Sunday, October 21, 2018

Tucson a hub for Ecotourism? Maybe...Share your preferences for our Tourism Master Plan

As part of their effort to create a 10-year tourism master plan, Visit Tucson is seeking insights from people who live and work in Metro Tucson. Responses to the survey (link below) will help those involved in this planning effort to better understand and respond to the community's experience and quality of life issues. It takes an estimated 15 minutes to complete

This is your chance to share your vision of a sustainable Tucson. For me, that includes restoring the Santa Cruz with a riparian area that would attract more of our state's ecotourism visitors to Tucson. Tourism brings in 23 billion dollars to Arizona. Ecotourism is a big part of that. Bird watchers come from around the world to enjoy the Sky Island's biodiversity. Developing our bike routes, increasing our tree cover, improving our air quality, and even keeping trash picked up will enhance that experience and inspire those tourists to include Tucson in their vacation plans. Expanding green infrastructure and complete streets with shady sidewalks and safe bike paths would encourage visitors and Tucsonans to slow down and enjoy local businesses (instead of rushing them out of town - which widening Broadway would do...)

What is your vision for Tucson? Would you like to ride your bike along a flowing river surrounded by twisty mesquite? Enjoy the sight of hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators fluttering around desert shrubs and local art in a traffic calming median? Shop at a farmers market in your neighborhood? Enjoy community events and music in an outdoor arena? 

This is your chance to share your preferences with Visit Tucson. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

What's Up with the Proposed Rosemont Mine

If you’ve been looking at the newspaper recently, you may have seen an op-ed from the Tucson Chamber of Commerce saying that it is time for us all to stop “fighting” and for the Rosemont mine to start. That was followed by a number of letters to the editor that clearly explained why the mine is a really bad deal for southern Arizona.

At Sustainable Tucson's October 9th meeting, Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, gave us an update on what is happening and what is likely to happen in the near future. It isn't a done deal. Several organizations, including Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and the Tohono O'odham nation are suing the mine.

Filmmaker Frances Causey also screened her documentary about the Rosemont Mine:

Ours Is The Land” is a short film that depicts in moving and powerful detail the spiritual, cultural, and physical connection of the Tohono O’odham people of Arizona to Ce:wi Duag or the Santa Rita Mountains which are imperiled by the proposed creation of the mile-wide, half-mile deep Rosemont open pit copper mine. Desecrating this revered area with a mine would fundamentally alter the cultural landscape of the Tohono O’odham nation.

More information at:

What I learned from this presentation: The proposed mine will be built in one of the most biologically diverse regions of the country.  Ecotourism is a big boom to our 23 billion dollar tourist industry. Birdwatchers come from around the world to enjoy it. If the mine goes through, tourists will get a clear view of the huge, gaping pit as they drive down scenic highway 83. The economic impact of the 400 jobs that the mine will create won't begin to equal even 1 % of what ecotourism brings to our state economy. The mine is expected to be in operation for 20 years, but the devastation to the region's diverse ecosystem and our water supply will last for hundreds of years.  

Impact on our water supply: The mine will be nearly 1 mile deep -  below the level of the aquifer and the ranchers' wells. That same aquifer provides Tucson with 20% of our water.  And the toxic tailings will end up in our water. When the mine stops running it will become a huge toxic lake.  The Rosemont mine has been formed into a limited liability company - so they will leave it for tax payers to clean up. We have an antiquated law in Arizona that allows mines to use as much water as they want.  All this during a drought that has drastically reduced the water level in Lake Mead where we get our CAP allotment.

The documentary "Cyanide Beach" tells how the directors of the Rosemont mine were also on the board of Augusta. They promised the people of Sardinia, Italy that they would clean up the poisonous tailings left from their open pit gold mine, but instead they left a toxic lake that threatens the town's water supply.

Please, write a letter to the editor telling how the Rosemont mine will personally impact you, your business or your family. Be sure to follow the guidelines and word count limit of the target publication (up to 150 words for the Arizona Daily Star.)

More information:

Robert Vint: Environmental degradation caused by Rosemont would last forever

Some lesser known history on Arizona's mining tradition:


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Engaging the Next Generation

OK. I realize that my enthusiasm for sustainability sounds like the ramblings of Charlie Brown's teacher to my teenage son. (Perhaps a bit more strident...)

