It’s the time of year when Desert Harvesters has their annual mesquite millings. Desert Harvesters is dedicated to promoting the use of mesquite and other native wild foods in the Sonoran Desert. I helped staff the first milling event this weekend at Colossal Cave, but there are several more in the coming weeks. Bring your mesquite pods to one of the events and have them ground into flour!

Mesquite pods are an abundant, nutritious and delicious food source which sadly is barely utilized. We must make mesquite flour one of our staple foods, as it once was for the native peoples of the region, if we are to have any hope of developing a sustainable local food economy in the Tucson area.

There is a full list of milling events, and instructions for how to prepare your pods, at the Desert Harvesters website. I also added the events to our own Events page.


Last week was slow in terms of good articles to link to, so I decided to combine it with this week. I’m still going to keep the list short, however, because I haven’t caught up on all my reading for this week.

  • Visions of a Biofuel Future (Jeff Vail) – On the humanitarian crises starting to stem from biofuel production.

    “Indentured servitude, a workforce confined to the borders of the plantation by armed guards, being ‘paid’ by being allowed to live in unlit huts and drink water from the pig trough. Violations punished by summary execution and burial in an unmarked pit. This sounds like a historical account of life on a colonial plantation of the 18th century, but is actually the description of the sugar industry, today, in the Dominican Republic… Of course, the larger issue here is that biofuel production is dependent on exactly this industry… It may be quite some time before Americans are enslaved in the production of fuel for other Americans’ cars, but are we so racist/nationalist/blind to accept the enslavement of others to these ends?”

  • Toward An Ecotechnic Society (The Archdruid Report) – More on the ecological succession model of human civilizations.

    “As it exists today, the industrial economy can best be described in ecological terms as a scheme for turning resources into pollution at the highest possible rate. Thus resource exhaustion and pollution problems aren’t accidental outcomes of industrialism, they’re hardwired into the industrial system: the faster resources turn into pollution, the more the industrial economy prospers, and vice versa. That forms the heart of our predicament. Peak oil is simply one symptom of a wider crisis – the radical unsustainability of a system that has evolved to maximize resource consumption on a finite planet – and trying to respond to it without dealing with the larger picture simply guarantees that other symptoms will surface elsewhere and take its place.”

  • October 6 – When One Planet Was No Longer Enough ( – This is an interesting idea – the Global Footprint Network calculated how many Earths we would need to support our current levels of consumption (the answer right now is 1.3). Based on that, they determined the day of the year on which we began living off “ecological debt”. That day is getting earlier and earlier each year.

    “‘Humanity is living off its ecological credit card,’ said Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director of Global Footprint Network, ‘Just as spending more money than you have in the bank leads to financial debt, ecological overshoot, or using more resources than the planet can renew in a year, accumulates an ecological debt. This can go on for a short time, but ultimately it leads to a build up of waste and the depletion of the very resources on which the human economy depends.'”

  • Of Doomers, Realists, Powerdowners and Fantasists (Energy Bulletin) – This is a good article discussing Peak Oil “doomers” (i.e. people who believe we are in for a hard crash) and “powerdowners” (people who believe we are in for a gradual, soft landing). Which side is being most realistic?

    ‘Doomers’ in the article are also used in an analogy with religious fundamentalists, people normally charged with being (as Sinclair Lewis put it) superbly trained in reconciling contradictions. But in my opinion, anyone who maintains that biofuels will save the day, that voluntary simplicity is a feasible solution to Peak Oil, or that energy can decrease and population stay the same, is hard at work at contradiction reconciling.

  • Barack Obama’s Plan to Make America a Global Energy Leader (via Gristmill) – I’m not posting this in order to advocate voting for him (he’s not even my preferred candidate), but I was pleasantly surprised by his new energy plan. It seems to be quite good in most respects, from what I can make of it. I’m not impressed by his advocacy of biofuels, coal, and nuclear energy, but he does say that these energy sources should only be utilized if the numerous issues surrounding them can be resolved. Whether he’ll stick by that statement down the road when we’re desperate for energy is another matter… I do really like that his plan includes a restructuring of our communities to support a more sustainable transportation infrastructure, as well as an emphasis on higher efficiency.

