasons in this area.

Another crop particularly well built for the Sonoran Desert is the Tepary* Bean. Not only is this bean exceptionally drought tolerant, but it also has been found to slowly release it's glucose. This is important for diabetics who need to moderate their glucose levels. For the Tohono O'odham, this is exceptionally important. Currently, 50% of the local population suffers from diabetes despite having no recorded cases until the 1960s.

You can find more information about this organization at their website ( and you can find a local source of seeds through Native Seeds/SEARCH (

*It is worth noting that the word Tepary translates to "It's a bean." Nice job European translators.

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