It Takes A Village to Harvest Mesquite

Arcosanti has a bounty of Mesquite growing on our property. For many years residents tapped into this local food source through the celebration of an annual harvest followed by a mesquite pancake breakfast. This effort was led by alumni Colleen Reckow, who engaged the whole community for this annual event. This year, Ana Vazquez adopted this practice as part of her work as our land stewardship coordinator, curating a harvest event offered to our local community and the greater public. 

Mesquite has widely spread throughout the southwest due to the dominant presence of cattle and their appetite for mesquite seed pods. The spread has led to a shift in the composition of the Arcosanti landscape from savannah-like grasslands to dense mesquite bosques. This lack of biodiversity, and density of vegetation makes our property more vulnerable to extreme wildfire. One of the ecosystem restoration goals of our land stewardship program is to thin the overgrown mesquite bosques and seed native grasses, flowers, and shrubs, which will help restore our local ecology to a more resilient state.

In the days leading up to the event, community members helped harvest prickly pear fruit from around the site, and tested out various ways to remove the prickly thorns. Ana harvested prickly pear pads from a neighbor in Cordes Lakes as well as from our own property. Various flours and grains were purchased from The Honeyman, a local business in Prescott, AZ! Inspired by local movements to harvest this abundant food source, Ana strived to expand people’s notions about what could be accomplished with mesquite flour as well as show people how delicious a desert diet could be.

On the day of the event, we were pleased to be joined by some employees from our sister site, Cosanti, as well as visitors who had never been to Arcosanti before. Participants met at our visitors center, where Sophie, our guest experience manager gave an introduction about Arcosanti. We walked through the property, stopping in the Colly Garden, overlooking the Agua Fria river, where Ana gave a brief history of the local ecology. All participants lived in places where mesquite naturally grows, from Flagstaff all the way to Mexico. Ana advised them how harvesting may differ based on their elevation and local weather conditions. At the mesquite bosque, Ana showed the group various methods on how to harvest the seed pod. Implementing tarps, large sticks, and other hands-on approaches, they collected the mesquite in buckets and bags to take home for their own use. As the group made their way back to the main site, they stopped along the way to harvest some prickly pear fruit. 

Post-harvest, attendees of the event were given mesquite focaccia baked by Jorge Molina, our planning department lead and secret star baker. The delicious bread was topped with a pesto created with purslane (which grows abundantly on our property) and basil (grown by the agricultural department). A hand-squeezed lemonade and hibiscus tea created by Bonnie Miller, our agriculture and land stewardship volunteer, was served on a table decorated with local wildflowers, herbs, and branches. Attendees were then given ingredients and lessons on how to create arepas using mesquite flour and amaranth. They were taught how to process prickly pear pads, which they then used to cook nopales a la Mexicana, which was served as a topping on the arepas. For dessert, Walker Simpson, agriculture manager, and Tippy Ahart, agriculture and café employee, tediously handcrafted a delicious prickly pear fruit ice cream, paired with a beautiful Hopi blue cornbread, baked by Jorge.

The event ended with good spirits, as people communed around great food and conversation. 

In October we will bring our harvested mesquite pods to a community mill in Phoenix. 

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