Hello fellow harvesters and desert food lovers. Desert Harvesters just wrapped up a whirlwind series of events in June and we have so much to be grateful for! Thanks to everyone who contributed and participated. Now we can all sit back and enjoy the monsoon rains. Be sure to plant abundance this year that can be harvested the next and long into the future.
A summary of our 2015 June festivities:
We kicked things off back on June 9 with an event at La Cocina, as part of their Tuesdays for Tucson tradition, where local non-profits are invited to share their work with the community and 10% of sales are donated to the organization.
Our event, titled “Celebration of Place: A Desert Harvesters evening of Story, Food, Drink, and Music,” included a special locally grown and harvested desert food and drink menu, information about the work of Desert Harvesters, products from Bean Tree Farm, and live music by Hey Bucko!
Desert Harvesters co-founder Brad Lancaster shared the story of how, by planting and harvesting the rain and integrating wild foods into our lives, we are connecting to this place we call home, building community, and regenerating our shared watershed and ecosystem.
Desert Harvesters cookbook coordinator Julie Burguiere distributed recipe testing kits at the event, thanks to a donation of mesquite flour by the Food Conspiracy Co-Op, and put out a call for recipe submissions with desert foods of all types, not just mesquite.
The second edition of the Eat Mesquite! cookbook is being developed and Desert Harvesters is always looking for more people to help test recipes and provide feedback on how to make them extra delicious. More information about volunteering with desert harvesters and the cookbook project can be found here.
All in all the event was a great success and lots of fun. Special thanks to the whole La Cocina team for their amazing work. We were told that this was the biggest and most successful Tuesday for Tucson they’ve had yet, so thanks everybody for coming out and taking part. With 10% of the evening’s sales going to Desert Harvesters it was a successful fundraiser as well.
(Photo credits: Melissa Gant)
On June 18 Desert Harvesters organized its 2nd annual Guided Harvest Tour at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market, in partnership with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.
Desert Harvester volunteers Jill Lorenzini, Amy Valdés Schwemm, and Brad Lancaster led three harvest tours on foot through the surrounding Mercado San Agustin neighborhood and one bike tour, demonstrating for participants responsible and safe harvesting practices for collecting the bounty of our desert bean trees (mesquite, palo verde, and ironwood) as well as other wild foods.
Also highlighted on the tour were rainwater harvesting earthworks and the importance of planting abundance and harvesting where we live, not out in the undeveloped desert.
Before and during the harvest tours, Barbara Rose of Bean Tree Farm, a renowned farmer, fermenter, and cook, was in the courtyard of the Mercado San Agustin showing how to process wild foods in order to prepare tasty dishes, like bean tree sprouts, edamame, desert peanuts, atole, and sauces.
This demonstration was part of the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market’s ongoing Desert Harvest series that aims to teach the public how to identify, process, and use desert foods.
The harvest tours also featured the official launch of Exo Roast Co’s new Exo Mesquite Cold Brew, made with locally sourced mesquite pods, as well as the Exo Chiltepin Cold Brew which features Sonoran-grown chiltepin peppers, dark chocolate, and cream.
Owner Amy Smith was on hand to greet harvesters with samples of the refreshing cold brews, much appreciated on a toasty June afternoon.
Transit Cycles had cargo bikes for sale, which Brad used to demonstrate their usefulness in harvesting from those hard to reach places. Iskashitaa had beautiful, hand-made harvest bags, perfect for hands-free harvesting!
The market always features vendors like San Xavier Co-Op, Desert Tortoise Botanicals, Aravaipa Heirlooms, and Black Mountain Spring Fermentery, who have wild foods as part of their offerings, as often does the Community Food Bank’s consignment table.
Andrew Brown from Arizona Public Media was working hard the whole afternoon trying to capture everything that was happening. He produced this story which aired on NPR the following week:
Andrew also produced this wonderful video, below, in case you weren’t able to make the harvest tour this year or need a refresher on what you learned. The video also highlights a couple of local businesses that are putting a Sonoran Desert twist in their offerings.
On June 20 and June 21 Desert Harvesters held trainings open to the public for people interested in hosting a mesquite milling or learning to run the Desert Harvesters hammer mill.
The training also featured pod inspection and safe harvesting tips, and covered the logistics for running a mesquite milling event. Thanks to all the hard work by Desert Harvesters volunteers to make this training happen, and to participants for further expanding the network of trained and knowledgeable mesquite milling volunteers.
