I - Southern Arizona
We started our Retailer Tour this week with a short trip down to Southern Arizona. Though the bulk of our journey doesn't start until June, this was a good way to test out our travel setup (basically a Prius packed tight with food, product samples, camera equipment, and our camping supplies) and visit our neighbors to the South.
We camped at Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson Mountain Park before heading into Tucson proper. Though it isn't technically Saguaro National Park, it shares a lot of the same geography and plant populations, so we were greeted by happily waving cacti everywhere we looked.
The weather started out pretty intense, around 102, but thankfully it dropped down to around 75 for most of the rest of the trip. We set up our tent in the shade of an ironwood the first night, and the area was shockingly quiet.
Tucson itself was a wealth of goodness between Food Conspiracy Co-op, Aqua Vita, and New Life Health Foods, plus Green Valley Health Foods a half-hour farther south. They had tons of great local produce, raw milk, and we finally got to try local kombucha crafters Curly Wolf Kombucha (their Old Fashioned is the best) and The Fermented Tea Company (Prickly Pear was all we tried, but it was great). Food Conspiracy also had some fresh jackfruit, which was pretty crazy.
Another Tucson gem that merits mentioning is Native Seeds/SEARCH, a local non-profit that primarily runs a heritage seed bank, but also operates an awesome shop full of many of those very seeds, plus live desert plants, soaps and salves made from foraged creosote bush, piñon pine, etc, plus a room full of heritage beans, corns, chilis, and other fantastic regional foodstuffs. This is easily one of the most important stores in the state, and if you haven't gone yet, you should really make it a priority.
Once we were out of town, Las Cienegas National Conservation Area was a stunning surprise - it felt like a completely different world up there. Other than some ranchers who drove by before night fell (lots of free ranging cattle in the area), we didn't see anyone all afternoon and all the next morning. It's just open golden grasslands peppered with bits of shade, and it's absolutely gorgeous.
Next day we went down to Sierra Vista and Bisbee, both of which possess first-rate food co-ops. Sierra Vista Food Co-op was stocked with some really awesome well-priced local produce, and had some vegan breakfast burritos from Poco (a restaurant over in Bisbee) stocked in their fridge. Normally cold burritos aren't our idea of a great breakfast, but we hadn't packed enough food the day before, and they actually turned out to be totally solid.
If you haven't been to Bisbee, it's a treasure. It's all historic buildings, coffee shops, funky houses, and art galleries. The whole town swells up out of nowhere as you round the last huge rock outcrop that blocks it from view. Just past Old Bisbee (and the massive copper mine which earned the area the title 'Copper Queen' back in the day) is Lowell, where Bisbee Food Co-op resides amongst what otherwise amounts to a ghost town. The abandoned gas station and car that you pass on the way to the co-op from the west entrance sums the area up pretty decently.
We're back in Phoenix now, but we'll be hitting the road again in June with a very long itinerary ahead of us. Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and back to Arizona again. It will take about five or six months, and we'll be visiting around seven hundred independent health food stores, co-ops, natural lifestyle boutiques, and some places that are a bit too hard to categorize.
Let us know your favorite local stop for natural products - we'll be sure to pay a visit!
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