Milling Around

November 12, 2012 |

Desert Harvesters, a Tucson-based non-profit volunteer group devoted to native Southwest desert food, is holding two mesquite-milling events in November.

Anyone can bring buckets of dried mesquite seed pods to be ground into mesquite flour.  The flour is used in a variety of baked goods such as bread, pancakes, and cookies. Cost of milling is $2 per gallon with a $5 minimum. Bring your own plastic gallon containers labeled with your name and phone number to hold the finished mesquite flour.

The first milling event will be held Thursday, November 15, from 3 to 6 pm at the Santa Cruz Farmers Market, 100 S. Avenida del Convento. Nadia Delgado, Farmer’s Market Assistant at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, says that an instructional presentation on cooking with mesquite flour is planned for the event. This is the eighth year that the Santa Cruz Farmers Market has hosted mesquite milling.

The second milling event is the 10th Annual Mesquite Milling and Fiesta on Sunday, November 18, at the Dunbar/Spring Organic Community Garden, 11th Avenue and University Blvd.  Milling starts at 8 and goes to 2 pm. As with the Santa Cruz Farmers Market milling, there is a cost of $2 per gallon with a $5 minimum and a maximum of 15 gallons of mesquite pods. The fiesta includes a display of desert foods, medicines, live music, and a bake sale which goes from 9 am to noon.

Brad Lancaster, one of the founders of Desert Harvesters and well-known for his work in water harvesting, says, “Mesquite is a gateway food that introduces you to a whole variety of desert foods. What we’re pushing for in part is greater food security and food availability. Instead of going into the desert, we want to help you plant the desert in your own backyard and neighborhood street. These tasty nutritious foods can survive on our rainfall, but they really thrive if you harvest water and irrigate them.”

Amy Valdés Schwemm, workshop leader and contributor to the Desert Harvest recipe book “Eat Mesquite!”, is organizing the bake sale. She says that in the early years of the milling event, “Not many showed up because they didn’t know what mesquite would taste like. But now we have a so many coming in with mesquite pods to mill that we need all three mills to grind them.” She adds that the bake sale last year offered “cakes, cookies, and savory foods such as scones and cornbread.” Lancaster adds to this list mesquite baklava, Indian naan bread, and dog biscuits. And it’s not just mesquite. Schweem says that oak acorn baked goods were also in last year’s bake sale.

Two years ago the fiesta included a mesquite pancake breakfast. According to Lancaster, “We served over 1,500 pancakes in 3 hour period. But last year we switched to the bake sale to make more food and a great diversity of food available to more people.” A display and sale of desert foods such as prickly pear syrup, jams and juices; mesquite pancake mix, mole mixes, and native herbal medicines will be available. Local musical groups will perform and an informational booth will be open to help educate about native foods.

Schwemm includes backyard gardening in the group’s work. “Desert Harvesters expands the concept of gardening. That is, we work toward garden that might sustain itself without supplemental water. It’s the idea of ‘perennial crops.’ We are expanding the notion of arid-lands gardening. Desert Harvesters is interested in promoting all sorts of wild plants like that – acorn, edible cholla cactus buds, jojoba, barrel cactus, hackberry, and more.”

Lancaster has been active in the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood for several years in the development of native plants for landscaping and as a food source. “Water harvesting and landscaping with native plants controls floods, provides shade, reduces the heat island effect, and increases productivity of soil.” Since 1996, he says more than 1,250 trees have been planted in the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood.

“We emphasize food and medicine-bearing native shade trees. When we started, the only wildlife was exotic pigeons. Now we’ve attracted over two dozen native songbirds which have taken up residence along the streets – birds such as cardinals, curved-bill thrashers, cactus wren, hummingbirds, and flycatchers.”  He explains that not only do these trees provide shade, they also reduces climate change because the trees are not dependent on imported water or the water pumps that take energy and add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

What is Lancaster’s favorite part of the annual milling fiesta? “The community! So many wonderful people come together to make a truly joyous event around food grown and harvested in prepared in our desert. The fiesta is kind of like welcoming everyone home.”

For more information about Desert Harvest programs and the two milling events, go to

Category: Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE