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UArizona research shows perseverance in Tucson food industry

UArizona research shows perseverance in Tucson food industry
Posted at 8:20 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-08 01:23:19-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — University of Arizona researchers released a new report of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the food system right here in Tucson.

The research is extensive, showing while the pandemic has brought many challenges to the table---farmers, food producers and distributors have adapted and are overcoming hardships.

“I want to acknowledge that the crisis is still very much ongoing,” said UArizona Researcher Laurel Bellante during the virtual presentation.

Bellante was involved in doing this research. She says the impacts of the pandemic will potentially be felt for years to come.

However, it’s through the pandemic that researchers have learned just how strong the local food system is.

“Local food systems play a crucial role in time(s) of crisis. These local sources were able to fill in these immediate gaps and increased food needs that occurred due to the pandemic,” said Gigi Owen, a scientist at UArizona.

This then led them to their next finding.

“Southern Arizona’s local food system also demonstrated several characteristics of resilience,” added Owen.

Characteristics like being flexible, having and using pre-established networks, and even sharing resources.

Though the pandemic has brought its challenges.

“The percentage of food insecure households in Arizona increased. More Hispanics or Latinx and non-white households reported to be food insecure than white households did,” said Owen,

Also the increased heat, extreme drought and lack of monetary support for new and small scale farming operations became more apparent---presenting added challenges during the pandemic that carried into food production, distribution and restaurant operations.

“From March of 2020 to March of 2021, 25 food related businesses have had to permanently close their doors,” Sean Maccabe said during the virtual meeting.

Maccabe is a graduate student in the University of Arizona School of Landscape Architecture and Planning.

So here’s where businesses had to adapt to overcome.

Restaurants were taking advantage of grants, switching from dine-in to take-out, and expanding outdoor seating.

Food producers and distributors were also shifting to an e-commerce intensive platform and partnering to fill food insecurity needs.

The Tohono O’Odham Nation---also being resourceful and partnering to bring food in.

“Our conversations now are you know, what are our next steps and I’m really proud of us. I’m really proud of all of us for coming together, especially forming strong relationships and alliances with one another, because at the end of the day, we all have to eat,” said Amy Juan with the Tohono O’Odham Nation.

Researchers now recommend the coordinating actions that account for the arid environment of the southwest, diversify participation, and offer sustained investment in the local food system.