Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA) is a grassroots organization
that works to create sustainability within the Tohono O’odham Nation in
areas such as economic development, cultural revitalization, and community
food systems. TOCA is working to initiate an individual and family
health intervention evaluation and has established a relationship with Head
Start and Santa Rosa Boarding School for health intervention education. The
Community-Based Health Intervention Study includes projects for Household
Clinical Trials, Increased Production and Distribution of Traditional Tohono
O’odham Foods, and Increased Education Campaigns for Traditional
Tohono O’odham Foods. The Tohono O’odham Reservation is located 60
miles southwest of Tucson, AZ, and spans about 4,600 square miles.
To build the infrastructure for change in food systems on the Tohono
O’odham reservation, TOCA has quadrupled production and harvest of
traditional foods, such as tepary beans, O’odham peas and squash,
cholla (choy-ah) buds, and saguaro fruit and syrup. This supply will
assure the availability of traditional foods for clinical trials once they are
underway. Food production is expected to continue at the current rate, but in
anticipation of increased demand, TOCA is seeking both a long-term lease
of farmland and more sophisticated processing equipment for a more
These foods will also be distributed at all retail outlets and the only grocery
store serving the Tohono O’odham Nation. Traditional foods will also be
distributed to the Tohono O’odham Senior Center, the Santa Rosa Boarding
School, and the Tohono O’odham Head Start Program. Additionally, educational
workshops on food cultivation/harvesting, preparation, and nutrition
have been conducted in schools, community centers, and health fairs.
Community gardens are maintained at five sites across the reservation.
TOCA continues to seek out other marketplaces for traditional foods distribution,
even to the gourmet market. The PBS series, “Seasoned with Spirit,”
will feature the TOCA food label and preparation of O’odham traditional
foods. This national exposure will enhance knowledge and awareness of the
TOCA food project.
Traditional foods awareness will continue to be a priority for TOCA. The
educational programming is gaining success, and steps are being taken to
convert it into contract income. Physical fitness programming is being
increased as well. The third annual Tohono O’odham Olympic games will
be held in fall 2006, and interest and attendance is anticipated to increase
from previous years, affording TOCA with an opportunity to reach a larger
audience with their nutrition and food education program.
TOCA faced an unanticipated challenge in the high level of tribal concerns
regarding health research and anonymity of tribal members. Ten families
were to be recruited for a study on the effects of consumption of two servings
of traditional foods per day. The study would involve monitoring blood pressure
and sugar levels, weight, and personal journal entries. TOCA is currently
negotiating with the Tohono O’odham Executive Office and the University
of Arizona to ensure both safeguards against misuse of biological materials
and the use of culturally sensitive research and evaluation procedures.
Tohono O’odham food distribution has encountered barriers as well. Federal
food programs do not recognize traditional O’odham foods in the health
standards or food purchase choices; therefore, institutions must meet
Federal guidelines before incorporating these foods, and individuals must
make difficult financial choices when deciding on food purchases. Cafeterias
on the Tohono O’odham reservation do not yet have the equipment
needed for onsite food production, which limits the amount of traditional
food that can be prepared and served.