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Elizabeth Johnson

From 2008-2014, Elizabeth served as a Latin Cuisines Specialist/Chef Instructor of The Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio. In December 2014, Elizabeth founded Pharm Table, a synonym for culinary medicine. It redefines health food and promotes anti-inflammatory cooking. Elizabeth utilizes her background in world cuisines as well as her understanding of plants and herbs and their anti-inflammatory effects. 

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Gary Nabhan

Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationally-celebrated nature writer, agrarian activist and ethnobiologist who tangibly works on conserving the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity. For such work, Nabhan has been honored as a pioneer and creative force in the “local food movement” and seed saving community by Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, New York Times, Bioneers, and Time magazine. As the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona Southwest Center, he serves as founding Director of the Center for Regional Food Systems. The Center is linked to Tucson’s status as the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy to be designated in the U.S., an effort which he initially spearheaded. He also played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Ironwood Forest National Monument on the edge of the Metro Tucson region. As a professed member of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, Nabhan has been involved in the Franciscan Action Network, the Living School and interfaith dialogues on food justice and caring for creation. He has been involved in bringing together farmers, ranchers, urban food activists and indigenous communities for the collaborative conservation of food-producing landscapes during the last quarter century. He was one of a dozen Westerners who Courtney White selected to help forge “the radical center” for conserving working landscapes and the traditional livelihoods associated with them.

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Suzanne Fish

Suzanne K. Fish (Ph.D., University of Arizona, Arid Lands Resource Sciences) is Curator Emerita of Archaeology, Arizona State Museum and Professor Emerita, School of Anthropology, at the University of Arizona.  She specializes in Hohokam archaeology, the organization in non-state, regional settlement patterns, and the past and present ethnobotany and traditional agricultural of the Sonoran Desert, including investigation of prehispanic agave cultivation in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.  Fish has published widely in the archaeology and ethnobotany of the Southwest, central and northwest Mexico, and coastal Brazil.  

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Paul Fish

Paul R. Fish (Ph.D. Arizona State University, Anthropology) is Curator Emeritus of Archaeology, Arizona State Museum and Professor Emeritus, School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona.  He has studied the Hohokam tradition for over 30 years and is an author of over 100 publications on the prehispanic archaeology and traditional agriculture of the region.  In addition to the U.S. Southwest, Fish conducts fieldwork in northwest Mexico and southern coastal Brazil.

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Jesús García

Jesús García was born and raised in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico. Since 1991, he has been associated with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where he is an Education Specialist, teaching natural history and cultural programs throughout southern Arizona and northern Sonora. He holds a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Cultural Anthropology. He has been Director of the Kino Heritage Fruit Trees Project for over ten years and his many interests include conservation biology, art, cultural ecology, language, music and gardening.

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Brian Smith

Brian Smith started cooking as a young child in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother, where he began mastering skills like creating crème brulee. By age sixteen, Chef Brian had already gained experience working in several local kitchens. After completing culinary school his career boomed with a position in the kitchen of Acacia next to culinary master Chef Albert Hall. Brian expanded his culinary vision by taking his career on the road to the Bay area, where he worked in the two Michelin Star restaurant, Coi. Brian returned to Tucson with a deeper connection to high-end cuisine and seasonal ingredients. Taking on the role of Executive Chef at Maynards Kitchen, Brian has been instrumental in creating a fresh approach to the menu and vibe of this award-winning downtown restaurant. With a vision to create a true garden to table experience, Chef Brian worked with a local farmer to manifest the abundant Maynards Garden and Grove. This on property garden pays homage to Tucson’s rich agricultural history by incorporating heritage crops. Chef Brian’s menus are now peppered with produce that comes directly from the garden and is inspired by the harvest to keep his menu new and evergreen. With a passion for local foods and continued knowledge, Brian is making a name for himself in the downtown Tucson culinary world by applying a modern twist to seasonal plates.

