White Sonora wheat

Bringing in the Sheaves–a Fiesta of ancient grains at Mission Garden–May 13, 2017

What do Andalusian horses, traditional feasts, mariachis and heirloom wheat have to do with each other?

Vaquero with traditional tack at Mission Garden’s San Ysidro Fiesta

The answer:  Plenty!–when you are in Baja Arizona this month!  Tia Marta here to tell you about one of those special Tucson “happenings” not to miss….

The Old Pueblo is gearing up at Tucson’s Birthplace–Mission Garden–for an important seasonal moment in the “Food Calendar” of Baja Arizona.  This coming Saturday, May 13, 2017, we celebrate the Feast of San Ysidro Labrador, patron saint of farmers and gardeners.  Winter crops of wheat, barley and flax, introduced by Padre Kino and other missionaries, are turning golden in the Mission Garden fields, their plump ripe seed heads undulating in unison like sea-waves with spring wind.

Waving heirloom grain at Mission Garden ready for the harvest! (MABurgess photo)

It’s time to harvest!  And that means… time to celebrate!  The San Ysidro Fiesta promises hands-on learning, food, music and fun for every age and every interest.  In Baja Arizona’s inimitable way, San Ysidro brings together our diverse cultures to rejoice in this special Sonoran Desert homeland.

A sheaf of heirloom wheat freshly harvested and hand-bound in the traditional fashion using fresh green straw. (MABurgess photo)

By the way what is a sheaf–what are sheaves–anyway??   In the dictionary a sheaf is defined as “one of the bundles in which cereal plants, as wheat, rye, etc., are bound after reaping.”  At Mission Garden’s Fiesta de San Ysidro Labrador we can get into sheaving hands-on, do the sheaving the old way, then watch as the ancient breed of helpful Andalusian horses thresh the grain loosening seedheads from straw.  [Who needs a gym?]  We can get fresh air and exercise winnowing the wheat with a traditional wooden pala, tossing grain into the air to let the breeze separate kernels from chaff.

Jesus Garcia and a volunteer winnowing heirloom wheat at Mission Garden. (MABurgess photo)

Winnowing heirloom White Sonora Wheat with the traditional pala. (MABurgess photo)



The Fiesta will begin with a procession at 9am led by Tucson Presidio volunteers in full period garb, from the site of the original San Augustine Mission at the Santa Cruz riverbank 2 blocks distance to the Mission Garden itself (planted on the original site–a living agro-history garden).  Everyone is invited to join the procession.

Kickoff procession for San Ysidro Fiesta carrying the painting of the patron saint of farmers

Tucson’s young musicians entertain in 2015–They may be small but their mariachi music is grande! (MABurgess photo)


Mariachis will have our feet tapping–This year it’s Los Changuitos Feos to play!

Native Tohono O’odham dancers will bless the ground once again with their rhythms.

Historians will tell us of the rich happenings on this very site for the last 4100 years, and Padres from San Xavier will offer their blessings.

Tohono O’odham dancers in their colorful garb will help us pray for good rains again for the garden this season (MABurgess photo)

If you haven’t seen the Mission Garden recently, you will be thrilled by the new structures giving shady space for relaxing and beautiful period-adobes for future education classes.  The heirloom fruit trees are heavy with membrillo fruit (quince), pomegranate and figs.  The Mission Period vegetable garden is dense with produce, artichoke-tops 7′ high, and medicinal hollyhocks in full flower!

Colorful hollyhocks at Mission Garden–Come find out how they were used for medicine as well as for beauty! (MABurgess photo)

Several information booths will be there with volunteers –including NativeSeeds/SEARCH,  Tucson Herbalist Collective (THC), and Avalon Gardens–sharing their rich knowledge about heirloom seeds, traditional gardening and cuisine, or herbal medicine.

Heirloom White Sonora Wheat, saved by NativeSeeds/SEARCH, now grown organically by local producer BKWFarmsInc (MABurgess photo)

Tucson Herbalists sharing tips for herb gardens and knowledge of herbal remedies (MABurgess photo)









The freshly harvested wheat was traditionally made into a delicious posole stew.  Cooks at this San Ysidro Fiesta will be prepping cauldrons of POSOLE DE TRIGO for all to enjoy!  (You can find a recipe for Posole with Tepary Beans, Pilt’kan ch Ba’bawi Posh’oldt, on our May 8, 2015 Savorthesouthwest post.  Google posole de trigo for many great versions, some with chicken, some with beef, some vegetarian.)

