Tia Marta here to tell you about a beautiful and legendary soul, San Ysidro Labrador, Saint Isidore the Farmer, Patron Saint of Farmers and Laborers – whose feast day is May 15. A major celebration is planned in his honor this Saturday, May 17, in Tucson.
San Ysidro (a poor Spanish peasant farmer who lived from around AD1070 to 1130) is revered traditionally, along with his good wife Santa Maria Torribia, for generously sharing bounty from their fields and hearth to those in need—hungry animals and fellow peasants. Legend tells us that San Ysidro, at prayer every morning, was often late to labor in his master’s fields, but the angels, seeing his devotion, would already be plowing for him. Another legend records him with an angel plowing on both sides his oxen so that his labor yielded three times that of his neighbors. Yet another tells how, as he carried corn to be milled, he took pity on poor birds in the snow and gave them half his grain; when his leftover corn was ground, it yielded twice what he had brought. His generosity produced miracles.
Residents of Madrid, Spain, go all out in celebrating San Ysidro’s feast day, as he is the city’s patron saint. In Tucson, it is customary in traditional Hispanic families to celebrate San Ysidro with prayers for rain as his day falls usually in our most arid fore-summer. According to Jim Griffith’s Saints of the Southwest, images of San Ysidro were taken from the church to observe the fields or even buried in the fields until rains came. Here he has become patron of ranchers and crops–even gardeners. Dia de San Ysidro Labrador is a perfect occasion for us to become mindfully aware of where our food really comes from—the Earth, the soil—and also to fully appreciate the labor, the human care, human energy and other forms of energy that all go into bringing good food to our mouths and bodies. (I guess now we shouldn’t say “food to our tables” anymore, as that is unfortunately kinda passé. I hope some families still sit together at table to eat. We do and it is always a joy. Gosh imagine, we learn so much when we actually prepare and sit over a good meal and converse with each other!) So San Isidro Labrador reminds us of what is critically important with food—its origins in good earth and honorable labor!
This year the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace has arranged a public celebration of San Ysidro not to be missed, where this tradition is revived in a most appropriate setting—in the new Mission Garden, a living history orchard and garden on the very site of Padre Kino’s original Mission San Augustin de Cukson, at the base of Sentinel Peak. Plan to get there early— procession starts from the Santa Cruz River at 9:00am (May 17) going west to enter the adobe-walled Mission Garden. There, near the living orchard of Mission Period fruit trees and the productive winter vegetable garden coming to fruition, will first be the blessings. A Native American spiritual guide will bless in the four directions, followed by a Christian blessing of the fields, food and animals. Heirloom White Sonora Wheat grown in this living-history vegetable garden is getting ripe and will be ceremonially harvested. There will be tastes of Pozole de San Ysidro, the traditional pozole de trigo. Mariachi music by Las Aguilitas from Davis Elementary will fill the air; the Desert Indian Dancers from San Xavier will bless the earth; and Hispanic historian Bobby Benton will sing. A highlight will be a talk by none other than “Big Jim” Griffith reminding us of our roots in Tucson traditions of San Ysidro. Info tents will have volunteers on hand to answer questions. Native Seeds/SEARCH has donated varieties of heirloom seeds known from the Mission Period and earlier, planted in vegetable and timeline gardens to demo the prehistory of plants used by ancient people of the Tucson area. NSS volunteers will provide info for contemporary gardens. Tucson Herbalist Collective shares medicinal plant knowledge for Mission Garden and will have volunteers available for herbal questions. Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture will be selling heirloom White Sonora Wheat (grown organically by BKWFarms in Marana) and demonstrating how to cook the delicious ancient grain in a modern solar oven! (Great recipes for White Sonora Wheat are available by scrolling back in this blog.) It will be hot– come prepared with hat, sun protection, and water. The celebration is over at 11:30am. What a wonderful way to rejoice in local food, local tradition, and neighbors to share it, on this little piece of floodplain where agriculture has been happening for over 4100 years!
Inspired by San Ysidro, I spent several months composing this mosaic of heirloom seeds, depicting an exhausted San Ysidro asleep under a tree while the angel finishes his plowing. See if you can identify any varieties. You can purchase the heirloom beans–and notecards of this image now printed handsomely by Spectrum–at Native Seeds/SEARCH store or at the Flor de Mayo table at Sunday St Phiillips Farmers Market.
San Ysidro is helping us find our way back to connection with the land that can feed us again!