Tohono O’odham Community Action, or TOCA, as it is primarily known was established in 1996 to create a healthy, culturally vital, and sustainable community on the Tohono O’odham Nation. TOCA first established a community garden in 1996 and has since built a set of food system programs that contribute to overall public health, cultural revitalization, and economic development. Some of the food system work includes: a beginning farmer apprenticeship that focuses on training and agricultural workforce development; Project Oidag, which focuses on youth farming and gardening program, and youth empowerment; co-farming and gardening, and the Desert Rain Café which provides healthy and traditional foods through table service and catering.
TOCA revitalizes the cultural traditions of the Tohono O’odham, the O’odham Himdag, through it various programs and work that include the Rain Ceremony Revitalization, Culture and Leadership Camp for Youth, among several others. By keeping these traditions alive, TOCA ensures cultural survival. TOCA’s approach to community change follows five principles:
1) O’odham Himdag, wisdom from the past creating solutions for the future
2) Empowerment model, utilizing community members and mobilizing community resources to implement needed programs
3) Community Assets, encourages community members to take a deeper look into the various resources already in their communities to develop indigenous solutions rather them importing them
4) Encourage community self-sufficiency, encourage self-sufficiency to cease the cycle of dependence on outside help
5) Context is crucial: strengthening the material roots of the O’odham culture, through redevelopment of the material foundation of core cultural practices i.e. performing ground blessing dances in the fields rather than for an audience.
The Desert Rain Café is a social enterprise of TOCA that offers contemporary O’odham cuisine including cholla buds, tepary beans, and saguaro fruit syrup. Some of the menu items include teprary bean and short rib stew, cholla pico de gallo, prickly pear chicken sandwich among many others. Each dish includes at least one of the staple foods of the O’odham diet that has allowed them to maintain their desert lifestyle for countless generations. Foods are prepared in traditional ways or as they have been in generations past and some in new ways all of which maintaining the utmost respect for the foods provided by I’itoi [our Elder brother].