“How we eat determines to a considerable extent how the world is used.” – Wendell Berry


Arizona Native Plant Society
Great resource with regular presentations, plant walks, and adventurous excursions that will help you become more familiar with the incredibly diverse and abundant array of plants native to Arizona.

Cascabel Hermitage Association Education Program
Hosts of mesquite milling events and great workshops on sustainable living.

Center for Sustainable Environments
Source of information and events promoting the use of wild and local foods in the four corners region of the western U.S. – including mesquite milling events north of Tucson. In addition, there are resources on other sustainability issues.

Community Food Bank‘s Community Food Resource Center
An arm of the Tucson Community Food Bank promoting “building an equitable and regional food system, which supports food production and strengthens communities.” Strategies include a farmers’ market program, creation of backyard and community gardens, and hosting an annual mesquite-milling event.

Desert Tortoise Botanicals and blog at
Great resource for classes, workshops, and products of native foods and medicinals.

Farmer’s Diner
The Farmers Diner is in Quechee, Vermont, sets a great example that could be replicated everywhere. The Farmer’s Diner demonstrates that buying local and regional foods and making them available to the entire community is possible and profitable. They strive to spend over 65 cents of every food dollar with farmers and small-scale food producers who live and work within 70 miles of the diner. From the success of this diner, The Farmers Diner will build more diners, first in Vermont and then regionally, to continue the good work of reviving strong rural communities.

Food Conspiracy Cooperative
A great source of organic foods that regularly donates organic foods for our organic mesquite pancake breakfast. 412 N. 4th Ave., Tucson, Arizona 85705. Ph. 624-4821.

Iskashitaa Refugee Network
Iskashitaa Refugee Network is a local nonprofit whose mission is to assist refugees on their journeys to fulfilled lives in Tucson, using food-based programming as an entry point to community. Volunteers work with refugees to harvest and distribute over 100,000 pounds annually from local backyards, farms, and orchards.

Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Iowa Produce Market Potential Calculator
This calculator was designed to help users determine expanding markets in Iowa if consumers ate more locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables rather than produce from conventional sources outside the state. The calculator is unique because users easily can compare what Iowans eat (based on national per capita consumption data) to what Iowa farmers produce (based on U.S. Agriculture Census information).The calculator includes information about 37 fruit and vegetables currently grown in Iowa. Consumption (demand) and supply (production) can be expressed in a number of weight-based units: pounds, bushels, pick-up truck or semi-truck load, yield per acre and retail value. Information can be calculated for the entire state, an individual county or group of counties.?While this calculator is specific to Iowa a similar calculator could be developed for Arizona – check it out!

Mano Y Metate Móles
Amy Valdés Schwemm grinds fresh, whole spices, nuts, seeds, and chiles in small batches, so making moles [MÓ-less], the celebrated Mexican sauces, in your kitchen is as easy as sauté, simmer, and serve. They come in reusable steel spice tins, and are currently available at retailers in Arizona, New Mexico, and Montana — and at our Desert Harvesters Mesquite Fiesta at the Dunbar/Spring Organic Community Garden.

Native Seeds/SEARCH
A non-profit promoting the use of food crops traditionally grown by Native Americans of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. A source of mesquite meal.

PRO Neighborhoods
This organization provided grant money that funded the purchase of our hammermill, the creation of the Dunbar/Spring Organic Community Garden, the construction of neighborhood intersection traffic-calming traffic circles in which rain is passively harvested and native trees are planted, and the first annual Dunbar/Spring neighborhood tree planting program (in which over 280 trees were distributed and planted throughout the neighborhood).

Queen Creek Olive Mill
A southern Arizona olive mill that can press your olives into oil.

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond
Water harvesting and water conserving resources for drylands and beyond. Includes many strategies to maximize the potential of landscape plantings so they can provide food, shelter, passive heating and cooling, wildlife habitat, beauty, and more while subsisting solely on harvested water.

Santa Cruz Olive Tree Nursery
A great source of fruiting olive trees for oil and fruit production. Phone (831-728-4269), fax (831-786-0563)

Sonoran Permaculture Guild
A local non-profit organizing various workshops in permaculture and other sustainable technologies.

State Land Department Community Challenge Grants
The Community Challenge Grants Program is part of the Urban and Community Forestry Program and funded the creation of the Dunbar/Spring mini-nature park.

