The Nation encourages members to return to a more-traditional diet and to maintain small “victory gardens.” Currently, the Tohono O’odham Community Action, a non-profit organization; the tribes Food and Farming Working Group, and the Tohono Oodham Community Colleges Land Grant Office of Sustainability are growing food and leading a cooperative effort to promote home gardening. “We’re growing tepary beans, squash and melons,” Villegas says, referring to some of the tribe’s traditional foods.
Food scarcity is not yet an issue for the tribe, but hardy desert plants and the traditional foods they produce are already impacted by changes in rainfall and average temperatures. “Climate change is altering the phenology of our plants,” Villegas says. “People are going out to gather food and they’re saying, ‘What’s going on? They’ve already bloomed.'” Climate scientists, he says, predict average end-of-century temperature increases of about nine degrees Fahrenheit. “We don’t know what that means for our traditional survival foodsyou can’t reproduce a cholla or a saguaro.”
Figure 2 Prickly pear. Photo by Dennis Wall. If rising heat and sustained drought (which researchers tie to climate change) stoke future food shortages, the Nation’s budget could be strained by the need to subsidize food purchases. Even with tribal and even federal support, obtaining bulk food, and getting it out to tribal members, could strain the tribe’s distribution infrastructure: We don’t have enough cooling capacity to store perishables, Villegas says, “and we have just two food-distribution trucks to cover 2.8 million acres.”