Fruit on a Different Route

Millions of pounds of fruits and veggies cross the southern border and go straight to landfills. These Arizona activists put produce on a better path.

"Man In The Maze" | Sundance Short Film Challenge from Sundance Institute on Vimeo.

Mexico is America’s biggest fresh produce supplier, trucking billions of pounds of veggies through border towns like Nogales, Arizona, the world’s largest inland port of entry for food. Outrageously, the terminus of this food superhighway is often the landfill, where millions of pounds of fruits and vegetables create enormous edible heaps. 

The waste is a result of volatile produce prices. When they suddenly go up, big food purchasers like Wal-Mart and Safeway look elsewhere for cheaper goods.

But as if the tremendous amount of trashed food weren’t shameful enough, these landfills are located in impoverished border communities where as much as 20 percent of residents suffer from hunger and poor nutrition.

In Man in the Maze, a winner of Sundance’s Short Film Challenge, directors Phil Buccellato and Jesse Ash introduce us to food activists who save as much produce as they can from the waste stream and give it to locals. 

The effort is a noble one, but experts interviewed in the film say it’s not enough to just save food. We have to grow it more wisely, too. As the Southwest experiences a hotter and drier climate, Arizona agriculture is suffering. That’s why another local nonprofit called Native Seeds/SEARCH is helping residents establish home gardens with the seeds of plants that once flourished in the region.  

In order to be resilient in the face of climate change, communities need to diversify their crops, says Native Seeds cofounder Gary Paul Nabhan. He tells the filmmakers that healing the food system is “the only way we’re going to heal our economies, our bodies, and the land.”

In the end, Man in the Maze has an important food lesson for us all: Diversify and distribute. In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but also make sure you eat all your eggs. 

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Join Us