July/August 2014, Homestead: Harvesting the Bean Trees, by Barbara Rose of Bean Tree Farm, on Edible Baja Arizona’s website
November 23, 2011, Native Foods Make A Comeback In Southwest, by Jill Replogle of KPBS San Diego, on the Fronteras website
August 1, 2011 UA students to use mesquite pods in food, by Tom Beal, on the Arizona Daily Star website
June 5, 2011 Mesquite is good eating, by Elena Acoba, on the Arizona Daily Star website
March 14, 2011 A New Cookbook Reveals the Magic of Mesquite; Plus, a Recipe for Mesquite Tamales, by Julie Leibach, on The Perch, Audubon Magazine’s Online Blog
March 14, 2011 Slicing Your Food Bill by Using Nature’s Bounty, by Laura Monteros, on Altadena Patch’s Website
November 21, 2010 Neighbors: Area’s trees creating cool urban effect, by Stephanie Innes, on Arizona Daily Star’s Website
November 9, 2010 This Is What “Neighborhood” Really Means, by Dolly Spalding, on Tucson Zócalo Magazine’s Online Blog Page
August 3, 2012 Desert Harvesters Brad Lancaster & Amy Valdés Schwemm on KGUN9′s Morning Blend
August 1, 2012 Desert Harvesters Amy Valdés Schwemm & Laurie Melrood on AZPM’s Arizona Illustrated w/host Tony Paniagua
playpbs.azpm.org/video/2262837737 (segment begins at 7:39)
December 24, 2007 Desert Living program on Desert Harvesters, Dunbar Spring, Little Houses, Natural Building Materials
This short video features the Desert Harvesters annual Mesquite Milling and Pancake Breakfast, neighborhood plantings of native food-producing trees producing the mesquite pods for milling and breakfast, and the passive harvest of street runoff to freely irrigate the native trees planted along the community’s streets – and more!
Mesquite, It Ain’t Just for Barbeque
This video from WildFoodPlants.com covers a little on living sustainably in Tucson, picking mesquite pods, and cooking up mesquite pancakes.
Fall 2010 Mesquite Trees Provide Shade, Food for Student Union
Features a sustainability project was initiated at the University of Arizona to collect the bean pods of the mesquite trees found throughout campus. UA student harvesters have been collecting the bean pods, which are then rinsed, separated, dry roasted and ground into flour that is currently being used by Dining Services on campus.
October 12, 2007 podcast of Arizona Spotlight on KUAT Radio
Mark McLemore talks to naturalist and author Brad Lancaster about milling mesquite pods, and viewing the desert as a source of abundance…
Change Comes to Dinner: How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators Are Revolutionizing How America Eats, by Katherine Gustafson. St. Martin’s Press, 2012.
Mesquite So Sweet by Sarah Irani. The Noise, May 2011.
From Tree to Table by Laura Marble. The Explorer, July 23, 2008.
Natives Relied on Mesquite by Laura Marble. The Explorer, July 23, 2008.
Mesquite in the Kitchen by Laura Marble. The Explorer, July 23, 2008.
PODS TO PANCAKES
By Amy Schwemm
The following story was Amy Schwemm’s contribution to “We Are What We Eat,” a performance of dance and stories about the food we eat and the systems that feed us. While a cast community performers and dancers from NEW ARTiculations Dance Theatre danced behind her, Amy shared her story and an extensive batch of her own mesquite cookies with the audience. The project was a collaboration between NEW ARTiculations and the Community Food Bank and was performed in Tucson in April 2008. For more information visit www.newarticulations.org.
Find a grandmother mesquite tree in your neighborhood. Or go out into the desert in June, when the pods are brittle. You can chew the pechitas, the sweet pods, right from the trees. Once I timed myself grinding pods in a mortar and pestle, which goes faster than it sounds. I ended up with a whole cup of flour. That’s when I realized that eating, and feeding people, from the desert is possible.
My Grandma Valdes made atole from corn meal, sugar, and milk. I now make atole from mesquite meal, which has its own sweetness. You can taste it in these cookies I made for us to share. They are made from velvet mesquite that I gathered, Tucson Community Supported Agriculture wheat that I winnowed and ground, eggs from hens in my backyard, and homemade lemon extract.
With mesquite flour you can make barrel-cactus seed mesquite scones, savory crackers, crust for lemon wolfberry tarts, and hearty pancakes.
I remember the first time I had Pearl’s mesquite pancakes. Instead of grinding the meal by hand with a mortar and pestle, they used a hammer mill. A Suzuki Samari 4×4 mounted on blocks and a wide belt powered the mill. Someone’s job was to stand there with a digging bar to make sure the belt didn’t fly off and kill someone. Inside their hammer mill two dozen metal teeth spun. It quickly pulverized David and Pearl’s many bins of wild-harvested pods into coarse meal. Winter wheat from the community garden was threshed, winnowed, and ground into whole-wheat flour. Neighbors shared their hens’ eggs and goats’ milk for the batter. Pearl cooked the pancakes outside at a Coleman stove. The prickly pears were juicy across the desert that year, so there was plenty of syrup for the mesquite cakes.
Now every fall we continue Pearl’s tradition through the Desert Harvesters. A crew of pancake flippers works six griddles, serving 600 hot, nutty cakes. We serve them with organic butter, agave nectar or prickly pear syrup sweetened with backyard honey. This fall, bring your own mesquite pods to be milled, and your own plate and fork for the pancakes, if you can. We’ll eat together under the shade of the velvety mesquite trees.
Street Orchards for Community Security
Street Orchards for Community Security
© Brad Lancaster, 2004
My view of public streets was radically changed when I heard ecovillage designer Max Lindigger tell a story of an insightful walk he took with his grandfather. “Look there,” said his grandfather, pointing to condominiums being built on the once forested slopes above his village in the Swiss Alps. “That’s where we grew and gathered food during the war. The forests were common land, a reserve of community resources. What commons remain? Where will we grow and gather our food in the next catastrophe?”
I then looked at my Sonoran-desert city of Tucson, Arizona, and asked myself, “Where are my community’s forests, our commons? Where would we get our food in times of need?”
Over 450 native food plants grow wild in the intact areas of the Sonoran Desert.1 The velvet mesquite tree is one of the keystone species producing a reliable crop of diabetes-deterring, naturally sweet, protein and carbohydrate—rich seeds and seedpods in both wet years and drought.2 Thus it used to be a staple of the indigenous people’s diets. Yet the vast majority of these trees and the greater ecosystem have been bulldozed within my city to be replaced with a hot and inhospitable pavement of impermeable streets, parking lots and buildings or landscapes of water-hungry exotic plants dependent upon irrigation from dwindling water supplies. The pavement drains much of our scant 12 inches (304 mm) of average annual rainfall out of the community through runoff and evaporation. Yet, this pavement is also the excessively long corridor through which most of our food arrives. According to the WorldWatch Institute, the average American meal travels 1,500 to 2,500 miles (2,414 to 4,023 km) from the farm to the table.3 If oil supplies fueling semi-trailers disappeared we’d be without food. If the power that fuels our well pumps went out, we’d be out of water. We are creating the conditions for catastrophe.
But that can change by turning “wastes” into resources, and turning challenges into opportunity. The majority of public land—our commons—in the urban setting is our public streets and adjoining right-of-ways. All too often there is little or no vegetation there, let alone a forest. But the resources (soil, local nursery and backyard grown native plants, rainwater runoff, and people) to grow a forest, or at least regionally appropriate orchards, are there (figs. 24 and 25).