Time Market
A great local market/deli/pizzeria that regularly donates fine coffees for our mesquite pancake fiestas. 444 E. University Blvd., Tucson, Arizona. Phone 520-622-0761.

Tucson Herb Store
A great source of native wildcrafted and organically grown herbs and herbal products, that regularly donates volunteer support of and teas for our organic mesquite pancake breakfast. 412 E. 7th St., Tucson, Arizona 85705. Ph. 520-903-0038.

A great blog from southern Arizona locavores Chris Schmidt and Marci Tarre

Wild Fermentation
A great website on fermented foods by Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved

Sources of native plant seed:

  • Wildlands Restoration, 2944 N. Castro, Tucson, AZ 85705, ph.(520) 882-0969. A great local business providing habitat restoration mixes, native grass mixes, wildflowers, butterfly mix, etc.
  • Southwestern Native Seeds, PO Box 50503, Tucson, AZ 85703. No phone, you’ve got to work with them through the mail. Interesting selection of some harder to find seed. A local couple run the whole show.
  • the best seed is that collected around the area you’ll be seeding. Existing plants and their seed are best adapted to the specific conditions (climate, soil, etc.) where they are found.
  • Sources of native seeds and more:
    Native Seeds/SEARCH, 526 N. 4th Ave., Tucson, AZ 85705, ph. 520-622-5591. Open-pollinated, native edibles (domesticated and wild) – your best bet for desert gardening.
    Free seed available for Native Americans in the Southwest.
  • Seeds of Change. 621 Old Santa Fe Trail, #10, Santa Fe, NM 87501 ph. 1-888-762-7333. Numerous, open-pollinated organically grown veggies, herbs, and flowers. Look carefully throughout their catalog and you’ll find such wild edibles as portulaca, lamb’s quarters, amaranth, epazote, and more. They have a seed “donation” program for worthy causes (such as community gardens) with which you can obtain year old seed at greatly reduced prices

Local resources for native plant information:

  • Arizona Native Plant Society, Box 41206 Sun Station, Tucson, AZ 85717 Regular talks, field trips, conferences, journal, and newsletters – a great resource.
  • Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society, c/o Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 North Alvernon Way, Tucson AZ 85712. Contact this group for their meetings and plant salvaging for members (they save cactus the bulldozers are going to squash).

Resource for plant identification:

  • University of Arizona Herbarium. 621-7243. 113 Schantz Building on campus in the basement. Bring in your plant cutting (preferably with flower and/or fruit) and they will identify it for free!

Sources of native edible foods:

  • Native Seeds/SEARCH,, 526 N. 4th Ave., Tucson, AZ 85705, ph. 520-622-5591
    They have packaged mesquite flour, tepary beans, cactus jelly, chia seeds, and more!
  • San Xavier Farm Cooperative Association, Inc., 8100 S. Oidak Wog, Tucson, AZ 85746. 520-295-3774. A great local source of native mesquite flour, tepary beans, roasted wheat flour, corn meal, roasted corn, squash, and more!

Sources of locally grown organic produce and other foods:

  • Food Conspiracy Co-op. 412 N. 4th Ave. 624-4821. A great member owned co-op offering organic and natural foods/products. They support local growers and suppliers by carrying their goods, and they generously sponsor local organizations and events.
  • Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market, Tucson
    Thursdays at Mercado San Agustin, 100 S. Avenida del Convento, West of I-10 at Congress and Grande
    3-6 p.m. October – April
    4-7 p.m. May – September
    Closed  the last two weeks of December
  • Mano Y Metate
    Amy Valdés Schwemm grinds fresh, whole spices, nuts, seeds, and chiles in small batches, so making moles [MÓ-less], the celebrated Mexican sauces, in your kitchen is as easy as sauté, simmer, and serve. They come in reusable steel spice tins, and are currently available at retailers in Arizona, New Mexico, and Montana — and at our Desert Harvesters Mesquite Fiesta at the Dunbar/Spring Organic Community Garden. Visit for more information.

Source of locally and organically raised free-range beef:

  • Chet and Debbie with the Saguaro/Juniper Association. 520-212-4769. They raise the cattle and then take them to slaughter. The animals never leave local hands as all the meat is processed by a local butcher. The meat is very lean and in 2001 averaged just over $3/pound of mixed cuts.

Source for information on organically grown foods and policy:

  • Organic Consumers Association (OCA).

Source of farm and community-scale hammermills
(for high-powered, high-speed grinding mesquite pods and the like):

  • Meadows Mills. 1352 West D. Street, PO Box 1288, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina 28659. (336) 838-2282.

