About Us

About Desert Harvesters: The Organization

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Desert Harvesters is a non-profit, grassroots effort based in Tucson, Arizona, USA. We strive to promote, celebrate, and enhance local food and water security by encouraging the planting of rain along with indigenous, food-bearing perennial plants (such as the velvet mesquite or Prosopis velutina, foothills palo verde, & desert ironwood trees, prickly pear cactus, saguaro cactus, barrel cactus) where we live, work, and play. We plant within or beside water-harvesting earthworks or rain gardens. This way these plants thrive and produce solely on passive rainwater irrigation – no imported surface or groundwater.

Then we educate the public on how to harvest and process the bounty. To that aim, we conduct guided harvests, put on an annual mesquite milling & wild foods fiesta, provide milling services to other organizations, provide wild native foods demonstrations and consulting services, and give public talks.

In 2003 we purchased 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

Plant the rain and food-bearing wild perennial plants
We’ve been organizing native rain- and tree-planting events in the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood since 1996 (with over 1,400 trees planted so far, see figs. 3–5), and we’ve consulted on and helped with other neighborhoods in their tree-planting events. This planting of rain and trees transforms stormwater from a flooding liability into a free and sustainable irrigation resource (fig. 4). Click here for our recommended tree list. Click here for tree order forms. Click here for more on water-harvesting earthworks.

Fig. 3. Girl Scouts planting a velvet mesquite tree.Fig. 4. Street runoff flowing along curb is directed to, and fills up, a mulched tree basin via curb cut.Fig. 5. In 2006, Chi Lancaster stands beside the velvet mesquite tree planted ten years ago by the Girl Scouts.

NOTE 1:
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.

NOTE 2:
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.

Show people how to obtain the most delicious & safest harvests
We conduct guided, harvest tours and workshops that show people how to:

• Identify and sample from the mesquite trees with the best-tasting pods
Every tree is different, but some varieties’ pods taste consistently much better than others. Taste the difference to know the difference, and you’ll settle for only the best. We also harvest from desert ironwood, canyon hackberry, and palo verde.

• Harvest safely, ethically, and responsibly
Harvesting pre-rains is the best practice to avoid invisible toxic mold; harvesting from the tree avoids fecal contamination of ground harvests, etc. See here for more on why pre-rain harvests are an important traditional practice.

• Use cool tools such as the harvest hoe

• Plant seeds at the best time for the best bean trees (and other native perennial food plants), and how to plant rainwater in a way that ensures the growth of a vibrant, multi-beneficial tree with tasty and prolific harvests irrigated passively with only free on-site waters. These trees can be the basis for edible forest guilds!

We make the processing and eating of delicious native foods fun and easy
Since 2003 we’ve been enabling folks to conveniently grind ubiquitous mesquite pods into delicious and nutritious mesquite flour at our local milling & fiesta, while demonstrating how to cook and enjoy this and other native wild foods. Our guided harvests, workshops, and our milling & fiesta are held in Tucson in June before the summer rains (and its humidity) when the native bean trees are ready for harvest, though some organizations sometimes hire us for public millings in the fall after summer monsoon humidity has vanished.  Click here for more on how we run our millings.

Click here for calendar of events. (We cannot mill in the humid season, because mesquite pods easily absorb moisture from the air, which can result in the gumming up of the mill). Pods are enough to mill when they quickly snap in two when you try to bend them). Click here for more on mesquite harvesting and processing.

We also produced Eat Mesquite! A Cookbook to show you how to produce an amazing array of tasty foods and drink from mesquite and more. It was a great success, and we are now in the process of revising and expanding the cookbook with many additional native wild foods.

Fig. 6. Garth Mackzum feasting on mesquite pancakes with prickly pear syrup. Credit: Brad Lancaster

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, local rainfall, and local people we can enhance both food and water security, reconnect people with the ecosystem, and build a more dynamic and sustainable community.

Fig. 22. A drained and exposed neighborhood. Used with permission from  Fig. 23. An oasis neighborhood, harvesting water, growing food, and building community. Used with permission from

Please also see our story Street Orchards for Community Security by Brad Lancaster, and Pods to Pancakes by Amy Valdés Schwemm (scroll to bottom of linked page).

About Desert Harvesters: The People

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…more to come!…

Brad Lancaster (co-founder)

Amy Valdés Schwemm (co-founder)

Jeau Allen

Nick Garber

Megan Hartman

Cameron Jones

Jill Lorenzini

Barbara Rose

Linda Wood