Congratulations to Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. This honor is completely and deeply deserved. Climate change and Peak Oil are in my opinion the two greatest threats to peace in the coming decades, and nobody has done more to alert the world to the dangers of climate change than Al Gore. Since the solutions to both issues are largely the same, he has indirectly done a lot to address Peak Oil as well. It is wonderful that he is getting the recognition he deserves.

Update: A couple of good articles from Grist about this –

Tonight we realized that this is a great time to be eating locally here. Most of our staple foods from last month are still in season (potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, chiles, tomatoes, okra, etc.), but there are also some tasty new foods coming into season.

For starters, greens are finally in season. During the month of September we managed to find very few greens: we had arugula once and verdolagas (Portulaca) a couple of times. In the last week or two, though, a diversity of greens have become available: we’ve gotten arugula, lettuce, swiss chard, tatsoi, pac choi, mizuna, and mustards. In fact, we’ve gotten more greens from our CSA than we know what to do with! We need to come up with some creative ways to preserve them (maybe some kind of pesto-like sauce that we can freeze?).

Marci got a nice diversity of foods at tonight’s Santa Cruz River Farmer’s Market. She came home with apples, apple cider, a watermelon, a large pumpkin, an onion, potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, Anaheim chiles, eggs, okra, wheat flour, and tomatoes. The overlap of watermelons and pumpkins is a good indication of the transition in seasons we’re currently in. We’re trying to appreciate the diversity of local foods available right now, because it may not last for much longer! While our climate allows for year-round growing, we can’t expect to have the same variety of foods from December through February.

At our CSA on Tuesday we bought a pack of beef liver, as an experiment. I’ve never cooked liver in my life, and I don’t have the faintest clue what to do with it. Marci wants to cook it with bacon, but then again she wants to cook everything with bacon.

Hot on the heels of our mesquite flour tortillas experiment last week comes another creation: carob mesquite flour tortillas. I used basically the same recipe as before, but with some very slight differences.

For one thing, we used whole wheat flour which we had ground ourselves. Our friend Chi gave us (on permanent loan) a hand grinder she had gotten (also on permanent loan) from a mutual friend of ours. It was a cinch to set up in our kitchen, and Marci set to work grinding some wheatberries we had stored up from our CSA. She ground them twice, yielding flour which was fairly fine but still coarser than the flour we’d been buying from the San Xavier Co-op. To this flour we added both carob and mesquite flour. Since we were almost out of olive oil and happened to have some bacon grease saved in the refrigerator, we used equal parts olive oil and bacon grease (rather than just olive oil).


  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (hand-ground wheatberries from the Tucson CSA)
  • 1/4 cup mesquite flour (from our tree)
  • 1/4 cup carob flour (donated by our friends Chi and Rodd; from trees in Tucson)
  • 10 dried chiltepines, crushed by hand (from Native Seeds/SEARCH)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (from Sonora, Mexico)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil (from Queen Creek Olive Mill in Phoenix)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons bacon grease (the bacon was from a ranch in Cochise)
  • 3/4 cup water

Just as before, I first mixed the dry ingredients (wheat flour, mesquite flour, carob flour, salt, and chiltepines) in a bowl, then added the olive oil and bacon grease and mixed well with a fork. I gradually mixed in the water, and then kneaded the dough for about three minutes. I let the dough sit for fifteen minutes, covered, in the bowl. I next divided the dough into eight separate balls, and again let these sit for fifteen minutes, covered, in the bowl. Because the flour I used was coarser than before, I ended up having to knead the dough a few extra minutes at this point in order to work the gluten sufficiently (otherwise the dough wouldn’t stick together). I heated a metal comal over our gas stove on medium heat, and rolled a dough ball out onto a floured cutting board until the dough was about an eighth of an inch thick. Finally, I placed the tortilla on the hot comal, let it cook for about 10 seconds, flipped it and cooked it for 10 more seconds, flipped it again and cooked it on the original side for 10 more seconds, and then flipped it one more time and cooked it for 10 more seconds. I repeated this for the other seven balls. Don’t let the tortilla sit on the comal for very long, as mesquite flour burns very easily!

We thought these tortillas were truly delicious, and even better than the mesquite tortillas! The carob added a subtle but noticeable chocolate-like undertone.