Good local plant nurseries for natives and edible exotics:

  • Bach’s Cactus Nursery, Tucson. 744-3333. many cacti, ask which have the tastiest fruit.
  • Catalina Heights, Tucson. 298-2822. a gentle, family run operation with good fruit tree selection. Some native plants.
  • Civano Nursery, Tucson. 5301 S. Houghton Rd. 546-9200. good nursery on the southeast side of town with natives and fruit trees.
  • Coronado Heights Nursery, 882-0969. Owner Bernie operates this nursery in her back yard beside her husband’s native seed company – Wildlands Restoration. They’re great people and Bernie can take contract grow-outs. She propagates her plants in extra deep pots which encourage deeper root growth and greater success in survival rates. This is not typically a retail business.
  • Desert Survivors, Tucson. 791-9309. a non-profit nursery offering many native plants.
  • Elephant Tree Greenhouses, 130 West Armijo Street. 882-8335. Call Marya Olsen for hours. Sonoran perennials and odd desert scrub are the specialties and grown on site.
  • Mesquite Valley Growers, Tucson. 721-8600. the largest nursery in our area.
  • Plants for the Southwest, Tucson. 628-8773. knowledgeable owners and interesting selection of natives and dryland plants.
  • Tohono Chul, Tucson. 742-6455. many natives, some you don’t usually find elsewhere. They have extensive gardens where you can see mature specimens of all the plants they sell.
  • Tucson Botanical Gardens Nursery, Tucson. 326-9255. At their plant sales you can often find some selections that you can’t get elsewhere.

Out of town nurseries with interesting edibles:
-when mail ordering plants be sure they can take our extreme growing conditions. Ask before you order-

  • Oregon Exotics Nursery, 1065 Messinger Road, Grants Pass, Oregon 97527. Edible and medicinal plants from around the world, including some interesting edible cactus. (Cat. $4)
  • Exotica Rare Fruit Nursery, PO Box 160, Vista, CA 92085. (760) 724-9093. They don’t have any plants native to the Southwest, but they do have a great diversity of edible exotics including hard to find pomegranate cultivars that are much sweeter than those found locally. Everything grown organically…and guarded by wild butterflies.
  • Edible Landscaping, PO Box 77, Afton, Virginia 22920. 1-800-524-4156.
    Good selection of edible exotics.
  • Pacific Tree Farms, 4301 Lynwood Drive, Chula Vista, CA 91910. (619) 422-2400. Good selection of edible exotics including fruiting olive trees!
  • Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, PO Box 2209, Grass Valley, CA 95945. (888) 784-1722. They sell young fruit trees and they’ve got a good variety of fruiting olive trees they can ship out to you at a decent price.

Sources of local soil amendments and mulch:

  • Compost — Desert Compost, 571-1575. Desert Compost is a subsidiary of the Groundskeeper Landscaping Company. They take “green waste” (plant prunings and cuttings) from the Tucson area and compost it with reclaimed water. I find the product works best as a mulch. It is a uniform product that should appeal to most folks’ aesthetics. You can pick it up yourself or have it delivered, but delivery is not cheap.
  • Manure — Stables all around town are trying to get rid of their manure and would love for you to come by and pick it up – this means you can usually get it for FREE. Some may even deliver it to you. Get out the yellow pages and call around. It would be best if the manure were aged (fresh stuff can burn your plants), not sprayed (some folks spray manure piles with pesticides to keep down flies), and did not originate from a feed mix that included bermuda grass/seed.
    The Tucson Organic Gardeners may also have some source tips at 670-9158.
  • Straw — Just check your local feed stores. Always ask for broken bales, or water damaged stuff as it will be cheaper or free – and works great as mulch. If you know of any straw bale building sites you can often ask for surplus broken bales. Halloween Night pumpkin stands will probably be looking to get rid of their decorative bales too.
  • Tree bark — Call up local firewood distributors as bark is often a waste product and can be obtained for free. I’ve had good luck with Nordstrom Firewood Company at 1107 E. 23rd. They just pile it up by the street and you can take all you want for free.

Great local source for quality irrigation supplies:
Irrigation & Sprinkler Supply Inc. 2130 E. 12th St. Tucson, AZ 85719. 792-4652.

