Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace

Today’s conversation is with Kendall Kroesen,  Community Outreach Coordinator at Mission Garden.  Kendall was interviewed by Lorianne Barnett, May 14, 2020.  This blog was compiled by Jan Schwartz.

Do you ever wonder how people lived in this difficult desert environment long ago? What kinds of food did they grow and how did they grow it as the landscape changed?

Mission Garden is a re-creation of a Spanish Colonial walled garden, developed by the non-profit organization that manages it: Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace. Located in Tucson, AZ, it is a living agricultural museum that interprets over 4,000 years of Tucson’s history through heritage fruit-trees, traditional local heirloom crops, and edible native plants. This beautiful, lush garden sits at the base of Sentinel Peak, AKA “A Mountain.” Because of the dark, volcanic rock on the hill, the Native American village that once sat at the base of this hill was known as S-cuk Son (Base of Black). This is the origin of today’s name, Tucson.  Many Tohono O’odham still refer to the city as S-cuk Son.

60-day corn with “the hill” in the background

By growing and harvesting these heritage crops and sharing this historical knowledge with the public, Mission Garden helped Tucson become the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in December 2015. It is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network which has several fields, including Gastronomy. According to the UNESCO website, “Located in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson has the longest agricultural history of any city in the United States of America. It has a 300-year tradition of vineyards, orchards, and livestock ranching that have forged the wide array of the local heritage foods, a source of identity and vitality for the local population of 1 million inhabitants. The distinctive cuisine of Tucson developed from a culturally layered history, a variety of heritage food ingredients, and a continuity of traditional food preparation techniques.” https://en.unesco.org/creative-cities/tucson

The Mission Garden website includes a short timeline of the garden since its inception. Following the initial planting of the Spanish Colonial Heritage Fruit Tree Orchard in February and March 2012, Mission Garden expanded to interpret the timeline of our remarkable agricultural story.  Specific gardens illustrate that timeline starting with the Early Agricultural period and continuing with Hohokam, Pre-contact and Post-contact O’odham, Spanish, Mexican, Territorial and Statehood Chinese, Yaqui, Anglo and African American farming, and ending with Tomorrow’s Garden.  Tomorrow’s Garden combines ancient knowledge with modern experimental solutions for today’s challenges.

Garden harvest

Mission Garden continuously works to increase the involvement of the Indigenous communities within Pima County. The Garden tells the long and complex history of the area going back to the Indigenous peoples of more than 4,000 years.  The two annual Native American Arts Fairs have been successful in attracting participation from several tribes.  The artists work in a variety of media from baskets to jewelry to painting.

Kendall Kroesen, Community Outreach Coordinator, emphasizes the importance of building relationships.  Kroesen reaches out to Indigenous people to create more diversity in volunteers, board members, and visitors.  Unfortunately, the global pandemic has made it difficult to find the space to continue to cultivate those relationships. Fortunately, Mission Garden now has a University of Arizona graduate student intern from The Coverdell Fellows Program to help move the work forward. The garden is also recruiting an AmeriCorps employee.  In addition, Mission Garden looks to the community and to other organizations to help build the relationships needed to be a fully inclusive organization. To date, FOTB has partnered with over 50 other community organizations.

San Ysidro Festival 2020

Mission Garden has a number of festivals throughout the year which bring in multicultural audiences.   The Agave Festival celebrates agave as a food, a fiber and, of course, tequila.  This festival is a part of the larger city celebration of the agave plant and involves native communities.  Additional festivals such as the Membrillo (quince) Festival and the Festival of San Ysidro, the largest festival, occur yearly.  Garden board members with connections and relationships within their communities make these and other festivals possible.  The Garden also has a strong relationship with the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center, which is reflected in the Chinese heritage garden.

If we could experience history through taste and smell, how might we look differently at our local food sources? Would we be more likely to try unfamiliar foods?

For more information on the edible gardens of the Mission Garden please visit their website at https://www.missiongarden.org/

and visit the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage at https://folklife.si.edu/magazine/preserving-historical-edible-landscapes-arizona