We made tacos using:

  • Eggs (from our chickens) fried in olive oil
  • Squash blossoms
  • Grilled onions and Anaheim chile
  • Tomatoes
  • Fresh greens (lettuce, arugula and tatsoi)
  • From our pre-local stockpile: Guacamaya hot sauce from Mexico (on my tacos) or ranch dressing (on Marci’s)

We also had potatoes and sweet potatoes baked with olive oil and salt. Yum!

For the past week we have been taking a mini-break from our strict regimen as we decide how to move forward for the long term. We ate bread, chocolate (fair trade organic dark chocolate) and sushi (more on that later) and each indulged in non-local treats almost daily. Chris ate out twice for lunch and once for dinner (he had pizza, which he had really been missing), and I had coffee three times. I also ate some Skittles at work where people seem to be incessantly stocking every corner with forbidden treats. But even with all of these deviations we are still eating a mostly local diet. And we are extremely happy to continue with our experiment, especially since our “treats” were mostly disappointing and expensive.

We fully expected to be reluctant to return to our local diet after reminding our taste buds how the other half lives. I was looking forward to eating Asian food as much as Chris was looking forward to pizza, but both meals were unsatisfying. I don’t know the details of the pizza fiasco, but I do know why Sushi Ten disappointed me: The iceburg lettuce salad was sadly devoid of color, nutrients, and flavor; the miso soup tasted old and drab; and the soba noodles basically tasted like undercooked pasta with overcooked vegetables drowned in soy sauce. The squid salad tasted fresh and yummy, and Chris’ salmon roll was satisfying. But overall it was not the party our taste buds were anticipating. We have been far more impressed with our own cooking than with Sushi Ten’s offerings that night. And it’s not that we’re spectacular cooks (although I’d argue that Chris is a spectacular cook); it’s just that our food is fresh and actually tastes like food. The flavors in our home-cooked meals are diverse, distinct, and rich, unlike the conglomerate of meek tastes and textures dictated by restaurant foods that are either harvested too early so they can weather the 2,000 mile journey to Tucson, or are produced en-masse days, or weeks, before being served.

I’m not saying that all processed, non-local foods are unappealing to us. We fully enjoyed the chocolate bar, for example. We don’t intend to deny ourselves every luxury in the long run, and as we determine how we will redefine the rules of our experiment we are allowing for regular special treats. The following is a description of our modified rules for the experiment for the near future.

We will be allowing ourselves balsamic vinegar (eventually we hope to start making our own), yeast (until we have both a steady source of flour and a working sourdough starter), and spices (in moderation) on a regular basis. We feel that these items will greatly enhance our enjoyment of our food without compromising the spirit of our experiment. We will allow ourselves to eat the food that we still have in our fridge and freezer from before we started the experiment. Also, if someone visits us, bearing gifts of food local to their point of origin, we will gladly accept- and eat- the food. For example, my parents gave Chris a lot of organic honey from near their home in L.A. We will be devouring that honey! In addition, we will allow ourselves one treat each (i.e. a chocolate bar, a cup of coffee, a danish) every week. And we will occasionally eat a non-local meal if we are invited to a friend’s house or feel the deep desire for a night away from the stove. It should still be easy to eat at least 95% local foods, which is our long-term goal.

Now that we know we can thrive on a 99.9% local diet we don’t see any reason, save convenience, for eating any other way. Of course, sometimes convenience speaks louder than good health or flavor. But generally speaking we are proud to have successfully shifted the focus of our eating habits away from international corporations and toward the people in our community. We are excited to seek new food items from our region, and we look forward to experimenting with making our own vinegar, ice cream, dried fruit, yogurt, and sourdough starter. We’ll be continuing to blog as we make new discoveries.

This weekend on a beautiful fall day we visited Florida Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains, which are directly south of Tucson. The canyon was lush and colorful, and the insect activity was impressive (we’re entomologists, so that’s a good thing).

A morning glory vine (Ipomoea hirsutula?). These were fairly common in the canyon, especially on shady cliffsides.

An adult giant mesquite bug (Thassus sp.). These insects produce noxious defensive compounds; the nymphs are strikingly colored (red, white and black), a clear example of aposematic (warning) coloration.

Desert cotton (Gossypium thurberi). These beautiful plants were very common in the canyon, and many of them exceeded seven feet tall.

Scarlet creeper (Ipomoea coccinea), another species of morning glory. We only saw a couple of these plants, but they were striking.

