Things we love and loathe this month.

The Lobby

Written by Editorial Staff Category: Valley News Issue: August 2017
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Not-So-Secret Garden

“The irony is it’s in one of the richest agricultural areas in the U.S.” says Nicolas de la Fuente, project director of Spaces of Opportunity South Phoenix farm and community garden. De la Fuente is describing the so-called “food desert” – the label used by the USDA to identify urban areas bereft of places to purchase fresh produce and healthy, whole foods – in South Phoenix. Ironically, the area was once home to citrus, alfalfa and ostrich farms, instead of rows of Burger Kings and Circle Ks. But the neighborhood’s nutritional fortunes may be changing. Desert Botanical Garden, in partnership with Roosevelt Elementary School District, Cultivate South Phoenix and other regional alliances, began transforming an 18-acre dirt plot near 15th and Southern avenues into a food oasis two years ago with programs to incubate micro farms and allow community garden plots ($5 a month for a 5-feet-by-50-feet plot). This fall, Spaces of Opportunity is launching its next phase and breaking ground on more permanent structures, including a barn to house South Phoenix’s first farmers’ market and host community meetings and yoga classes. “We’ve been farming here for two years,” says de la Fuente. “But this would give us the structure that we need to grow.”

— Lauren Loftus

Visualizing Crime

This time two years ago, the Maryvale neighborhood northwest of Downtown Phoenix was terrorized by a series of shootings that ultimately left nine dead and three injured – all black females or young Hispanic men – between August 2015 and July 2016. Hundreds of tips led police to arrest Aaron Juan Saucedo this May. The Maryvale serial shootings cast a dark cloud over an already stigmatized part of the West Valley, where residents and community leaders have worked hard to overcome stereotypes of a crime hotbed.

Though Maryvale, which stretches west from 27th Avenue to the Agua Fria River, has higher-than-average crime rates, the Phoenix Police Department’s 2016 yearly violent crimes reporting map shows the highest density of violent crimes to be just east of that boundary. See below:

Mood Stabilizer

Brings Us Up

Awesome alert: ASU swim coach Michael Phelps to race a great white on Phelps vs. Shark: The Battle for Ocean Supremacy during Shark Week.
Monsoon season! How we’ve missed you.
Tubac makes Travel + Leisure’s list of up-and-coming “charming towns.” Hey, we’ve always been down with Tubac.
The classic Arizona Birkenstock gets a makeover. Man, that’s sharp.

Brings Us Down

Barrio Urbano closes. Chef-owner Silvana Salcido Esparza says the hot Seventh Street food strip is “imploding.”
Nearly 50 flights to Phoenix were canceled during June’s heat wave. Not that anyone is flying here in the summer, anyway.
Scorched AZ: Goodwin Fire south of Prescott burns 25,000 acres and forces evacuations. Sad shades of Yarnell.
Restaurant closings in general. Star chefs Josh Hebert (Posh) and Eddie Matney (Eddie’s House) also shuttered restaurants.


Illustration by Mirelle Inglefield

Joe Johnston

Ever hear the term “turning swords into ploughshares”? Restaurateur and lifestyle magnate Joe Johnston is turning ploughshares into tortilla presses. And a lot of other cool things, too. Over the past two decades, Johnston – a trained mechanical engineer who founded Valley legends Coffee Plantation and Joe’s Real BBQ – has gradually converted his family’s ancestral farm in Gilbert into the Valley’s most excitingly progressive lifestyle laboratory. First came Agritopia, an innovative residential concept, then came the Barnone artisan incubator, where Valley craftspeople make everything from beer to those tortilla presses. Of course, the farm still farms, serving as a metaphor for Johnston himself – part visionary foodie, part rubber-meets-the-road engineer guy. We spent a few minutes finding out what other interesting thoughts he keeps under those trademark fedoras.

The craftsman community at Barnone also includes a gunsmith, florist, salt shaker fabrication shop and more. Is there anything Johnston would not like to see made there?
“Well, I’m not interested in making [fidget] spinners. People say, ‘You should make spinners. You’ll make a billion dollars.’ But there’s no appeal. It’s just overdone.” 

Engineering and barbecue: Is there a secret connection?
“Well, I consider barbecue in some respects manufacturing, and coffee is like that, too. It’s the best kind of manufacturing. As an engineer, you’re just one cog in the final product… you never see the customer enjoy it. But when you’re working with raw coffee, raw meat, and delivering it directly to your customer, there’s something very satisfying about closing the loop.” 

Johnston pulled from his combined culinary and technical background to give us these three kitchen hacks.
1.  Roasting coffee with a hot-air popcorn popper. “That’s how a lot of amateur roasters start out.”
2.  Using a gas range for sous vide, i.e. vacuum sealing food and cooking it in a water bath for precise doneness. “It takes a little fiddling, but you can hold a pot of water at 160 degrees and get that nice, uniform texture in food.”
3.  Google it. “That’s the ultimate kitchen hack. You have a universe of recipes and temperature directions at your fingertips.”

Johnston’s first Coffee Plantation predated Starbucks in the Valley. He sold the brand, but Does he ever think about getting back into coffee? 
“I always think about getting back into coffee! In the machine shop at Barnone, we’re working on a number of coffee-related items. I don’t think I’d run a coffeehouse per se, but maybe something ancillary. One of my grandfather’s earlier patents was a coffee grinder, so it’s in the blood.”

