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Heritage Foods Program

Heritage foods of the Santa Cruz Valley:Locally produced foods tied to the region’s history and cultural identity.

Through our Heritage Foods Program, the Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance is partnering with other local organizations on heritage foods education, preservation, and promotion through our website, heritage tourism map, workshops, directory, special food events, and farm-to-chef networking.  Check out some of our exciting projects using the links above!   

In addition to our signature Heritage Foods projects listed above, check out some of our recent partnerships and collaborations!

White Sonora Wheat collaboration with Native Seeds/SEARCH.

Carolyn's Southwest Kitchen, a blog about desert foods by our friend Carolyn Niethammer.

Order the new Tohono O'odham Community Action foodways book, From I'itoi's Garden, and learn about native food traditions, recipes, and nutritional facts. 

Check out The State of Southwestern Foodsheds (2MB).
Agri-tourism on our heritage tourism mapguide.


"The Santa Cruz River Valley can rightly 
be called one of the ancient hearths of 
Southwestern cuisine."
- Gary Paul Nabhan, Ph.D., former member of the Board of Directors.

Read Gary Nabhan's heritage food BLOG. What Are the Heritage Foods of the Rio Santa Cruz and Why Do They Matter?


Heritage foods products of the Santa Cruz Valley
The Santa Cruz Valley is one of the longest continually cultivated regions in the United States, with an agricultural history extending back more than 4,000 years. This agriculture heritage can still be experienced today through the local foods produced throughout the Santa Cruz Valley.  At wineries, pick-your-own farms and orchards, farmer’s markets, and restaurants, residents and visitors can sample "heritage foods" tied to the history of this region.

Several traditional Native American foods are cultivated or gathered in the Santa Cruz Valley. Chiltepin, the wild chile plant that is the ancestor of domesticated chile varieties, grows wild in the canyons near Tumacácori (a Native American name for "where the wild chiles are gathered") and is cultivated as a fiery condiment. Other native food crops include tepary beans, several types of squashes, and a fast-growing, drought-resistant variety of corn. Wild plant foods gathered from the desert include seed pods of mesquite trees, wild greens, and cactus fruits, buds, and pads. These native foods can be purchased at the San Xavier Coop Farm and Native Seeds/SEARCH.      
  Red and white wines are made and bottled by several wineries near Sonoita, Elgin, and Nogales, where the climate and soils match those of Mediterranean countries. Among the varieties grown in local vineyards is the Mission grape, introduced during the Spanish period.

The region also produces a unique dark honey made from the nectars of mesquite blossoms and native wildflowers. Jellies, syrups, and candies made from cactus fruits are popular with tourists throughout Arizona.  Extensive orchards near Green Valley are the leading source of pecans in Arizona.

Figs, apples, pomegranates, quinces, grapes, and other fruit stocks introduced during the Spanish period continue to be grown in private gardens and orchards throughout the Santa Cruz Valley, and are currently being inventoried in preparation for re-establishing historic orchards and for commercial sale in plant nurseries.    

Dried and ground chiles, cumin, oregano, and other Mexican spices are also locally produced and packaged.

  Cattle ranching is the major rural land use in the valley. While most ranches raise cattle to ship to feedlots in other states, some local ranches butcher their own beef. Range-fed, natural beef (raised on native forage, and using no hormones or antibiotics) is increasing in economic importance and popularity.

In the Santa Cruz Valley, consumers can taste dishes featuring local ingredients at many restaurants that highlight these on their menus, and a variety of locally produced foods can be purchased at fifteen farmers' markets, eight wineries, five pick-your-own farms, two pick-your-own orchards, four ranches raising grass-fed livestock, and a number of grocery stores and co-ops that specialize in these.

Tucson Meet Yourself 2009
The Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance coordinated the Local and Heritage Foods Market at the 2009 Tucson Meet Yourself festival.  The Local and Heritage Foods Market included local farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and value added producers of heritage foods. The goal of the Local and Heritage Foods Market is to increase consumer awareness of regional heritage foods, support local food security and economy, and preserve cultural food traditions by providing the public with the opportunity to purchase local and heritage foods.   

Honors Civic Engagement Team 2008-2009
The Heritage Alliance is pleased to announce our newest partnership with the University of Arizona’s Honors College!  The Honors College’s
Honors Civic Engagement Team program seeks to place small, interdisciplinary teams of Honors students with local governments and non-profits to give organizations real help with projects that might not otherwise be completed or undertaken, and to give students real work experience and responsibilities. 

The Honors Civic Engagement Team program has put together a team of four honors students who are helping with our Heritage Foods Program for the Fall 2008 and Spring 2009 school semesters. 

The students are up picking up where last year's team of students left off, and will be compiling a draft of the Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Foods Directory.  The Heritage Foods Directory includes listings of local producers, restaurants that feature local heritage foods, grocery stores where local heritage foods are available, recipes to sample heritage foods, and oral histories of local heritage foods. The students will also be interviewing restaurant owners, grocery stores, and producers to learn more about the local availability of (and interest in using) heritage foods.  All materials compiled by the team of students will be available on our website.   

Check out Tucson's culinary scene!

Email for more information about our Heritage Foods Program.