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Janos Wilder

James Beard award winning Chef Janos Wilder began his culinary odyssey in his teens working in a neighborhood pizza parlor in northern California. Throughout high school and college he worked at restaurants gaining valuable experience while attending the University of Colorado and later at UC Berkeley where he received a degree in political science. Following graduation, he continued to follow his passion, from Santa Fe and then in 1982 for a year in Bordeaux, France where he studied techniques of French classical and nouvelle cuisine and where he developed his signature style of using locally grown ingredients wherever he worked. In 1983, Chef Wilder opened his first restaurant, Janos, in a historic adobe home in Barrio Viejo on the grounds of the Museum of Art in Tucson, AZ. Since then, he has opened several award winning restaurants and received national acclaim. In 2010, Wilder returned to his early roots and opened DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails to rave reviews. Set in an airy, art-filled urban space DTKC is a bustling favorite for happy hour, dinner and late night. His network of local gardeners and farmers continues to provide him with seasonally changing produce. His latest project, The Carriage House Event Space and Cooking School is the fulfillment of a dream Janos and his wife Rebecca have had since they opened DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails in 2010. Wilder is a long time educator having conducted his own classes in Tucson and elsewhere since the early ‘80’s. With the creation of a demonstration kitchen and video studio, his latest venture, the Carriage House fits the bill not only as a cooking school but a wonderful special event venue.

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Ben Wilder

My research is broadly focused in desert ecology and botany. I utilize multiple approaches and time scales to establish baselines to better understand modern biodiversity and connect science to conservation. Since October 2016 I have been the acting director of the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill. I also work with Dr. Christopher Scott in the administration of CAZMEX, the Consortium for Arizona-Mexico Arid Environments. I received my PhD in 2014 from the University of California, Riverside under the guidance of Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra for my dissertation research, "Historical Biogeography of the Midriff Islands, Gulf of California." From 2014–2015 I was a Visiting Scholar in the lab of Dr. Rodolfo Dirzo at Stanford University focusing on ecological education for indigenous communities. I increasingly value the incorporation of diverse perspectives and the powerful results made possible via collaboration. In my role as director of the Next Generation Sonoran Desert Researchers (N-Gen) I strive to create opportunities for collaboration across borders and disciplines and a more holistic understanding and appreciation for the Sonoran Desert.

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Doug Smith

Doug Smith, an Arizona native, is an owner of Exo Roast Co. in Tucson.  He earned a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology from Stanford University, conducting major investigations into agricultural history in several states in Mexico. He taught Anthropology for ten years in several universities, finishing as an Associate Professor at Western Oregon University.  He returned to Arizona in 2008 to begin Exo’s coffee roastery. His first experience with mezcal, during a riotous fiesta patronal in a village in Guerrero, initiated a long engagement with cultures of agave.  Exo’s mezcaleria, which opened in 2017, aims not only to introduce guests to the endless wonder of mezcal, but to educate people on the spirit and its production.  Many recent research trips to Sonora have put Doug in contact with Bacanora and Lechuguilla makers in the Rio Sonora and Rio Moctezuma valleys.  He sits on the Board of Directors of Native Seeds/SEARCH, and his current interest is to explore agave cultures in Arizona-Sonora and reestablish substantive relationships between people and the plant.   

Photo credit: Mike Christy

Photo credit: Mike Christy

Don Guerra

Don Guerra of Barrio Bread has successfully developed the Community Supported Baker (CSB) model in Tucson. He is known as a skilled artisan baker and forward thinking entrepreneur who has worked diligently to develop Barrio Bread, a true neighborhood bakery that showcases the art and science of Don’s passion for baking and his commitment to community. The bakery is dedicated to exceptional quality ARTisan bread, created with centuries-old baking techniques and locally grown heritage grains. Don also works to promote the local food movement, and showcase heritage grains. Don has taught at The University of Arizona, Tucson Village Farm, presented at the Eller College of Management, and collaborated with Native Seed Search. His work has earned him a reputation as an elite baker, educator, and promoter of community networks.  Don has consulted in Mexico, Taiwan and throughout the United States. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona College of Education and has 27 years of baking experience,  In 2015 he was awarded a USDA Local Food Promotion Grant that significantly helped him to increase collaboration with others and expand production with a new bakery. In 2016 Don was named one of the Top Ten Bakers in America by Dessert Professionals magazine. 