An admirer of Japanese cuisine and sushi, Johnston shared his favorite three Valley joints for a nice nigiri. 
1.  Hillstone: “I know it sounds funny, but they’re good at everything. The system, the ambiance, the quarter-million-dollar artwork, the cocktails and the sushi. It’s all spot on.”
2.  Hana: “For pure Japanese expression, Hana is exquisite. Lori Hashimoto and her family do a wonderful job. They’re 
3.  SumoMaya: “I like [the Scottsdale restaurant] for its fusion bent. Interesting twists on sashimi and sushi.”

A noted hat-horse, Johnston owns roughly 40 fedoras, Panamas, cowboy hats and other styles. We asked him to recall buying his first hat.
“It started in 1985. My wife and I were driving back from New Orleans right after we got married. And there in Lafayette Square I bought my first fedora. It was a Dobbs – 7 and 5/16 inches. I have what they call a ‘tall tip.’ It sounds a little vulgar, but it means my head is a little taller at the tip than normal heads. And custom hats can correct it.” 

And his favorite hat maker in Arizona?
“Óptimo [Hatworks] in Bisbee is absolutely my favorite all-time milliner in Arizona. [It’s run by] a fellow named Grant. I have several of his Panamas… he uses vintage French 
ribbons, and his work with felt is wonderful. He’s quirky, but he knows his stuff.” 


O’Pinion by Mike O'Neil

Historical Bias

There is a lot of discussion, in Arizona and elsewhere, about whether to remove public Civil War memorials to Confederate heroes. Many of these monuments date, in Arizona as elsewhere, rather suspiciously not to the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, but to more recent times – often the early 1960s, when civil rights for black citizens was the subject of massive public debate and unrest. That timing is, at the very least, suspect. 

In reading through the online comments on one of the local news articles about the Arizona monuments, I was struck by one remark in particular: “Why can’t we leave history alone?” It’s an argument that resonates with some people.

But as any real historian will tell you, “history” (and I mean with a lowercase “h” in quotes) is often just the specific version of history we’re taught in schools. And it rarely shows us the whole picture. Often, it’s a narrow one. And politicized.

In grade and high school, we are exposed to a mass of information about our country’s past, usually from a single textbook with the word History on the cover. That book has a powerful formative effect on our grasp of the world, making it easy to slip into the mistaken belief that these stories are unbendable, objective truths. Attempts to change “history” can be seen as some form of misguided political correctness. Wouldn’t we be better off if we just let things be? It can be upsetting, after all, to discover that long-held beliefs are not quite accurate.

Here’s the problem: The version of “history” that is taught in grade schools at any point is the product of the perspective of the writer and dominant strains of thought at the time – and place. Most historical research tends to show the frailty and selectivity of initial historical recordings. And only the passage of time can permit us to see through the built-in biases of a particular epoch to achieve a more complete understanding of our past. Don’t think perspective matters? Take a short trip to any of the Native American reservations that surround metro Phoenix. See if they have the same take on Western expansion as you were taught. 

Political forces have, sometimes deliberately, foisted their particular versions of “history” on our schools. And textbook controversies have often been explicitly political. The most impactful of these efforts was the decades-long influence of Mel and Norma Gabler, who waged a mostly successful crusade from 1961 until the beginning of the 2000s against public school textbooks they regarded as “anti-family” or “anti-Christian.” Their foundation still operates. They also lobbied against the teaching of evolution, sex education and internationalism. While they began their work in Texas, their impact was national in scope. Publishers were all too willing to ship the Gabler’s inexpensive, specious texts to any state willing to take them. And many were.  

Progressives and multiculturalists have also been known to forcibly twist “history” to meet their political agendas. Tucson’s dismantled Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program included proselytizing texts and language – e.g. “[we were] people without any human rights… 500 years later nothing has changed” – that even some moderate liberals found skewed and inflammatory. 

Still, there are few public school curriculums more politicized than Civil War history. For many years, even the term “Civil War” was eschewed in the Southern states in favor of “War Between the States” or some other euphemism. Some alternatives did not even attempt to hide their sentiments about what they referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression.” Many of these retellings deliberately downplayed the role of slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War in favor of explanations that favored “states’ rights,” “preservation of a Southern way of life” (without specifying what that was) or other factors. Building monuments to the “Noble Cause” didn’t seem so awful in this context. 

Markers denoting the location of a historically significant battle, such as that of Picacho Peak, may acknowledge the location of a historic event. But when such monuments depict Confederate military leaders in heroic poses or include equivalent language, it is easy for them to slip past acknowledgement of historical fact and into the realm of glorification of the cause for which they fought. 

Mike O’Neil is a sociologist and pollster who hosts the public affairs program, The Think Tank, on KTAR-FM 92.3. 


“Like most people, I've heard that it gets so hot in Phoenix that you can fry an egg on the sidewalk. Of course, I assumed this was a myth. In my 13 years  living in Arizona, I had never put this myth to the test. As the heatwave set in this week, my 6-year-old son suggested we give it a try, and it worked! The egg even tasted pretty good.”

— Laura Segall 
Freelance Photographer Based in Phoenix. Segall is the mother of three curious children and is married to a photojournalist. This picture was taken with an iPhone.

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