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- 8 November:
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~ Welcome to the Desert Harvesters website! ~
This year Desert Harvesters is shifting its programming from November to June (the peak of our native bean trees’ harvest season) to more effectively help people enhance the diversity and quality of their harvests, what they make with them, and to rhyme with the Sonoran Desert’s annual cycles in a way that enhances our shared home and biome.
Toward that aim, we are also teaming up with local culinary businesses to increase the offerings of native foods in their cuisine, and the growing of some of these native food plants within water-harvesting earthworks beside their buildings.
Why is Desert Harvesters shifting from a November fiesta to June—the hottest, driest time of summer?!
Many of our most amazing native food plants are pumping out incredible fruit, seed, and bounty to be all ready to germinate into growing abundance when the first rains fall (San Juan’s Day, June 24th, is the traditional first day of summer rains).
In addition, harvesting pre-rains is the best practice to avoid invisible toxic molds. See here for more on why pre-rain harvests are the traditional practice, and so important.
So to better harvest, plant, and live with this natural process and practice, come to some—or all of!—the following events:
- June 5 Mesquite Harvest and Storing Demonstration at Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market
- June 19 Native Bean Tree Harvest Processing Demonstrations at Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market
- June 19 Guided Hands-on Harvests of Native Bean Tree Beans at Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market
- June 22 Pre-Monsoon Desert Harvesters’ Mesquite Milling at Exo Roast Co.
- June 22 Desert Harvesters’ Happy Hours at Tap & Bottle
Please note that while Desert Harvesters will no longer be hosting its Mesquite Milling and Fiesta in November, to instead focus on pre-monsoon millings and events, other organizations will be hiring Desert Harvesters and its hammermill for fall millings. Continually check our Calendar of Events for more (we’ll be posting additional events in the coming weeks).
BEFORE you harvest, we hope you’ll read the article on new mesquite-harvesting recommendations and traditional harvesting practices described by Desert Harvester Amy Valdés Schwemm and ethno-botanist Martha Ames Burgess, originally published in the June 2013 issue of Edible Baja Arizona.
Harvest BEFORE the first rain of the summer, or long AFTER the rainy season in the dry conditions of late summer or fall. Rain on mature or nearly mature pods can cause a common soil fungus to grow on mesquite pods and many other crops. However, pods that were collected last year before the monsoons tested safe to eat. Avoiding visible mold DOES NOT ensure safe pods. Dry the pods well before storage, and do NOT wash the pods.
DESERT HARVESTERS: Who we are
Desert Harvesters is a non-profit, grassroots effort based in Tucson, Arizona, USA. We strive to promote, celebrate, and enhance local food security and production by encouraging the planting of indigenous, food-bearing shade trees (such as the Velvet mesquite or Prosopis velutina) in water-harvesting earthworks, and then educating the public on how to harvest and process the bounty. In 2003 we were able to purchase a Meadows Mills #5 hammermill with funds from a PRO-Neighborhoods grant. The mill is able to quickly grind mesquite pods into flour, and conveniently provide people with a fresh and nutritious local food product (click here for more info on the nutritional breakdown of mesquite). We’ve put the mill on a trailer so we can take it to various milling events around southern Arizona (Fig. 2).
What we do
We plant native, multi-functional, food- and medicine-producing trees. We’ve been organizing native tree planting events in the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood since 1996 (with over 1,300 planted so far, see figs. 3 and 4), and we’ve consulted on and helped with other neighborhoods in their tree-planting events. We strive to plant the rain before we plant the trees by planting in and beside water-harvesting earthworks. This transforms stormwater from a flooding liability into a free and sustainable irrigation resource (fig. 5). Click here for our recommended tree list. Click here for tree order forms. Click here for more on water-harvesting earthworks.
We do NOT provide or sell trees.
Instead, we offer guidance on what plants to choose, where Tucson residents can order them, and how to plant them. See the links in the paragraph above this one.
We do NOT accept donations of mesquite pods, nor do we provide harvesting services.
Instead, we offer information on how you can harvest your own pods (described in text, photos, and videos), or simply use them as a water-conserving, soil-building mulch over the surface of your soil. There is no reason to rake up and throw away fallen mesquite pods. If you don’t want them on your patio or walkways, just sweep them under plantings where they will increase soil fertility and health.
We make the processing and eating of delicious native foods fun and easy.
