Posts Tagged With: heirloom fruit trees

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 or at   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

Celebrating la Fiesta de San Ysidro Labrador

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.

Retablo, painting on metal of San Ysidro plowing with angel, in style of traditional New Mexico folk arts.  From Burns/Drees Collection (Photo MABurgess)

Retablo, painting on metal of San Ysidro plowing with angel, in style of traditional New Mexico folk arts. From Burns/Drees Collection (Photo MABurgess)

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.

San Ysidro retablo art, courtesy of Friends of Tucson's Birthplace

San Ysidro retablo art, courtesy of Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace

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!

NW Mexico craft-arts collector and expert Dr.Barney T.Burns with santo of SanYsidro showing the oxen and angels.

NW Mexico craft-arts collector and expert Dr.Barney T.Burns with santo of SanYsidro showing the oxen and angels. (photo MABurgess)


Cottonwood root carving by Mayo Indian, Sinaloa, Mexico, depicting San Ysidro with ox, plow, corn motif, and angel watching him.  From Burns...Drees Collection (photo MABurgess)

Cottonwood root carving by Mayo Indian, Sinaloa, Mexico, depicting San Ysidro with ox, plow, corn motif, and angel watching him. From Burns…Drees Collection (photo MABurgess)

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!

A mosaic of 21 heirloom beans and seeds by artist MABurgess, depicting the angel plowing for San Ysidro Labrador. (photo  Notecards available at NativeSeeds/SEARCH and

A mosaic of 21 heirloom beans and seeds by artist MABurgess, depicting the angel plowing for San Ysidro Labrador. (photo Notecards available at NativeSeeds/SEARCH and

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!

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