Ruralism was alive and well this past week when a group of community stakeholders from across Arizona’s Copper Corridor trekked down to Ajo, AZ to get a glimpse of the community development efforts taking place in a small but mighty (unincorporated) community of less than 4000. Community leaders representing San Manuel’s Copper Town Association, Rebuild Superior, the Town of Superior, the Copper Communities Food Hub, Bruzzi Vineyards and the office of Pinal County Supervisor, Pete Rios, joined Ajo representatives from International Sonoran Desert Alliance and the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture for a day of collaborative discussion revolving around creative funding, community engagement, healthy food cooperatives and multi-cultural connections.
San Manuel | Copper Town Association
In the Fall of 2018, representatives from San Manuel reached out to Local First Arizona’s Rural Development Council (AZRDC) to discuss challenges in their community including (1) a lack of industry after the departure of a mine the community was built to support; (2) a shrinking education system and the vacant properties that have resulted; (3) illegal dumping on precious BLM land; (4) a lack of a centralized resource for the community and a lack of a sense of place. The AZRDC team immediate developed a proposed scope of Community Activation programming that would help to address many of these issues, initiating discussions with potential community partners that included Copper Corridor Economic Development Council, Pinal County, USDA, Keep Arizona Beautiful and BHP Billiton.
With the recent announcement of a meaningful partnership of Rio Tinto and Resolution Copper in Superior, AZ, the Town of Superior and its partner organizations are on the move to optimize Community Activation efforts and make their community a “Superior” place to visit, live and work. A few initiatives in the works include a small business incubator, a community food court and a hope of providing affordable housing to local artists to keep culture in their community.
Enter Ajo. We know what you’re thinking….”Ajo? The place I get Mexican insurance on my way across the border?” Yes, Ajo - also the place where The Curley School, a historic public school built in 1919, was renovated into breathtaking artisan living spaces, a gallery and a hotel/conference center. And the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, a non-profit organization initially created to represent the Anglo-American, Mexican and indigenous O’odham communities living in the Sonoran Desert, now serves as a pillar organization to the community, offering everything from economic development services to water and business workshops to event planning. Finally, imagine a place where (by all agricultural standards) nothing should grow and yet Ajo CSA, a dedicated group of community members who wanted to secure access to healthy, locally grown, heritage foods, have created food systems and cooperatives that serve as a model for communities across the state.
Arizona Rural Development Council
Given the challenges and opportunities that both San Manuel and the Town of Superior faced, AZRDC felt it was important to showcase a success story from a similar community to mobilize redevelopment and facilitate connections that could streamline efforts for all those involved. During the site tour, attendees discussed best practices for community collaboration, creative funding and statewide partnerships, emphasizing that the size and/or incorporation of your community may not matter. Those that attended left with the sense that heart, dedication, resiliency, a little bit of compromise and a lot of commitment can bear amazing fruit for towns of all shapes and sizes across rural AZ.