Oak galls. These growths are induced in oaks (Quercus spp.) by insects, especially by tiny wasps. The galls nourish and protect the insects, which develop within them.

Acorns on the ground

Acorns on the ground. We found only a couple of oak trees which were still producing acorns. We harvested a small amount in the hopes of producing acorn flour, but when we got home we discovered that they had almost all been colonized by some sort of larval insect (probably a fly of some kind). We did manage to harvest some juniper berries, which are delicious!

Algal growth in a pool

Algal growth in a pool. The stream in Florida Canyon was low but it was running, and some pools such as this one were supporting dense algal populations.

A native cucurbit, the coyote gourd (Cucurbita palmata). The flesh is supposedly edible, and edible cooking oil can be extracted from the seeds, but we didn’t try.

We’ve gotten a bit behind in our blogging, so we’re going to try to churn out a few posts today. First I want to write about our new fall and winter garden, which we finally got planted last weekend. In a previous post I described our philosophy and goals for sustainable gardening. This new garden demonstrates some of the ways in which we’re trying to achieve the goals we outlined previously.

In previous years we’ve grown fall and winter crops in two spots in our back yard. The first year we planted in a plot which wraps around the northeast corner of our house. This was clearly not a good location for a winter garden, as it’s pretty well shaded by the house. The second year we tried a sunnier location, on the south side of our shed. This has proven to be a fantastic spot for both winter and summer gardening, as it gets a little bit of shade during the summer from a velvet mesquite to the south, but is mostly unshaded during the winter since the afore-mentioned velvet mesquite is semi-deciduous and drops many of its leaves in late fall. At the moment this plot is already planted in summer crops (amaranth, devil’s claws, tepary beans, sorghum, and lemon cucumbers), but once they are done we will replant it in winter crops.

The new plot is just south of our north fence, in the most exposed location in our yard. This placement provides maximal solar gain during the winter, but makes it a poor location for a summer garden (unless we rig some sort of temporary shade structure). During the summer this area of the yard becomes filled with native amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri), purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and Boerhavia sp. The amaranth and purslane are edible and we make good use of them, and we believe that the Boerhavia is edible as well but want confirmation before we eat much of it.

North fence of yard

The location of our new fall garden prior to digging the garden beds. The “weeds” in the picture are predominantly Boerhavia sp. and Amaranthus palmeri, with some Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) in the foreground.

The plot is sloped both east to west and north to south, so we decided to divide it into three separate beds, each of which would be level but at a different elevation from the others; they would be separated from one another by shallow berms to prevent water from running off and pooling in the lowest bed.

We began by clearing all the vegetation from what was to become the garden beds. We saved this material to use later as mulch. We next “triple-dug” the beds: we shoveled off the topsoil down to about six inches deep and put it aside in a large heap. We then used a pick to break up the first layer of caliche (a dense calcium carbonate layer in our desert soils), down to about a foot deep, and removed this to another heap. Finally, we used the pick to break up another six inches of caliche, and left this in place. If it wasn’t such difficult work we would have gone even deeper, but we broke up enough caliche to provide for decent drainage.

New fall and winter garden

The new fall garden plot.

We next added back the topsoil we had removed earlier, but left out the caliche we had removed. The beds were therefore sunken several inches below the surface, providing for a nice rainwater catchment system. We still have to figure out what to do with the pile of caliche – eventually we’ll probably have a need for some extra soil somewhere, but for now it’s just sitting there.

The next step was to add soil amendments. Although we want to avoid bringing in external inputs, when starting new beds we have found it very helpful to add a little bit of outside compost and manure, as our soil otherwise has very little organic matter. This time we mixed in just a single small bag of compost and a single small bag of steer manure. It’s clear that this did not provide enough organic matter, as the soil is already getting compacted. We also added a small bucketfull of chicken manure from our chickens. Most of this manure was fairly old and had already had a chance to age, so I wasn’t too worried about it burning the plants (it’s worked well in the past, at least). As an experiment we decided to also add some locally-made organic fertilizer.

The final additive was a bag of mesquite charcoal, which I broke up using a shovel and mixed into the soil. This is my lame attempt at emulating biochar; although charcoal apparently doesn’t work as well as true biochar (to improve water retention and growth of beneficial microbes, among other things), it has seemed to improve our soil in previous gardens. We also spread a second bag of mesquite charcoal on the surface, which should act as mulch and also help warm the soil during the winter.

