La Doce Barrio Foodways Project was yearlong project along the food corridor of Tucson’s South 12th Ave—known as “La Doce.” It revealed the importance of local knowledge and food heritage to community cohesion and health and the potential for future community-based economic development and local governance.
A partnership between the City of Tucson, the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, the Southwest Folklife Alliance and the grassroots collective Tierra Y Libertad Organization—aimed to look beyond the commercial landscape to identify opportunities for food resiliency and creativity among residents.
The project engaged over 200 community residents and visitors in researching how food and foodways contribute to community identity and resilience. Research consisted of training a cohort of local “citizen ethnographers,” primarily youth from Pueblo High School and adult mentors, to map green spaces and informal food practices in 40 residential blocks, administer questionnaires, and conduct in-depth interviews with 25 La Doce residents. Through inventories of fruit trees, backyard gardens, food memories, and the skills of home cooks, the project collected data that will be used to craft possible alternative food economies for the area, from farmer’s markets to artisanal food small businesses and micro-enterprises.
A bilingual report, La Doce Barrio Foodways: A report on community knowledge and recommendations for sustainable change, was authored by Dr. Maribel Alvarez, public folklorist at the University of Arizona, and Dr. Rebecca Crocker, an anthropologist, with a contribution from Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, a national expert on cultural urban planning. The report shares findings from the project and includes a call to action to create a new model of governance and wealth creation in the area.
The report revealed La Doce as a community ready to “upend expectations, re-interpret economic and community cultural development, and exercise local control over their own wellbeing.” It shares key discoveries made by community researchers that support community autonomy and heritage as well as barriers to greater development. Authors say the findings offer “scalable, measurable steps for changing the ways the La Doce community addresses its present and future challenges,” as well as a model for other communities locally and nationally.
The report’s key recommendations include:
- The creation of La Doce Community Land Trust to govern local development and guide efforts of urban agriculture and food micro-enterprises.
- The creation of La Doce Community Fund to support the acquisition of land and properties and micro-lending programs for emerging food enterprises.
- The creation of an inclusive La Doce Community Council to coordinate a shared vision for systemic changes.
These recommendations, report authors say, are born of a close listening to residents’ passions and fears for their neighborhood and signify the need for an alternative to the neighborhood improvement strategies often offered by municipalities.
“We began to see that good things such as adding speed bumps, hosting clean-up days, or creating crime-watch programs were not fully addressing the imbalance of power over decision-making in La Doce,” said Maribel Alvarez, one of the report’s authors. “The project focused on food and ended with a call to action to create a new model of communal land ownership and local wealth-generation, a solution other communities around the U.S. have used to create a buffer against external land grabs and inequality.”