You can find out more about this FREE event full of fun and local flavors at http://www.tucsonsbirthplace.org or at MissionGarden.Tucson@gmail.com   or by calling 520 955-5200.  Here are details for Día de San Ysidro Labrador, our Traditional Tucson Farmers’ Festival,  Reviving A Celebration of our fields and farmers.  Put next Saturday, May 13, 2017, on your iPhone calendar right now.  Procession begins at 9:00 a.m.  Activities, music, booths, and hopefully the posole will last to 11:30 a.m.

  • Mariachi Los Changuitos Feos
  • Alabanza by Bobby Benton
  • Native American four-directions blessing
  • Presentation by Father Gregory Adolf
  • Ceremonial wheat harvest, threshing & winnowing
  • Blessing of fields, food, and animals
  • Tohono O’Odham Dancers
  • Tasting of Pozole de trigo

Notecards with the legend of San Ysidro, from a colorful mosaic yours truly Tia Marta created from 21 Heirloom Beans, will be available for sale–along with many other traditional native foods–at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH booth.  Come see a demonstration of whole kernel White Sonora Wheat being cooked in the solar oven!

San Ysidro Fiesta is a Baja Arizona feast of knowledge and tradition to be shared–come and enjoy our diverse community in the fruitful Mission Garden!

Wheat harvest at Tucson’s Mission Garden–where heirloom wheat brings us together– (MABurgess photo)




Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, heirloom beans, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, herbs, medicinal plant, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Festive Food and Farm Celebration

a multicultural Tohono O'odham round dance at Mission Garden's San Ysidro Fiesta (DenaCowan photo)

A multicultural Tohono O’odham round dance at Mission Garden’s San Ysidro Fiesta (DenaCowan photo)

Celebrating our food–from its source……Celebrating the farmers who grow it, their farming traditions, our culinary ways, and the amazing tastes that come from our Sonoran Desert soil…..This is so BAJA ARIZONA!– SO TUCSON!

Tia Marta here inviting you to join the prayers, the music, the feasting together in our multi-cultural community this Saturday:  It is one of the Old Pueblo’s traditional festivals–saluting the people who grow our food–La Fiesta de San Ysidro Labrador,  patron saint of farmers and gardeners–to be held this SATURDAY, MAY 14, and not to be missed.  The feast, its activities and  ceremony have been revived by Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace at the Mission Garden,  the site of the original San Augustin Mission Garden at the base of A-Mountain.

A traditional grain-threshing ground prepared for action at San Ysidro Fiesta (MABurgess photo)

A traditional grain-threshing ground prepared for action at San Ysidro Fiesta (MABurgess photo)

Harvesting heirloom wheat at San Ysidro Fiesta, Mission Garden--living history we can eat! (DenaCowan photo)

Harvesting heirloom wheat at San Ysidro Fiesta, Mission Garden–living history we can eat! (DenaCowan photo)


It promises to be a most colorful event, with Tohono O’odham dancers singing for rain and a healthy crop, Native blessings of the ground, mariachi music, and a chance for everyone–young or “veteran”– to experience the actual harvesting of our heirloom wheat (grains introduced about 350 years ago by missionaries and adopted early on by Native residents) on a real threshing floor known as an “era” where the precious grain is separated from its straw and chaff.  For a neat trip into living history, there will be volunteer historians dressed in Presidio Period costume to enliven the early-Schukshon atmosphere.

Heirloom PimaClub wheat maturing at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom PimaClub wheat maturing at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom PimaClub wheat ripe and ready at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom PimaClub wheat ripe and ready at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)


It really matters that we meet our food before it arrives on our plates, get to know it even before it arrives at the market or grocery.  It matters that we know the soil in which our food is grown, and to know the person(s) whose hands have tended it–the person who has sung to it, prayed for it with hope and then thanksgiving.

Seedheads that were fat and green in the “milk stage” last month are now dry on the stalks, a beautiful straw-color, ready to cut and thresh.  Pima Club wheat, which had been saved by NativeSeeds/SEARCH as a gift from Native farmers over 34 years ago, is now being grown again by San Xavier Coop Association and available for sale from their shop and at the Thursday Santa  Cruz farmers’ market.

Heirloom white Sonora wheat maturing (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom white Sonora wheat maturing (MABurgess photo)

White Sonora Wheat swelling green last month is plump and dry, some of it already bundled in the traditional way to be threshed this weekend.  Bring the kids to learn how their morning cereal or toast begins–what it has to go through before it becomes their breakfast!