As an additional experiment we placed several large rocks throughout the garden. These should serve several functions. First, like the charcoal they should help warm the garden during cold spells. The main benefit is that they should act as water traps, since water can’t evaporate through them. In theory they should help retain water in the soil beneath them, which the plants’ roots can tap into. I got this idea from reading Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, in which he describes how the Easter Islanders used boulders in their gardens for similar purposes. The rocks also provide us with convenient stepping stones (literally) to get at spots in the garden which are otherwise awkward to reach.

For an initial mulch we spread the vegetation we had cleared earlier. This proved to not be an adequate amount of mulch long-term, but this is actually a good thing as it will not smother the seeds we planted. Once the plants are larger we will add additional mulch to improve water retention and warm the soil.

The final step was the planting. We decided to mix a diversity of crops, some of which we’ve grown before but some of which are new to us (those marked with an asterisk were planted using seeds we saved from last year’s garden):

  • I’itoi onions*: a small shallot-like onion grown by the Tohono O’odham; the stems are edible and delicious, in addition to the bulbs; originally from Native Seeds/SEARCH
  • Shallots: we planted a single true shallot just to see how it would do
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes: Yukon Gold and Red La Soda
  • Fava beans: from Native Seeds/SEARCH
  • Garbanzo beans*: from Native Seeds/SEARCH
  • Mixed greens*: arugula, collards, and some Asian greens we haven’t identified
  • Mayo quelite: a Mexican green from Native Seeds/SEARCH
  • Cilantro*

As this is very much an experimental garden we did not plant a lot of any one crop. Once our summer garden is finished we will replant it with winter crops and will grow larger quantities of greens, cilantro, and onions, at least. I also want to experiment with growing wheat and quinoa.

So how did we do with our goals for sustainable gardening?

  1. Avoiding external inputs of mulch, manure, fertilizer, or other soil amendments in favor of chicken manure, compost and mulch derived on-site (As this was a new garden plot we decided to bring in external inputs. We did use chicken manure and mulch derived on-site, however.)
  2. Avoiding use of synthetic biocides (Fully achieved.)
  3. Avoiding use of municipal water by maximizing rainwater harvesting (using berms and sunken beds to channel runoff to the garden) and minimizing evaporation (by using mulch and shade) (I think we met these goals pretty well. We’ll see how effective our strategies are, but for now this seems to be a strong point of this garden.)
  4. Minimizing tillage of the soil to reduce erosion and promote healthy soil microflora and microfauna (Since this was a new bed it was impossible not to till.)
  5. Intercropping with a high diversity of plants to reduce disease transmission and pest infestations (We pretty thoroughly intercropped everything. Unfortunately we forgot to research if there were negative interactions between any of the plants we planted. Hopefully there won’t be any problems.)
  6. Emphasizing native crop species adapted to our local conditions (We planted several crops traditionally grown in the region, though probably none of them are truly native to the region.)
  7. Emphasizing perennial species (which have a number of advantages over annual crops) (Some of the things we planted are arguably perennial under certain conditions, but probably will not be under the conditions in our yard.)
  8. Encouraging edible native “weeds” (We will see how this goes as weeds begin to germinate. Already we are having to combat Bermuda grass, but I don’t foresee this being a major problem.)

We’ll be writing more about this garden as it grows and as we harvest from it.

Monday marked the end of our fourth week of eating locally. When we began our local eating experiment we said that we would eat only from within 100 miles of Tucson for a month. For our purposes we decided to define “a month” as four weeks.

So how did we do? We’re pleased to report that it was a very successful experiment. We managed to eat entirely from within 100 miles of Tucson, other than the exceptions we outlined initially (salt, water and the Tucson CSA). We did cheat a tiny bit with our olive oil, but we felt it was justified. At the outset of the experiment we bought a bottle of local olive oil from Queen Creek Olive Mill. We had hoped that it would last us the entire month, but by the end of the third week it was almost empty. So, we made the decision to finish up the non-local olive oil we still had from before we began the experiment. We knew that we could get local olive oil, and it seemed silly to let the other olive oil go bad.