On June 25 was the 13th annual Desert Harvesters’ Mesquite Milling & Wild Foods Fiesta, also at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market in partnership with the Community Food Bank.
Our milling went silky smooth this year, thanks in large part to the awesome coordinating of Linda Wood and a large team of hardworking volunteers. People got their pods inspected and ticketed and then got to enjoy the market and its offerings while two hammermills were being run simultaneously (the Community Food Bank debuted their hammermill at the event). Volunteers also recruited volunteers for the cookbook project, signed people up for the new Desert Harvesters membership program, and helped educate curious onlookers as to what all the fuss was about.
There was a mesquite pod tasting station where people could sample a wide variety of mesquite pods with different traits and flavor profiles, some desirable and some not. By helping people educate their palates, we hope to improve the quality of local harvests and the taste of products made with locally harvested mesquite flour.
A Desert Harvesters’ tip: taste before you pick. Every mesquite tree tastes different. So if you like the flavor – keep picking. If you don’t like the flavor – go to a different tree. You may want to avoid harvesting pods with any of these unpleasant flavor characteristics – bitterness, slight burning of mouth or throat, chalkiness, and/or drying of mouth or throat.
Because of intense dust storms and the threat of rain, not all pods were able to be milled at the event. But a super team got together the next morning to finish milling and called people that day to let them know that their flour was ready to be picked up.
A happy harvester with his bounty! This year people had the option of getting both the flour and the chaff from their milled mesquite pods. That way careful harvesters could reap twice as much goodness from their high-quality, flavorful harvest. Good-tasting chaff can be cooked down to make syrup, used in beer brewing, and more.
Submit any chaff recipes you may have for the second edition of the Eat Mesquite! cookbook, currently in development. We are seeking volunteers willing to submit recipes made with mesquite and other wild desert foods. Email us at email@example.com
Another successful community mesquite milling thanks to the incredible volunteers of Desert Harvesters!
And a big thanks to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and its volunteers for working so hard to create such an invaluable community market, week after week, with food and education for all.
While the milling was happening outside of the Mercado, Barbara Rose of Bean Tree Farm was in the courtyard again, with a wide array of wild foods on display, including the divine dried saguaro fruit.
In addition to all the great vendors with wild foods on offer mentioned earlier, Black Mountain Spring Fermentary had a special ocotillo blossom kombucha, and Old Pueblo Mushroom Growers demonstrated how to grow mushrooms on old mesquite pods and chaff.
Amy Smith from Exo Roast Co was on hand again, keeping people cool with her mesquite and chiltepin cold brews.
The Pima County Public Library’s seed library staff were in the courtyard as well, showing people how to plant and propagate native edible bean trees.
A Desert Harvesters’ tip: if you plant the rain with a water-harvesting basin, then plant the seed with the rains, you can grow a food tree on rainfall alone! No supplemental irrigation required!
We especially want to recognize and thank photographer Jim Harris, who was at both the June 18 harvest tour and the June 25 mesquite milling to document it all with super high-quality photos for Desert Harvesters. These visuals will be a great asset to us for the cookbook and in our efforts to educate the public about safe and responsible harvesting practices. Many of Jim’s photos are featured on this blog and you can can see more of Jim’s work on his web site jmartinharris.photoshelter.com
And finally, on Friday June 26, we celebrated the harvest and the coming rains with a Desert Harvesters Happy Hour at Tap & Bottle. No work, just play. All harvesters and friends were able to take a load off, relax, and enjoy numerous barley pops of all shapes, colors, sizes, and flavors.
A special treat on tap for the event was the Saison de Juhki from Iron John’s Brewing Company. This seasonal beer was infused with creosote flowers harvested by Jill Lorenzini and other Desert Harvesters volunteers and was oh so refreshing on a hot summer evening. It was such a hit that the keg and bottles were sold out by the end of the happy hour!
Thanks to Tap & Bottle for hosting, and for everyone who came out to celebrate our amazing desert home and the work of Desert Harvesters to help us live here responsibly. We of course drank responsibly as well, and since a percentage of sales that night was donated to Desert Harvesters the drinking was for a good cause!
Enjoy the rains, plant possibilities, potential and productivity where you live, and say “thank you” for your harvest with generous actions. That’s the Desert Harvesters’ way!