Mesquite Milling with Desert Harvesters

Desert Harvesters is a volunteer-run, grassroots organization based in Tucson. The primary goal of Desert Harvesters is to promote and enhance the awareness and use of locally native food sources, which can thrive on harvested natural rainfall and runoff without additional irrigation contributing to unsustainable groundwater depletion. We feel that by fostering a reciprocal relationship between native plants and local people we can enhance local food security, reconnect people with the ecosystem, and build a more dynamic and sustainable community.

Did you know mesquite pods are edible? Since 2003 Desert Harvesters has been enabling folks to conveniently grind mesquite pods into delicious and nutritious mesquite flour at our local milling events each fall. Thanks to a grant from PRO Neighborhoods the organization was able to purchase a farm-scale hammer mill and mount it to a trailer to make it mobile. They take the mill to various public milling events around the community at which folks can conveniently bring their harvested mesquite pods. The hammer mill can grind 5 gallons of whole mesquite pods into 1 gallon of finely textured, naturally sweet flour in just 5 minutes. Traditionally, the grinding process would have taken hours. The milling events are usually held from late September through November when the dew point has dropped. This follows the summer mesquite pod harvest, and ensures that the pods have had a chance to dry well and will not reabsorb moisture from the humid summer monsoon season weather (the pods must be dry to run through the mill without gumming it up. Pods are sufficiently dry when they quickly “snap in two” when you try to bend them). 

By planting, harvesting, and sharing the produce of the native ecosystem and backyard gardens these foods become sustainable parts of our daily experience, community/cultural identity, and food security. Many of these plants, particularly the natives, do not need imported resources to grow. By incorporating such strategies as water harvesting, passive mulching, and strategic planting (such as along streets or on the east and west sides of buildings) local resources are enhanced, wildlife can prosper, neighborhoods are beautified, and communities are made more livable. By sharing and celebrating community efforts and resources, knowledge is spread, the value and appreciation of local resources grows, and community ties and investments build. All of this is an integrated means of designing to thwart catastrophe, while enhancing our lives now. And the benefits steadily grow both with the trees, the relationships we have initiated with our neighbors and a deeper connection to place and the resources that sustain it.

For more information about Desert Harvesters and mesquite milling, visit

Learn from more Community Models

Milling mesquite pods in Desert
Harvesters’ hammermill 2007.
Credit: Diana Lancaster

Velvet mesquite pods, flour and honey.
Credit: Brad Lancaster


Education and Resources

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Tucson Organic Gardeners is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to promote and encourage the use of Nature's resources as a guide for gardening and sustainable living. To this end we avoid the use of toxic materials in our relationship with the Earth. We promote interest in and the knowledge of organic gardening, including composting, through programs open to the public, workshops, public events and other means of communication.

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