This spotlight is a feature in a series of the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program (CFP). Grantees are doing some of the most innovative and collaborative projects to change local and regional food systems. WhyHunger’s www. — also funded by a CFP grant — is profiling these organizations through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real flavor of what the projects look like and how they’re accomplishing their goals. Up today: Mariposa Community Health Clinic, Nogales, AZ. Story and pictures by David Hanson.
The border town of Nogales, AZ has two lives, but they aren’t Mexican and American. Those two worlds seem to flow into one another on a street-level basis. Less so than before the border fever hit full pitch, but residents still go “across the line” for a shopping trip or a meal or to see family and friends.
The alternative life in Nogales is that of the sometimes tangible, sometimes invisible presence of the Border Patrol. They ride mountain bikes through the streets. Their white and green trucks sit in the shade of cottonwoods and oaks. White-shirted, holstered men and women stand at street corners, and a fence seems to cut through every vista – across the railroad tracks, mohawking up the dry hill behind the retro façade of the business district, at the end of every north-south road. It’s crude line that appears atop a hill, then dips into a gulch, defying all geographic logic.
But life goes on along Morley Avenue. Pop music blares from stores selling cheap Chinese-made shoes, t-shirts, soccer balls, and stereos. It’s not Margaritaville souvenir-land, rather the downtown commercial zone buzzes with everyday commerce: work clothes, school clothes, baby clothes, go-to-the-movies clothes, birthday party outfits, quinceañera dresses and suits. And there’s no shortage of irony in Nogales. Less than a mile from the heart of downtown, over 1/3 of America’s Central American-imported produce enters the country on refrigerated trucks destined to supermarkets from New York to Seattle. Yet downtown Nogales lacks a grocery store with fresh produce. That is starting to change. Every Friday since April 2013, on the edge of this massive old-world-new-world commerce zone, sits a little cluster of food vendors under pop-up tents that ruffle in afternoon winds.
A lot of small, downtown farmer’s markets can feel like speed dating. You walk to each booth, say hello to the vendors, eye the fruit for ripeness, vivid color, price. You might pick one or two and squeeze it. You might just walk right past the booth with a passing glance. The downtown Nogales Mercado is brand new and it’s still trying to settle in. There’s the grass-fed meat booth, the handicraft booth, the queso fresco booth, the young couple selling, this week, tornillos (little salted dough spirals stuffed with ham), then the honey, jellies, and woodwork booth, the organic produce guys, and the Tohono O’odham tribe’s legumes, squash, herbs, starters, and greens from their farm at San Xavier, south of Tucson on the Nation’s traditional farmland at the edge of the Santa Cruz River.
Throw in the Vietnamese food cart permanently parked in the lot and the market makes for an eclectic buffet considering its modest, fledgling beginning.
Read the full profile at Community Voices, a WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.