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Erik Stanford

Erik Stanford worked as a chef at the Cup Café, The Carriage House, Exo Roast Co., and 5 Points Market and Restaurant before launching his own food hub, Pivot Produce. Pivot, now in its second year of operation, distributes locally grown produce from over 15 small scale farms in Southern Arizona to 15 restaurants in and around downtown Tucson. Now, Stanford is adding the title of  ‘Assistant to the Tucson City of Gastronomy’ to his resume. 

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Bill Steen

Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. My life has been a spicy pozole of all things from the borderlands region revolving around a non profit organization called The Canelo Project of which my wife and I are the primary directors. It is dedicated to Connecting People, Culture and Nature. Field of study - cultural anthropology at the University of Arizona. I began independent studies in photography during the same time period. To this day much of my work could be considered cultural anthropology with a camera. I am known for my work in the handcrafted building movement. Along with my wife, I have co-authored five books that include the best selling The Straw Bale House and Built by Hand. I love building that is based on clay and other natural materials and that are powered with sustainable energies. Ideas and plans for the Post Petroleum Age are of major interest. Through The Canelo Project, my wife and I have built and taught throughout the United States, Mexico and much of Europe. In addition, we have created installations at art museums around the country including the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C, the Denver Art Museum and more. Ethnobotany and Sustainable Agriculture are parallel areas of focus and interest. I love sharing tales and imagery from the U.S./Mexican border region, researching and sharing local food, promoting music and folkloric dance. I have known, worked with, and continue to study the work of Bacanora and Lechugilla makers in Sonora since the late 1980s. Tours and cultural exchanges in the Rio Sonora Valley remain a fond undertaking. In recent years I have been teaching classes in Mobile Phone Photography.

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Juan Olmedo

Juan Olmedo, is a farmer and an agroecologist. He has studied and worked on farms in France, the UK, Norway, and in Venezuela. In his home country, Mexico, Juan has done research on native maize varieties and seeds in X-Pichil, a Mayan community in the Yucatán Peninsula. Currently, he is working on the cultivation and protection of native varieties of Agave of the central highlands of Mexico. His main interest is the use of native genetic resources and techniques in agricultural management of marginal lands. He strongly believes that these ancestral cultivars and farming systems will prove central in addressing food production issues in the face of climate change.

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Jonathan Mabry

Dr. Jonathan Mabry is Director of Community Engagement for the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Arizona. He received his doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Arizona. His archaeological investigations have documented new information about the transition to agriculture and development of irrigation in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands during prehistory. He was an early leader in the local and heritage foods movements in southern Arizona, and was co-author with Gary Nabhan and others on the application that obtained designation of Tucson as the first UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in the U.S. He serves as the President of the community-based non-profit organization managing the designation. 

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Kyle Bert

Via Desert Mountain Didgeroos: I’m an artist, musician, and craftsman from Tucson, AZ. I put my heart into each of my creations because my greatest hope is that they provide their new owner with a transformative experience, bringing joy into their life.

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Carrie Mae Rose

Carrie Mae Rose makes wings out of collected and found agave leaves. She believes we humans are 1/2 animal and 1/2 angel. The wings represent the personal transformation of her more spiritual parts, a release and expansion beyond trauma, fear and protection. Rose began working with the Arizona desert-grown agave plant in 2000 while living in Prescott. The agave maintains a tender sweet center within its beautiful radial structure of barbed and pointed stalks that protect it from nectar and water seeking animals. When approaching the agave plant, one must be aware and respectful of this natural armor. Similarly, we each need love and touch yet also respect and honor. As a child she lacked the ability to protect herself and did not learn how to allow others to treat her with reverence.  Her nectar, her center, continued to be handled indiscriminately. Her struggle to strike this delicate balance of vulnerability and safety inspired the first body of work, Agave Armor. Much of her animal parts were explored and healed after she spent a decade diving into an intensive meditation practice while living in NYC getting her MFA in Design & Technology from Parsons. Two years ago she returned to the desert and has creatively landed in Jerome, Arizona. There she has a Solar Species Studio that researches meditation states with sensors and she is developing her Lady Mae Lab / Label of kevlar chastity belts for another iteration of her Wearable Weapons series. She has shown her work in many galleries and museums both nationally and internationally. You can currently see her work at the Village Gallery in Sedona, Arizona. Rose would also love to build permanent sculptural commissions of large-scale agave wings for private collectors or businesses. Please see her website for more art and info: http://carrriemae.com

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Brad Lancaster

Brad Lancaster is co-founder of Desert Harvesters, a contributing author to Eat Mesquite and More,
and the author of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond. He teaches and lectures nationally
and internationally on how to partner with living systems through the reciprocal harvests of water, sun,
shade, wind and more to grow healthy communities and wild native food forests.