Heirloom white Sonora wheat in a traditional bundle ready to thresh (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom white Sonora wheat in a traditional bundle ready to thresh (MABurgess photo)

Certified organic White Sonora Wheat is now being grown commercially by one of our oldest and most respected Chinese families at BKWFarms in Marana, supplying local bakeries like Barrio Bakery and Big Skye Bakers with low-gluten, heirloom organic flour, and several local micro-breweries like Dragoon, Borderlands and Sentinel Peak with the makings of the best wheat-beers.

Heirloom Magdalena barley in the "milk stage" at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom Magdalena barley in the “milk stage” at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Heirloom Magdalena barley, still being grown by traditional farmers in Magdalena, Sonora, was brought to Mission Garden by bi-cultural botanist and heirloom fruit tree expert Jesus Garcia.  Notice in the photos how different this ancient barley is from the wheat grains.  Our heirloom wheats, unlike modern wheats, do not have much of a “beard” or awn sticking up making the seedhead appear “hairy”.  Our heirloom wheats are “beard-less.”  Awns on this heirloom Magdalena barley form curly and kinky “beards.”

Ripe Magdalena barley ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Ripe Magdalena barley ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Inside, nutritionally, barley grain (and its flour) is one of the most healthy of grains, with the lowest glycemic index (important especially for those with blood-sugar issues.)



The grinning reaper (MABurgess photo)

The grinning reaper (MABurgess photo)

So come, celebrate, and meet your food where it starts, where food has been cultivated for the Tucson communities and cultures continuously through time for 4100 years!


On May 14, 2016, you’ll also meet gardener-neighbors from local organizations with information to share about traditional foods (SanXavierCoopAssociation, NativeSeeds/SEARCH, Flor de Mayo), herbal medicines (TucsonHerbalistCollective), innovative gardening ideas (AvalonGardens.org), children’s activities (IronwoodtreeExperience), and Tucson’s rich history (TucsonPresidioMuseum, Friends of Tucson’s birthplace).

We will feast together with Posole de Trigo, the traditional dish honoring San Ysidro Labrador, made with white Sonora wheat-berries and vegetables grown right on-site at Mission Garden by the caring hands of many devoted volunteers –bless them!   (A fabulous recipe for Posole de Trigo Sonoran-style is in an EdibleBajaArizona article by Bill Steen worth trying at home–Find it online at  http://ediblebajaarizona.com/a-personal-posole.)

Check out archived May 8, 2015 and May 12, 2014 posts on this blog for more beautiful illustrations, recipes and stories about San Ysidro.

Showy medicinal hollyhocks planted at Mission Garden by Tucson Herbalist Collective (MABurgess photo)

Showy medicinal hollyhocks planted at Mission Garden by Tucson Herbalist Collective (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta and Bro Rod will be at the Flor de Mayo tent at the San Ysidro Fiesta sharing a diversity of Southwestern heirloom foods to cook for yourself or to grow in your garden.  We’ll have notecard images of my heirloom bean mosaic of San Ysidro available.  Come by to see white Sonora wheat-berries cooking in the solar oven.  Local organic wheat-berries with great recipes are available in gift bags by the half or whole pound from http://www.flordemayoarts.com or from the Presidio Museum Gift Shop (196 N.Court, Tucson), the BaggesenFamilyBeanBooth at Sunday StPhilipsFarmersMkt, at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store (3061 N.Campbell,Tucson), and at the Wiwpul Du’ag store (SanXavierMissionPlaza).

Here are the details for planning your SATURDAY, MAY 14, 2016,   9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m :

Día de San Ysidro Labrador Traditional Tucson Farmers’ Festival, sponsored by Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace (www.tucsonsbirthplace.org)

Procession from The Future Tucson Origins heritage Park to Mission Garden begins 9:00 a.m. then

• Mariachi Milagro
• Alabanza by Bobby Benton
• Presentation by Michael M. Brescia, Ph.D. • Native American four-directions blessing • Ceremonial wheat harvest
• Blessing of fields, food, and animals
• Desert Indian Dancers from San Xavier
• Tasting of Pozole de trigo

 For more details email  MissionGarden.Tucson@gmail.com or call  520 777 9270
See you there for this special BAJA ARIZONA celebration–another reason Tucson has been named an International City of Gastronomy.   Those grass-roots are bearing grain!
Heirloom bean mosaic of San Ysidro Labrador created by artist/ethnobotanist MABurgess

Heirloom bean mosaic of San Ysidro Labrador created by artist/ethnobotanist MABurgess

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, heirloom beans, herbs, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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