Yesterday I participated in a workshop presented by members of the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Protect Chuk Shon Rio Nuevo group to learn about Agricultural Sustainability, Native Farming, Cultural History and Indigenous Values as part of the effort to reclaim and restore the land that is the ancient birthplace of Tucson, Arizona, to protect it from becoming privatized and destroyed by commercial development interests.
More about this project with photos below
The State has created a board called the Rio Nuevo Board to sue the city for control of those lands. We are working to make sure that does not happen and it is vital we bring together the community through education and cultural awareness of the sacred history and use of that land. This workshop will help create more cohesion and knowledge for us in Tucson toward protecting the land near the Santa Cruz river and A Mountain area, while also building new relationships for both the communities in the city and on the Tohono O'odham nation.source
Back in November I wrote about the group that organized this event here: Fighting Privatization of Sacred Lands: Occupy Tucson Joins Native Grass Roots 'Protect Chuk-Shon'. Since then the group has been organizing and building support for their efforts to save this land that has been inhabited and farmed for thousands of years on the banks of the Santa Cruz River, in the shadow of the Black mountain, in what was once called the village of Chuk-shon. It is now called Tres Mesquites Park for the three little trees that stand as sentinels by the edge of the River.
Here are some photos of the land
The instructor for the workshop was a young Tohono O’odham woman who is involved with the New Generation of O'odham Farmers Youth Internship Program, which teaches about farming practices and health. Here’s their mission:
Our mission is to empower O'odham Youth to learn from our elders the traditional methods of O'odham farming, share and create community spaces for learning how to garden/farm, support and work within our communities to revitalize community and family gardens, grow good food for our people and influence positive change to our food systems. The main and most important part of our mission is to have fun and live a s-wa:gima (industrious) lifestyle, working under the sun!
Our dream is create a youth sustained Farmers Market for our communities!
I’ve provided links about this and other programs and related information down at the bottom if you’re interested in learning more.
The instructor talked about the kinds of things we’d be planting that day, O’odham I’itoi Onion and Wild Rhubarb and passed around samples.
The Rhubarb (Rumex hymenosepalus) is also called Arizona Dock and though edible, is used mostly as a medicinal plant.
The tuber is used for tanning, dyeing and curative purposes. The seeds can be roasted, ground and made into flat cakes. The tender red stems can be made into a pie. In spring, young succulent leaves are boiled and eaten as greens, although they are bitter. Roots can be chewed for relief from colds, coughs, sore throats, and sore gums. A powder made from the dried roots can be used to heal skin sores. source
A friend of hers also passed around a half of a huge Tohono O’odham squash so we could take home a few seeds to grow them. I will dry my seeds and plant them in early summer making sure not to cross pollinate with other squash, to keep them pure, by her request.
We ate some of that squash earlier and it was delicious and nutritious! Here’s more about it.
Ha:l (O’odham squash), has been grown by the Tohono O’odham for generations. It is planted with great ceremony, songs and blessings in the Spring before the summer rains, and harvested from early summer to late fall. The flowers, seeds, immature and mature fruit are all edible and are important and delicious foods in both summer and winter months. The light green, sometimes striped, baby summer squash is called ha:l ma:mad-- literally squash children. These immature squash are much like a zucchini but with a denser texture, firmer exterior and many fewer seeds. Ha:l ma:ma∂ is eaten boiled, steamed or fried. When the squash is left to mature on the vine, it grows as large as forty pounds or more, develops a hard outer shell and is referred to as ha:l. These large squash have a starchy texture and mild flavor and, once harvested, are eaten boiled or steamed. Ha:l is also peeled, sliced and sun dried for storage. The sun dried squash spirals and pieces are stored and boiled during winter months when fresh food is scarce. source
Both the onion and the rhubarb will have to grow without any additional water, since there is none available, but what comes from the sky. So we chose a spot near some trees where there was already quite a number of green wild plants growing on it, evidence of plenty of moisture. These wild plants included a couple of types of wild mustard, salt brush and pig weed. We left plenty of these plants to border the area, not taking out more than was necessary. We set them off to the side to compost, to reuse later.
The garden site chosen and some of the wild plants growing there
Working the soil
Compared to the soil where I live, basically concrete with extra helpings of clay, this stuff was fluffy, sandy, loamy goodness. All it will need is some organic matter and it is good to go. It was so fun to play in decent soil again that didn’t come out of a bag!
Here’s the finished bed with rock boundaries. The shape was not predetermined, but I thought it looked rather like a butterfly.
Unfortunately, I had to leave before getting the onions and rhubarb planted, but I hope to get back there soon to see how it’s doing. We are expecting some rain tonight and tomorrow, which will help settle them in nicely.
Tohono O’odham Nation
Native Farming: Tohono O’odham Community Action
The Traditional Tohono O’odham Food System: A Short History
Special Status Plants, Tohono O’odham Nation
USDA Plants Database
Native Seeds/SEARCH - homepage
Native Seeds/SEARCH Seed Catalog 2012 - pdf