Written By: Laura Monti Sr. Fellow, Borderlands Restoration Network
Rising at dawn on scorching summer desert mornings, groups of Seri or Comcaac Indians of Sonora Mexico fan out through the dense mesquite bosques of the Sonoran Desert to collect ripe pods from the mesquite tree, following the ancient foodways of their ancestors. Adding a modern twist to their traditional open fire roasting and mortar-pestle grinding, these modern desert harvesters roast the mesquite pods in a rotating toaster and then grind them using a hammer mill- producing over 100 pounds of nutritious flour during the summer of 2018. In addition to making the traditional mesquite atole, a cool sweet cinnamon flavored beverage- the indigenous women entrepreneurs prepare a variety delicious mesquite products for their community and for sale commercially. Tortillas, mesquite empanadas filled with cactus fruit, smoothies, cookies, and pizza are sold at community festivals, and are fed to youth at school and to conservation teams working to protect mesquite and ironwood tree habitat. These mesquite foods provide a healthy alternative to junk food and soda and help to prevent diabetes in young people, which is increasing at an alarming rate throughout the community. In addition to these community nutrition benefits, the mesquite tree provides habitat for hundreds of species and nourishes the soil. Young Comcaac conservation leaders are monitoring the coastal desert forests of mesquite-ironwood and mangrove habitat to prevent over exploitation by outsiders. The social enterprise provides critical income for over 25 harvesters preventing hunger during the gaps in their summer fishing season. To support these community nutrition and conservation efforts, the flour is sold commercially in Sonora and in the U.S. The Comcaac health and conservation projects are co-sponsored by Borderlands Restoration Network, Prescott College Kino Bay Center For Cultural and Ecological Studies and the University of Arizona Next-Generation of Sonoran Desert Researchers. The flour can be purchased at Red Mountain Foods in Patagonia, Arizona.
Left: Ancient Seri mesquite grinding area in Comcaac territory.
Right: Desert Harvesters and Conservation Leaders Vilma Morales, Veronica Molina, Azucena Morales, Manuel Monroy
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