When in the high desert of Flagstaff, you may feel the harshness of the elements in daily life and especially while gardening. You perhaps will begin to feel as if this region is a food desert, or at least declare your patch of ground to be one. However, if you look with a hungry eye, you will find there are plenty of edible plants scattered around and up for grabs throughout our beautiful town. Ornamental trees suddenly become solitary orchard relics – branches bending with the weight of fruits homeowners never expected. Urban foraging adds vital new and interesting ingredients for our personal kitchens and Square Root Foods. Finding these backyard plants and harvesting their ingredients connects us to our environment and community, and helps us tell a story of Flagstaff through food.
No year is the same as far as productivity for plants, and all of the environmental factors in Flagstaff make each year unique. This year we found several apricot trees that were hiding in plain sight, including a tree I thought I knew for 20 years that provided tasty orange stone fruits for the first time (to me). This year also provided vibrant red bush cherries that caught many an eye and turned heads, but we wondered how many people slowed down enough to find out how they tasted (and if they should be tasted). Turns out, they were delicious in vinaigrettes and as a jam.
As good as the cherries were, Flagstaff plum jam is perhaps my favorite – sweet and tart, earthy and pure. These are the flavors that define Flagstaff to me, and some of the key ingredients to what we want to provide at Square Root Foods. We believe in foods grown, created and enjoyed locally. Meals are meant to be nourishing, enjoyed daily, and a way to bring people and communities together.
When we think about redesigning the food system, we believe it must become diverse, and everyone must be included. Our urban gardens have always been a key contributor to our menu. These gardens have provided the freshest herbs – a true staple of every item we cook. These small gardens are a wonderful supplement to our ever-rotating menu and add the unique and fresh flavors we love. The diverse ingredients we can get from right here in our beloved mountain town keeps our menu fresh, and the tradition of growing and enjoying edible plants alive.