We also managed to eat almost entirely “organic” foods (i.e. pesticide-free, synthetic fertilizer-free, antibiotic-free, added hormone-free). We believe that the one exception was the fruit we picked at Apple Annie’s Orchard in Willcox.

We were impressed by the quality and variety of food we found locally, and by the meals we managed to make out of it. In fact, we generally ate far better than we typically do. Our food was more delicious, more nutritious, more interesting, and more satisfying. We felt a stronger connection to the food and to the people who raised it. Most of all, we gained a much stronger sense of place. We really felt like we were living in Tucson, rather than some anonymous location in an increasingly homogeneous world. We felt good knowing that we were eating healthier, reducing our environmental impact, supporting local farmers, and strengthening our local food security.

Eating locally did require more of a time commitment on our part, but not dramatically so. One component of this added commitment had to do with flexibility in shopping – since we relied heavily on two farmers’ markets and the CSA (each of which only happens over the course of a few hours once a week), we had to be sure not to commit those times to anything else. We also had to cook all of our meals, which was actually very nice for the most part. We found that we enjoyed cooking again, and found it very satisfying to put together nice meals from whatever local ingredients we had handy. Of course we did occasionally feel grumpy about having to cook (especially toward the end), but it was good for us to get out of the habit of just running out to a restaurant to buy food when we felt too lazy to cook.

One of the most common arguments we’ve heard against eating locally or eating organically is that it is too expensive. We fully expected this to be true during our local eating experiment. However, we’re pleased to report that we spent significantly less money on food during our local eating experiment than we usually do. A year ago we had tracked our expenses carefully and found that we were spending about $20.00 a day on food (for both of us; $10 per person). Food prices have risen substantially since then, so we were probably spending more than that at the time we started our local experiment. During this past month when we were eating locally we averaged $15.50 per day (for both of us; $7.75 per person). We were amazed that we had spent less money eating purely organic local food than we did beforehand! If we had been more careful about our purchases we could easily have spent less.

Here’s the breakdown of what we spent that money on this month:

  • Meat: $94
  • Eggs: $10
  • Goat cheese: $25
  • Wheat flour: $24
  • Olive oil: $15
  • Fruits/vegetables/nuts/beans: $249
  • Total: $417 (almost all of which went directly to local growers)

To be fair, much of the savings had to do with not eating at restaurants. If we had previously eaten only home-cooked meals our food expenses would likely have been much less than $20 per day. Sometime soon I plan to do a side-by-side comparison of how much our local organic food costs versus non-local organic food and non-local non-organic food, to see how much of a difference there really is.

Still, even if local organic food proves to cost more on the surface than non-local food, I believe that local organic food is still actually cheaper (potentially much cheaper) when considering the true cost of our food. Our industrially-grown food only seems so cheap because it is massively subsidized by the government. Furthermore, industrial agriculture relies on huge inputs of fossil fuels, which are effectively subsidized by our unbelievably expensive military. I have no doubt that if those additional costs (which we already pay anyway in the form of federal taxes) were factored into the price of the food we eat, local organic food would prove to be cheaper by a wide margin. That’s not even considering the environmental and social impacts of globalized industrial agriculture, which are difficult to quantify monetarily.

What We Ate
So what did we eat during this month of local eating? We ate an impressive variety of food, but we did have some staples. The following four foods were major components of our diet, and nearly all of our meals included one of them:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Beans

Other staples included:

  • Fresh fruit (especially apples and pears)
  • Tomatoes
  • Chiles (especially bell peppers, Anaheim chiles, crushed chiltepines, and guajillo powder)
  • Tomatillos (for the first two weeks, at least)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Amaranth
  • Wheat (mostly as tortillas)
  • Olive oil
  • Honey
  • Goat cheese
  • Eggs (about a dozen per week)
  • Ground beef (about a pound a week)
  • Chicken (about half a chicken a week)
  • Salt

The remainder of our diet consisted of a diversity of other vegetables, fruits and nuts. We were really quite pleased with the foods that were available to us. We did eat some wild foods, namely prickly pear juice, dried cholla buds, and mesquite flour, and hope to make wild foods a larger part of our diet in the future.