Reading list

Sourcebook for edible plants:
CORNUCOPIA II – A Source Book of Edible Plants. by Stephen Facciola. Published by Kampong Publications, 1998. Very comprehensive guide telling you what parts of 1000s of wild plants and rare cultivars are edible and where you can find nurseries that grow and sell them.

Edible flowers:
Creasy, Rosalind. THE EDIBLE FLOWER GARDEN. Boston: Periplus Editions, 1999. Learn what flowers you can eat to extend and diversify your harvest!

Native plant identification:

  • Bowers, Janice Emily. SHRUBS AND TREES OF THE SOUTHWEST DESERTS. Tucson: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1993. Great guide for the low desert with clear line drawings.
  • Elmore, Francis H.. SHRUBS AND TREES OF THE SOUTHWEST UPLANDS. Tucson: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1976. Another great guide for higher elevations than the Tucson valley.
  • Elpel, Thomas. BOTANY IN A DAY – Herbal Guide to Plant Families 4th Edition. Pony: HOPS Press, 2000. A guide for identifying native and exotic plants. Rather than by teaching you the plants individually it teaches you to learn patterns of plants so you can easily figure out the plant’s family and potential uses.
  • Epple, Anne Orth. PLANTS OF ARIZONA. Helena: Falcon Press Publishing, 1995. Good guide with color photos of all the featured plants.

Ethnobotanical uses of native plants including cooking, eating, medicinal use, and more:

  • Dahl, Kevin. WILD FOODS OF THE SONORAN DESERT. Tucson: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 1995. A brief and informative book on some of our local wild foods.
  • Hodgson, Wendy. FOOD PLANTS OF THE SONORAN DESERT. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001. Should be out any day. I saw an early manuscript and it was amazing!
  • Moore, Michael. MEDICINAL PLANTS OF THE DESERT AND CANYON WEST. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1989. One of the best for identification and use of our native medicinal plants.
  • Niethammer, Carolyn J. AMERICAN INDIAN COOKING: RECIPES FROM THE SOUTHWEST. New York: University of Nebraska Press, 1999. A great guide on how to prepare foods from a number of native plants in our area. This book used to be called “American Indian Food and Lore”.
  • Rea, Amadeo. AT THE DESERT’S GREEN EDGE. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997. I can’t recommend this one enough, wonderful stories in the Gila Piman’s own words and great info!

Ethnobotanical uses of native and exotic plants with a bent on cooking and eating:

  • English, Sandal. FRUITS OF THE DESERT. Tucson, The Arizona Daily Star, 1981. Many recipes for native plants and exotic edibles commonly found in and around Tucson, AZ.
  • Mollison, Bill. THE PERMACULTURE BOOK OF FERMENT AND HUMAN NUTRITION. Tyalgum: Tagari Publications, 1993. An eclectic book teaching you to process and store your own food and how to make your own ingredients.

Eating locally:

Nabhan, Gary Paul. COMING HOME TO EAT – The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods W. W. Norton & Co. 2002. Wonderful book on how the author and his partner made sure at least 4 out of every 5 of their meals for a year came from food produced within 250 miles of their home. Their Sense of Place, awareness of the seasons, and connection to our food distribution system were all enhanced.

Great guide to eating insects found on or around plants:

  • Menzel, Peter and D’Aluisio, Faith. MAN EATING BUGS – The Art and Science of Eating Insects. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1998. I cannot recommend this book enough. Great stories, recipes, and color photographs that will change the way you interact with insects forever!

Dyeing with native plants:

  • Las Aranas Spinners and Weavers Guild, Inc. DYEING WITH NATURAL MATERIALS. Albuquerque: Las Aranas Spinners and Weavers Guild, Inc., 1995. Dyeing with plants common in the Southwest U.S.

Primitive skills:

  • Blankenship, Bart and Robin. EARTH KNACK – Stone Age Skills For the 21st Century. Layton: Gibbs Smith, 1996.
  • Olsen, Larry Dean. OUTDOOR SURVIVAL SKILLS. Chicago, Chicago Review Press, 1997.
  • Wescott, David. PRIMITIVE TECHNOLOGY – A BOOK OF EARTH SKILLS. Layton: Gibbs Smith, 1999.