Since 2003 we’ve primarily been enabling folks to conveniently grind ubiquitous mesquite pods into delicious and nutritious mesquite flour at our local milling events in the fall. Our milling events are usually held from late September through November, when the dew point has dropped from the humidity of summer. Click here for calendar of events. This follows the summer mesquite pod harvest, and ensures that the pods have had a chance to dry well and will not reabsorb moisture from the humid summer monsoon season weather (the pods must be dry to run through the mill without gumming it up. Pods are sufficiently dry when they quickly snap in two when you try to bend them). Click here for more on mesquite harvesting and processing.
The main milling event and fundraiser for our organization is coupled with a mesquite and native-foods fiesta at the Dunbar/Spring Organic Community Garden in central Tucson. This is a great opportunity for folks to taste the flavors of foods made from locally harvested wild produce, local organic gardens, neighbors’ kitchens, and local organic food outlets. Click here to see a video of the 2007 mesquite milling and pancake breakfast.
The Dunbar/Spring Organic Community Garden Mesquite Milling and Pancake Breakfast
The mesquite pancakes
At this event, which used to center around mesquite pancakes, but which has morphed in recent years into a mesquite and native-foods bake sale, we would proudly serve mesquite/whole-wheat pancakes made with all organic, local ingredients (figs. 7, 8, 9, 10). The mesquite flour was made from native Velvet mesquite pods hand picked by Desert Harvesters around Tucson – with most of the pods picked from trees planted within the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood. The organic wheat was from Crooked Sky Farm in Glendale, AZ, and would be ground just a week before the event. The pancakes were served with prickly-pear syrup, mesquite syrup, agave nectar, home-made jams, and sometimes (if we were really lucky) saguaro syrup. There is still a variety of locally made teas and organic coffee for people to try with local backyard honey (fig. 11). Some years local foods, crafts, teas, and gift certificates are raffled off throughout the event. There’s also great live music (fig. 12) and a playground for all to play in (fig. 14). If it rains, we move the event just north of the garden to the Dunbar Auditorium.
Additional local foods and goods
In addition, local organic and wild foods are for sale at the Dunbar/Spring Mesquite Milling and Fiesta. These can include local mesquite flour; prickly pear syrup, jam, and juice; mesquite pancake mix; baked goods; chiltepines; cholla buds; olive oil; cured olives; fresh mole mixes, and more (fig. 15 and 16). You’ll also find native herbal medicines and teas, organic Desert Harvesters t-shirts, and rainwater harvesting books for sale (figs. 17 and 18). And we try to feature educational sampling booths on other local/native foods such as acorn flour and baked goods (figs. 19 and 20).
The mesquite milling
People can bring the pods that they have harvested (up to 15 gallons) and grind them into flour for an additional donation. The milling fee is $2 per gallon with a minimum of $5. The idea is to encourage folks to bring at least 3–5 gallons of whole pods (5 gallons of whole pods will provide you with about 1 gallon of fine, edible flour in about 5 minutes of milling).
To speed up the milling of flour at the Dunbar/Spring event we will have had three mills running in recent years. In addition, at both the Dunbar/Spring event and the Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market event, if there is a large turnout, we will likely ask that those bringing more than 15 gallons of whole pods leave the pods with us along with sealable food-grade containers marked with their name and phone numbers into which we can put the flour. These folks must prepay us for the milling, and we’ll call them within a week to pick up their flour. The idea is to keep the milling line moving quickly, and to greatly reduce the chance that anyone will need to wait in line for a long period of time. Click here for more on how we run our events.
Note that mesquite flour purchased in stores costs from $9 to $30 per pound, but because it is abundant, and locally native in our area, it can be harvested for free and ground into flour at our scheduled milling events at a very low cost.
Our primary goal
Our primary goal is to promote and enhance the awareness and use of locally native food sources, which can thrive on harvested natural rainfall and runoff without additional irrigation contributing to unsustainable groundwater depletion. We feel that by fostering a reciprocal relationship between native plants and local people we can enhance local food security, reconnect people with the ecosystem, and build a more dynamic and sustainable community.
Donations are gratefully accepted to support our work in the community!
Please send your check made out to Desert Harvesters, c/o 813 N 9th Ave, Tucson AZ 85705, or use the PayPal donation button on the bottom left side of any page of our website. We are unable to commit to responding to other correspondence sent through the post office. See the Contact Us page for our array of email addresses.