Desert Harvesters (DH) is based in Tucson, Arizona, in the beautiful, unique Sonoran Desert. For over twenty years Desert Harvesters has supported and grown community food and water security by inspiring the “re-wilding” of urban and suburban neighborhoods with delicious, drought-hardy, super-nutritious desert food plants, and cooking up affordable, place-based recipes anyone can create in their kitchen: A Grass-Roots Gastronomy!
About: the Art and Craft of Place-based Living!
Desert Harvesters' roots are in Permaculture design and practice, and its heart is in food and economic justice, hands-on home-making, fairness and diversity.
Sonoran Desert Food Forests in the wild grow and thrive on rainwater from winter and summer rainy seasons! In urban and other areas where native plants have been removed, desert food forests can be restored by planting within or beside rainwater-harvesting earthworks around your home, in community gardens, local business properties, schools, and along street rights-of-ways. Once established, these plantings can thrive and produce nutritious and delicious food solely on rainfall and runoff from roofs, paths and other hard surfaces.
Right: Neighborhood children in Dunbar Spring pick prickly pear fruit in streetside rain-garden, a basin-shaped planting area irrigated by stormwater run-off. Desert Harvesters work has inspired the city of Tucson to adopt stormwater-friendly ordinances.
Desert Harvesters encourages you- desert dwellers and especially newcomers, to learn about Sonoran Desert native plants, the long and rich history of indigenous people and the food cultures they developed that inform current use, and how to plant, harvest, process and enjoy desert foods.
Desert Harvesters works to share skills of "re-wilding" urban and suburban neighborhoods because it makes sense on so many levels- from delicious, nutritious drought-hardy foods, to beautiful place-based landscapes, to resilient, food-secure communities.
Left: Aspen harvests green Palo Verde beans from Foothills Palo Verde. Harvested, blanched and shelled, Palo Verde green beans are tender and very sweet, like garden peas: desert foods taste amazing!
Desert Harvesters Manifeasto
Nature is a system of abundance, cycles, and efficiency.
We can mimic that.
Increase the fecundity of plants and their companions.
Leave and invest fallen pods, leaves, and cut-up prunings
as fertile mulch for animals, soil life, and trees.
Say “thank you” for your harvest with generous actions.
Turn landscapes into lifescapes and lushscapes.
Give back. REINVEST.
We live in a land of precious water.
Use local, free, and gravity-fed water—rather than
imported, costly, and mechanically pumped waters.
Therefore PLANT THE RAIN.
Capture rainwater by digging basins and other earthworks.
Catch rainwater runoff from roofs.
Divert public street run-off into public right-of-way
When you grow and harvest rain-irrigated desert food, you
ENHANCE our local ecosystem.
Look for wild native-food sources in your backyard,
rights-of-ways, and urban trails.
If they don’t exist there, PLANT them.
Leave desert abundance where it belongs—in the desert.
Re-wild the urban and suburban core.
Delight your tastebuds.
Be a culinary cupid. Introduce new flavors to one another.
Find new combinations of traditional, wild foods. INNOVATE.
Prickly pear borscht, anyone? Mesquite muesli?
Practice place-based, place-appropriate,
Be here now. CELEBRATE.
Give thanks to the ancestors.
Make offerings for the future.
Contribute to food, fertility, and water security, here, now,
and for your children, their children, and their children.
Expand your COMMUNITY.
Meet your fellow desert dwellers.
Those that have roots and flowers.
Those that crawl and flutter.
Get to know other humans who harvest.
There is so much to observe, so much to love.
Invite. Involve. Include.
Abundant thanks to Kimi Eisele, word-weaver
Planting Sonoran Desert Food Forests and growing community resilience since 1996
Desert Harvesters began in Dunbar Spring neighborhood in Tucson, (dunbarspring.org), a historic African American neighborhood with activities like rainwater harvesting work parties, native tree-planting events, and food-sharing feasts. Since then, thousands of native perennial trees like velvet mesquite, foothills palo verde, and ironwood have been planted, providing food, shade, and many other benefits. DH has consulted for and assisted other neighborhoods to replicate this restorative and regenerative food forest model. Shaping landscapes to capture precious but limited rainwater with features like basins and swales transforms large volumes of storm water from a flood problem into a free, sustainable irrigation resource.
In 2003 DH received a PRO-Neighborhoods grant to purchase a Meadows (www.meadowsmills.com) hammermill. The mill quickly grinds dry mesquite pods into flour, providing people with a fresh and nutritious local food. The mill is on a trailer so it can travel to various milling events around southern Arizona.
In 2011 "Eat Mesquite, a Cookbook", was published, featuring mostly mesquite recipes and cultural information. In 2018, Eat Mesquite and More, a Cookbook for Sonoran Desert Foods and Living" was released, featuring over twenty desert foods, 178 unique community-contributed recipes, stories and guides for desert living. This greatly expanded awareness of Desert Harvesters and received multiple awards and popularity.
in 2012, DH team members were invited to produce hands-on demos and tastings at Community Food Bank's Community Market to focus on Sonoran Desert foods plants that provide food security and nutrition and be easily grown in neighborhood back yards and commons. These demos and tastings featured seasonal ingredients from Bean Trees (Ironwood, Palo Verde, Acacia), Berries (Hackberry, Wolfberry, Chiltepin and others), Cacti (Barrel, Cholla, Saguaro, prickly pear, and others), greens, herbs, flowers, and medicinal shrubs and annuals.
These demos and additional Pima County Public Library presentations continued into early spring 2020, when Covid 19 safety guidelines went into effect. This hiatus has enabled DH to review its past 20 years and clarify its purpose and path forward.
Visit the navigation pages to see where DH is going into the future!
As we continue to build the website we’d like to include stories from the many volunteers and supporters who have contributed so much to our community. Add them HERE!
DH cannot respond to individual requests, answer questions or provide free consultations: we hope that the updated website will address many of your burning questions! (Coming soon: link to FAM- frequently asked mesquestions!)
We also do not accept donations of ripe mesquite pods, provide harvesting services, or sell trees or ripe pods; however, that may change as NEON (link) launches with opportunities to connect local producers and suppliers—stay tuned!