Long live the Tucson food scene

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Rebecca Noble | The Daily Wildcat

Head chef Drew Buono ties a pork body for the brind and smoke pork belly special at Pasco Kitchen & Lounge on Thursday night to be served at Viva La Local Food Festival.

This weekend, in Tucson’s grand tradition of embracing local food culture, the Heirloom Farmers’ Markets will host their second bi-annual Viva La Local Food Festival fundraiser on Saturday. The 700 square-foot festival occurs at the Rillito Park Racetrack. Viva La Local Food Festival’s marketing project coordinator, Zoë Anderson, said the fundraiser aggregates a creative menagerie of food and drink vendors in order to purvey fresh, local and delicious goods to festivalgoers, as well as benefit Heirloom Farmers’ Markets.

“We recognized that most of the Tucson food festivals that highlight some of the best cuisine around town have a high ticket price, and as an attendee, you may not always leave feeling full,” Anderson said.

The festival hosts 25 restaurants, six breweries and wineries and has live music all day long. With an initial $6 admission with kids under 12 free, all food and drink servings will be $5. Restaurants such as The Twisted Tandoor, Pasco Kitchen & Lounge and Renne’s Organic Oven will serve up large sample dishes to attendees of the festival. 

Sponsored by the Banner — Health University Medical Center, Viva La Local also hosts a large and eclectic farmers market, featuring more than 80 of Tucson’s local farmers and food purveyors. Brands such as Larry’s Veggies, Gourmet Girls Gluten-Free Bakery/Bistro and Fermented Tea Company will all vend their goods to attendees at the festival farmers market.

Fermented Tea Company is a small, local and completely female-owned Kombucha — a sweet, fermented tea — brewery. The company not only vends at Viva La Local but at many other Heirloom Farmers’ Markets events. The company debuted at Viva La Local last year. For Tracy Sailee, Fermented Tea Company president, the festival is a great opportunity to interact with her Tucson consumer community. 

“It is a rush meeting of the people of Tucson and its visitors,” Sailee said. “Our favorite thing is to listen to personal testimonies of how our FTC Kombucha improves the way people feel. We enjoy educating people [about] the health benefits of Kombucha and love giving free samples for them to try.” 

The festival also highlights the importance of supporting local food and business through both the featured restaurants and farmers market vendors, as well as the importance of further connecting the Tucson community. 

“The more we support our local farmers, restaurants and purveyors in Tucson, the more we’ll keep our dollars in Arizona and support our local economy,” Anderson said. “By coming to the farmers market or Viva La Local, you are getting to meet directly with farmers, producers and food purveyors who make our Baja-Arizona region so diverse. … These direct connections create community and can lead to longtime relationships.” 

Viva La Local attendees have the opportunity to make a weekend out of the festival, as it will pair up this year with Cyclovia Tucson to create a weekend in “Tucson Tandem.” Both events, which attract a similar consumer demographic, have historically fallen on the same day.

“We felt that [many people from] our farmers market community had to choose which event to go to,” Anderson said. “Both of our organizations love bicycles and supporting local food, so we thought, ‘Why not team up this spring and fall for Tucson Tandem weekend?’”

On Saturday, attendees will be able to enjoy the fresh food, produce and listen to live music offered by Viva La Local; on Sunday, they can enjoy cycling throughout 5 miles of car-free Tucson streets.

Though Anderson said she thinks the fundraiser attracts a more “foodie, adult crowd,” the sunny, fun atmosphere welcomes families and younger adults, as well. UA Compost Cats will be volunteering this year, helping out with recycling for the event. Another 30 students will serve as general volunteers. Anderson said she thinks involving the UA student body is a vital aspect of the event. 

“The more we can collaborate and get students involved, the better outlook to the future for keeping a more local sustainable food economy for all,” Anderson said. “I hope UA students will come out [to the festival].”

Anderson said this year’s Viva La Local Food Festival will attract “good food and good people,” allowing people to spend their Saturday conversing over delicious food and drinks, listening to talented local bands and experiencing an overall spectacular atmosphere. 

“Admission gets you exposure to the farmers market community and restaurants you’ve maybe never heard of or maybe [couldn’t enjoy because of budgetary reasons],” Anderson said, “and [helps] create and support a vibrant food system in Tucson.”

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Follow Brenna Bailey on Twitter.


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