Gardening (* means particularly good for the Sonoran Desert):

  • Ashworth, Susan. SEED TO SEED – Seed Saving Techniques for the Vegetable Gardener. Decorah: Seed Saver Publications, 1991.
  • *Cleveland, David A. and Soleri, Daniela. FOOD FROM DRYLAND GARDENS. Tucson: Center for People, Food and Environment, 1991.
  • Mollison, Bill. PERMACULTURE – A Designer’s Manual. Tyalgum: Tagari Publications, 1992.
  • *Nyhuis, Jane. DESERT HARVEST – A Guide to Vegetable Gardening in Arid Lands. Tucson: Growing Connections, 1982.

Landscaping with native plants:

  • Mielke, Judy. NATIVE PLANTS FOR SOUTHWESTERN LANDSCAPES. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993. This book is very clear with color photos and useful information. A number of plants are featured here that you won’t find in other native landscaping books.

Water issues in the southwest U.S.

  • Bowden, Charles. KILLING THE HIDDEN WATERS – Slow Destruction of Water Resources in the American Southwest. University of Texas Press, 1977. Beautifully and powerfully describes our relationship with our most limited and precious resource past and present.
  • Laney, Nancy. DESERT WATERS – From Ancient Aquifers to Modern Demands. Tucson: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 1998. Short, clear booklet.
  • Lancaster, Brad. RAINWATER HARVESTING FOR DRYLANDS – HOW TO WELCOME THE RAIN INTO YOUR LIFE AND LANDSCAPE. Rainsource Press, 2004. A comprehensive and beautifully illustrated book on how to harvest rainwater with simple earthworks and cistern systems in your landscape and home.

Looking at our cities, towns, and landscapes as watersheds:
SECOND NATURE – Adapting LA’s Landscape For Sustainable Living. Edited by Patrick Condon and Stacy Moriarty. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, 1999. A great resource of a group in Los Angeles creating cross-jurisdicitional and cross-disciplinary connections between the people and institutions responsible for the infrastructure, planning, and ecology of Los Angeles in order to view the city as a living watershed . Concepts such as passive rainwater harvesting and multiple-use landscaping are presented that could help improve the sustainability of the City and the watershed.
Contact the organization at TREEPEOPLE, 12601 Mulholland Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

THE PETEY MESQUITEY SHOW ON KXCI 91.3FM — A great 5 minute show on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons where wonderful and informative stories are told or sung about our Sonoran Desert. Call KXCI at 623-1000 or for more info.

THE BEST OF PETEY MESQUITEY — Tucson: KXCI community radio. A CD put out by KXCI community radio compiling some of Petey Mesquitey’s best rantings, songs, and stories celebrating the wonder of our Sonoran Desert.


Dig down 12-18 inches
Fill in with soil mix of 1 part the native soil you just dug out to 1 part aged manure mixed
Make sure garden bed level is 4-6 inches below grade (a depression) so it will harvest rainwater and hold mulch

Dig a hole twice as deep as the root ball and twice as wide.
Put the tree (minus the pot) in the hole and backfill with the native soil you dug out.
Create a micro-basin around the tree to harvest rainwater and hold mulch. Micro basins are often 6-18 inches deep and 5-10 feet in diameter. Make the basin slopes gradual. The tree will be pedestalled in the middle of the basin. Do not create a berm all around your basin, only on the downslope side if at all (you want to let runoff water in).
Do not put any amendment IN your soil, put them all ON TOP of your soil like a mulch. 2-4 inches of aged manure or compost with 2-4 inches of bark on top works well.

Create an infiltration basin around the tree to harvest rainwater and hold leaf drop and mulch. Infiltration basins are often 8 to 18 inches deep and 3 to 20 feet in diameter. Do not create a berm all around your basin (this would divert beneficial rainwater runoff away from your tree). Trather, only cast your dirt on the downslope of your basin or place it where you want a raised pathway beside your sunken basin (this way rainwater runoff can freely flow into your basin and water the tree. Make the basin slopes gradual. The tree hole will be dug in the middle of the basin. Make the hole as deep as the tree’s root ball and twice as wide as the root ball. Put the tree (minus the pot) in hole and backfill with native soil shaved from the edge of your basin (this makes the basin wider and able to hold more rainwater. Do not put any amendment in your soil. Instead, put them all on top of your soil as a mulch. 2 inches of aged manure or compost with 2 inches of bark on top works well.

– bermuda grass – we can eat young shoots too
– pigweed/amaranth, Amaranthus fimbriatus, Amaranthus palmeri
– red spiderling, Boerhaavia coccinea
– purslane
– wild mustards
– annual sow thistle

-prickly lettuce
-annual sow thistle, Sonchus oleraceus