Our favorite things we ate during the month were:

  • Tacos: wheat or mesquite flour tortillas filled with grilled chiles and onions, tomatoes, goat cheese, tomatillo salsa, and occasionally chicken or beef; the mesquite flour tortillas were my absolute favorite thing we made during the whole month!
  • Roasted chicken glazed with prickly pear juice and honey
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes: either baked with olive oil and salt and topped with goat cheese or tomatillo salsa, or mashed with roasted garlic and salt
  • Grass-fed beef burgers with roasted chile, tomato and goat cheese
  • Popped amaranth with olive oil, guajillo chile powder and salt
  • Bacon and tomatoes wrapped in arugula (like a BLT without a bun)
  • Eggs: either fried and topped with tomatoes, tomatillos and goat cheese, or as omelettes
  • Beans: Colorado River and Cranberry beans cooked with onion, chile, honey and salt

What We Missed
During the first few days we definitely had some strong food cravings. I was missing bread and chocolate, and Marci was missing salty foods (especially olives and anchovies) and crunchy snacks. By the end of the first week our cravings had mostly diminished. We became satisfied with the food we were eating and didn’t feel a strong need for anything else. However, by the third week we were starting to have cravings again. My need for bread and chocolate returned (Marci began missing chocolate too), and we began to feel grumpy about being deprived of these things. I tried making a sourdough starter so we could make bread, but it didn’t take (the starter eventually gained a nice aroma and smelled like it was ready, but it failed to rise). Other things I missed were balsamic vinegar, corn tortillas, fish, avocados, sesame, ginger, and yogurt. Marci missed Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, fish, rice crackers, coffee, fresh salad greens, and Asian food. Some of these things we can get locally if we try harder, but some of them we never will.

All told it was a wonderful experience and we are very glad we did it. We are planning to continue eating predominantly locally from now on, but with some slightly more relaxed rules. We’ll describe our new plans in a separate post.

An important component of sustainable food production systems is small-scale gardening and permaculture. Since we moved into our house two years ago we have been experimenting with different crops and horticultural techniques in order to learn how to grow our own food in a sustainable manner. Our goal has been to figure out what crops grow well under the harsh conditions of an urban yard in Tucson. Most of our gardening attempts have met with failure, but these failures have taught us a lot and we’re slowly getting better at it. To a large degree we’ve set ourselves up for failure, as we’ve attempted to grow food using minimal water and minimal external inputs of fertilizer, mulch or manure.

Devil’s claw

A devil’s claw (Proboscidea parviflora) plant in our garden, one of the few summer crops we had success with this year. The fresh green pods can be cooked like okra, the seeds inside the dried and split pods can also be eaten, and fibers from the dried pods can be used in basketry. This was an important crop to the Tohono O’odham people of southern Arizona (among others).

A food production system is only truly “sustainable” if it can be utilized forever without repeated inputs of external non-renewable resources. In the case of a garden, I consider that to mean that only on-site resources should be used, with careful attention paid to recycling materials and completing nutrient cycles. At our site we are missing two critical items which would make our garden more-or-less sustainable (though not necessarily productive): a rainwater-harvesting cistern to provide water during dry parts of the year, and a composting toilet to recycle nutrients (rather than flushing them away). We plan to address both of these constraints eventually.

We are trying to achieve the following goals for our garden (we have a very long way to go before we achieve all of these goals, but we’re making gradual progress towards them):

  1. Avoiding external inputs of mulch, manure, fertilizer, or other soil amendments in favor of chicken manure, compost and mulch derived on-site (status: work in progress)
  2. Avoiding use of synthetic biocides (status: fully achieved)
  3. Avoiding use of municipal water by maximizing rainwater harvesting (using berms and sunken beds to channel runoff to the garden) and minimizing evaporation (by using mulch and shade) (status: work in progress)
  4. Minimizing tillage of the soil to reduce erosion and promote healthy soil microflora and microfauna (status: fully achieved)
  5. Intercropping with a high diversity of plants to reduce disease transmission and pest infestations (status: work in progress)
  6. Emphasizing native crop species adapted to our local conditions (status: work in progress)
  7. Emphasizing perennial species (which have a number of advantages over annual crops) (status: work in progress)
  8. Encouraging edible native “weeds” (status: work in progress)

In the next post I will describe our new fall garden, which I finally got planted today (a couple weeks later than I had hoped!). I will use this new garden to illustrate some of the ways in which we’re trying to achieve our sustainable gardening goals.

July 2018
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