I admit to being a bit of an ostrich but there are times when I’d really prefer to turn off the bad news. And, I’d rather bring about wider acknowledgement of the good. I’m fortunate in that I’m able to travel to some remarkable places each year and now, I’m going to try to focus on the amazing individuals and projects in those places.
Over the weekend, I took a road trip to Ajo (pronounce AH HO) in Southern AZ. Apparently, because the Papago Indian word au’auho (“paint”) and the Spanish word ajo (“garlic”) are so similar, there has been some misunderstanding concerning the origin of the name. The Papago decorated themselves with red paint but Mexican miners pronounced it without the “au'”. This, added to the fact that the Ajo lily (the root of which looks and tastes similar to a spring onion) grows wild in this area, caused the belief that the locale was named Ajo because of wild lilies.
Ajo is built around an open-pit copper mine that closed down in 1985. It is one of the poorest communities in southern Arizona and the greatest poverty is among Native Americans and Hispanics. There is little prospect of reopening the mine or of other industry arriving to the area. I originally planned this trip in order to see the traveling Smithsonian Exhibit sponsored by the AZ Humanities Council, Key Ingredients – America by Food.
The International Sonoran Desert Alliance is hosting Key Ingredients at it’s beautifully renovated Curley School. While the exhibit is well done and enjoyable, the manner in which the ISDA used the exhibit to showcase one of their other programs was spectacular. Their program is called Ajo Cooks! and it is designed as a micro-enterprise economic development program. Ajo Cooks actually starts in a kitchen where a small group of women (and the occasional man) gather for conversation surrounding favorite recipes, food traditions and stories. They call this the “cafecita” – a method for encouraging community dialogue and discourse. After the cafecita, backyard tastings are held which are like focus groups for some of the different food items and recipes that they’ve discussed.
As the backyard tastings zero in on favorite flavors, informal workshops occur to sort through cost details and to begin thinking about marketing. What happens at that point is only limited by creativity. One person may become interesting in catering, while another finds a vending cart in the plaza the proper venue for their food product. Ajo has a beautiful town plaza where over a million tourists pass by each year.
The beauty of Ajo Cooks! is that it is a local solution to economic development that relies on the expertise and interests of the community. And it’s likely that not everyone will develop a food product but that some may find an interest in helping to produce, package and market the new products. This concept clearly contributes to a vibrant local food industry. The International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA) has a number of programs like Ajo Cooks! They are working diligently to bring the arts and economic vitality to Ajo. And, I’m sure you’ve guessed that they’re the local drop-off location for the Community Supported Agriculture program.
Where in your community could a cafecita lead to a larger benefit?
- 2 lbs cooked roast or pork to make 4 cups
- 1 and 1/4 cup broth
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup diced green chiles, roasted and peeled
- 1 fresh tomato, chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- 12 tortillas, 10 – 12 inches in diameter
Place diced meat in a saucepan. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well. Heat and simmer for simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool. Spoon 4 Tbs. of filling down the center of the tortilla. Roll the tortilla into a tube, with one end folded up to keep the filling inside. (I would actually replace the carne with beans in this recipe)
Remember that this is someone’s food tradition!