La Tauna Tortillas
Written by: Kaori Tsukada
Tim Fuller, photographer
Diana’s son was four years old when he started to suffer from severe migraines, eczema, and poor health. For five years, doctors struggled to diagnose and treat his condition, which they finally found was due to extreme sensitivity to preservatives and additives in his food.
Diana and her family immediately cut processed foods from their diet and switched to natural foods and whole grains. They saw visible improvement in her son’s health. Only one thing bothered her family about their diet; the lack of tortillas, their traditional staple food. Not one to let this limit her, Diana spent six months developing the perfect whole wheat tortilla with olive oil and that homemade taste they craved. She started bringing the tortillas to her lunches at work, and to potlucks. Eventually, friends began to specifically request that she bring her tortillas to get-togethers.
Then her husband lost his job, and economic difficulties set in. Just as they were faced with foreclosure and unable to make ends meet, one of her friends suggested that she start making tortillas – not just for family and friends, but for everyone in the community. Working with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Diana and her husband put their first batch of commercial whole wheat tortillas on the stand at their local farmers market in June 2010.
Things took off from there. Now La Tauna Tortillas employs six including herself and her husband. She sells 300 12-packs of tortillas a day. The demand for her tortillas is growing so fast that they will soon have to invest in a wider oven and dough press to keep up. Her son, now 15, is bright, healthy, and at the top of his class in math.
Diana never expected to be working in the food industry before she woke up to the fact that unhealthy food is so prevalent. The Tucson-born entrepreneur grew up in a farming community in Mexico, where all their food was natural and whole because there was no other way to eat. When she came back to Tucson for college, all the food around her was so easy and fast that she got used to it. As her awareness of our eating choices and healthy food has grown, her priorities have shifted to making these healthy choices, and helping others make them too.
And that’s what Diana loves most about her job – it’s an opportunity to educate her customers and community members on the importance of eating healthier, and that they don’t have to sacrifice taste. For customers who come in to buy her white flour tortillas, she offers them a little burrito with a whole wheat tortilla and vegan beans. She finds that this almost always converts them to the whole wheat tortillas.
Diana is working on other initiatives, too. She’s speaking with the local board of education about bringing healthier food to school lunches. She finds that even the kids are getting tired of so-called “kid’s food” like chicken nuggets, and she knows that there are healthier options. Diana is also trying to go more local – she’s working with San Xavier Cooperative Farm, run by a group of O’odham Native Americans toward using their organic, non-GMO corn in her tortillas. She hopes that they can cultivate a large enough crop to keep her company supplied year round.
Diana is passionate about her work and her community’s health. As with most small businesses, she has trouble getting the small loans that she needs to buy the equipment necessary to expand her business. Right now their equipment’s capacity is their greatest limiting factor. Her dough press can only press one tortilla at a time. Her dough divider can only divide one ball of dough at a time.
Banks are wary of making these small loans. On top of that, Diana and her family are often deemed unworthy of lending, a legacy of their past financial difficulties during her husband’s unemployment. She is starting to look into crowdfunding and other sources that have a larger community base to fund the equipment they need. Her aim is to stay the kind of business that touches each product by hand so that the people eating her tortillas know that they weren’t turned out by machines, but with love by real people. You can order some for yourself online at La Tauna Tortillas.