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Jason Wiley

Jason joined the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in May of 2014 as a horticulturist. He was raised in eastern Colorado and grew up on a sod farm, so his interest in plants started early in life. He received his B.S. in Urban Horticulture from Arizona State University in 2007. His career includes positions at the Phoenix Zoo caring for the “Harmony Farm,” as the Lead Horticulturist and Landscape Designer for the Budweiser Tour Center and employment for a high-end horticulture services company, both in Fort Collins, Colorado. Jason relocated to Tucson in 2014 to join the staff at the Arizona- Sonora Desert Museum and currently manages the Agave Garden and Cactus Garden.

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Greg Starr

Greg was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, and has grown to love the desert and its flora and fauna. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture, and after working in the landscape industry he went back to the University to study Botany and further his education in horticulture. Greg worked for Warren Jones (co-author of Plants for Dry Climates and Landscape Plants for Dry Regions) and Dr. Charles Mason at the University of Arizona herbarium. Greg made his first foray into the world of collecting in 1979 when he traveled with Warren and Bill Kinneson to Texas where he saw firsthand, in habitat, the many plants he had only experienced in the nursery or landscapes. He emerged from the University in 1985 with a Master of Science in Horticulture with a special emphasis on botany. He opened Starr Nursery in the summer of 1985, and has specialized in low water use plants for landscaping in southern Arizona. Greg has traveled extensively in Mexico and the southwestern United States to study the plants for their potential landscape use in desert regions of the world. He has also traveled to South Africa and recently to Madagascar in search of juicy succulents.

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Robert Villa

Robert is a proud Tucsonan deeply in love with the Sonoran region. He has been studying, exploring, and documenting the region's biological and cultural diversity (often with violin in tow) most of his 32 years. Specializing in amphibians, reptiles, and plants, he has consulted for and assisted in the production of broadcast television programs, the 2nd edition of Natural History of the Sonoran Desert, and published his findings in academic and popular outlets. He currently presides over the Tucson Herpetological Society, assists with ongoing developments at the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, is a member of NextGen Sonoran Desert Researchers, works as “paid apprentice” at the botanical estate of Mark A. Dimmitt, and grows plants himself. He considers himself a third-generation follower in the footsteps of botanist Howard Scott Gentry, the father of, and still the greatest authority on, Agave study.  Finally, Robert is a mezcal disciple.  He believes that to drink mezcal is to imbibe the highest expression of Mexican terroir. Indeed, our distinctly Sonoran bacanora and lechuguilla may be considered a love letter to the land where north and south embrace.


Aaron Grafe

Aaron Grafe (CSW, Certified Cicerone) is an Arizona native, having moved to Tucson in 2003 to attend the University of Arizona. He graduated with a degree in German Studies and American Indian Studies, and logically got a job in the alcohol industry. During years of indoctrination in the bar and restaurant world, he discovered a deep love for all things fermented and distilled, culminating years later in an obsession with all things agave. This thirst for artisanal and hand-crafted beverage alcohol brought him ultimately to the alcohol distribution realm, where he currently works as a craft spirits specialist for Young’s Market Co. Having traveled throughout Jalisco, Puebla and Oaxaca, touring 20 distilleries/palenques, he was ultimately driven down the rabbit hole of agave distillates to the point of no return. He now spends his days trying to promote brands, grow the category of all agave distillate, and educate any, and all, who would listen, sharing the passion for these truly amazing products. “In the ever-industrialized world of ardent spirits, the production and consumption of mezcal is more akin to a spiritual and cultural experience of centuries past than anything from the modern era of distillation. It’s transcendental, ephemeral, and an ode to many aspects of humanity that will one day be lost...but here’s to hoping not any time soon. Dixeebe!”