Nov 26, 13
Pedaling quietly down tree lined streets in the crisp autumn morning, we round the corner into Dunbar/Spring Community Park and meet the sounds of gasoline engines driving mills grinding mesquite pods.
It is the 11th Annual Mesquite Milling, Pancake Brunch, & Fiesta at the Dunbar Spring Community Garden, Orchard and Mini Nature park in west-central Tucson, a celebration of the Desert Harvesters.
Two milling rigs stand on the street along the park, each with five gallon buckets of pods lined up waiting their turn to be dumped into the hopper. The chaff from the ground pods will be blown through a chute separating them from the mesquite flour ground from the plump seeds inside the pods. Only the pods picked directly from the mesquite trees have been harvested; pods fallen and picked from the ground are unusable because they often are damaged by insects and susceptible to toxin invasion.
Blown through the chutes into the waiting cloth bags, the mesquite chaff is recycled, and the flour is ready for consumption. Each bucket is tagged, and the waiting owners take their flour away for use in baking the special products that are the gifts of the desert climate, gifts that have been used to feed people for thousands of years. The gasoline engines and steel rollers are recent innovations, but the mesquite has been a staple food for desert dwellers for millennia.
In spite of the machine noise from the street, the park has an air of relaxed calm on this sunny afternoon, vendors lining the walkways of the community garden, musicians sharing their sounds, and tables lined with people enjoying mesquite pancakes. In a large tent, members and friends of the Watershed Management Group prepare a Mesquite Pancake Brunch. More gifts from the desert – agave and prickly pear syrups and local honeys- enhance the basic pancake. The long line of people waiting their turn to sample the delicacies attests to the fact that the mesquite tree provides a tasty and useful flour.
Meeting interesting people is another appealing aspect of these small community festivals that have become annual events in many neighborhoods in Tucson. Today we happen on a small table in the back corner of the garden where a soon-to-be published children’s book is featured. We talk with Tucson publisher Alicja Mann while Jacky Turchick and Laurie Melrood, authors of The Pancake Tree, are busily handing out samples of mesquite milkshakes. We marvel at the tree that provides the main ingredient in both pancake and milkshakes, and we enjoy speaking with Alicja about books. Our conversation takes a few turns and, before we say goodbye and move on, ends with invitations to stay in touch and meet again before too long.
The main stage is a corner by the pancake tent, and musicians step aside after sessions to make way for presentations on topics such as rainwater harvesting, mushroom growing on mesquite pods, and composting toilets. Local experts and researchers share how one can get started with these practices that, in a small way, can have an impact on big issues that confront us, such as climate change and water shortage.
Volunteers in this vibrant neighborhood park are planting the Timeline Gardens, documenting through plants the cultures that harvested the land here in the Tucson area, thought to be the longest continually cultivated agricultural spot in the United States.
As the day moved from brunch to lunch and afternoon, people set off on walking tours to view neighborhood strategies for reclaiming, as the neighborhood promotes, public space for life.
And as afternoon settled into evening, people were still strolling the Dunbar Spring neighborhood, pausing at every fourth or fifth house to enjoy the music, the Dunbar Spring Porch Fest, as neighbors played for one another from their porches and front stoops.
Dunbar Spring is an interesting neighborhood with an interesting history, and you can read about it on their site at www.dunbarspring.org.