My boys squawk at the idea of carrying out the rinse water to irrigate our edible plants. In their defense, they weren't raised in a sustainable household. During my past marriage, we did some half-hearted recycling and that was as far as it went.

So how do you get apathetic teens interested in sustainable living? Looking back at my youth, I recall how I absolutely HATED picking green beans on my Nana's farm. But her legacy lovingly hangs over me as I tend my own little desert garden. So who knows? There may be hope for my boys.

A teachable moment presented itself when Dan and I had to go away for a long weekend. The boys generously agreed to water our yard and garden while we were away. I took the opportunity to not only give them directions, but to explain - in detail - why we do what we do. They seemed a little distracted at the time. Josh was texting his girlfriend... But we came home to thriving plants. (And a pile of dog shit, but that's another story.) I'm not sure this had much of an impact on their lives - yes, I'm still the one taking out the sink water - but hopefully it planted the seeds. Joshua admitted later that he had actually enjoyed being out in nature. Jeremy shared a story on how he saw a scruffy coyote staring hungrily at the squirrels on the other side of our garden fence. (Yes, those are the same squirrels that perch on the back wall ready to pounce on my beloved tomatoes the minute they turn red.) Of course, I'm glad the little critters are alright!

Recently, another opportunity to reach my youngest son presented itself. Since graduating high school, Jeremy has been doggedly pursuing his passion for stand-up comedy. He hits a different open mic every night. I found a way to use this interest to get him to research sustainable principles. I invited him to MC Sustainable Tucson's impromptu storytelling activity "Tales of the Future" at our tent at Discover Local Day. He has to come up with four sample stories on the theme of "Tucson's sustainable future." Sure, this is nepotism. But it's worth it. I am so proud of him for rising to the challenge. He may never become another Brad Lancaster, but he has already come up with some pretty funny shit.

Yes, sometimes it's discouraging that more teens aren't getting on board with fighting climate change (UA Students for Sustainability and Compost Cats are exceptions.) But this success with Jeremy inspired me to reach out to other teens by taking advantage of their personal interests.

The Sustainable Tucson organizing team needed to come up with some activities for our tent at Discover Local Day. After participating in Living Streets Alliance's community hearings on Complete Streets, I was inspired to do an activity on "Planning your Neighborhood." Instead of just taking a crack at it myself, I invited Changemaker High School art students to design and make it. Their principal was delighted that the students would learn about complete, walkable streets while honing their critical thinking skills. Last night at their open house, one of the students, Jasmine, excitedly showed off her work on the project. Gotta admit that made my day! 

So how did this little experiment in engaging our teens turn out?

I'm eternally grateful to Jasmine for planning the street map. (One less thing I had to do!) The students used the neighborhood around their school as inspiration. Four guys painted houses, businesses, streets and the Swan Wash on the tabletop. It turned out to be more difficult than first imagined. The paint wouldn't stick to the plastic coating.  But the students solved the problem by taking off the plastic coating.

There were also challenges with making the movable pieces. The class tried small wooden squares cut to scale with the street map. They were too tiny to paint on! They eventually used a set of children's building blocks (not painted to scale.) To be honest, not all of the Changemaker art students got into to the "Planning Your Neighborhood" project.  They had their own projects. But I'm proud of the ones who worked on it. It wasn't an easy task!

So how did my little act of nepotism work out? Immediately after being hired to MC our storytelling tent, Jeremy went off to his room to brainstorm ideas. He was inspired to write a couple of stories right away. He patiently listened as I shared sustainable principles.  He read my story prompts (as promised) and came up with more ideas. He was actually a delight to work with. He even brainstormed some ideas with me.  I gave him the idea to use the lion character he had developed for a speech and debate competition. He ran with it. He came up with a hilarious story about a mountain lion escaping from the Desert Museum when the power goes out.

I'm so glad I asked Jeremy to MC. I think it was good for our relationship! Jeremy had an excellent attitude. He even agreed to help out as needed.  On the morning of the event, a groggy Jeremy got up and helped (a little) in loading the van.  When I needed more signs, he drew them.

Discover Local Day (October 14th) 

The day started off slow. There wasn't enough foot traffic at our location behind the Tucson Museum of Art to gather much of an audience for storytelling - despite my miked announcement of Mayor Rothschild's participation.  But Jeremy took the storytelling stage and introduced him. The Mayor gamely shared the city council's efforts to make Tucson more sustainable - including how the park bond would include safe bike paths.

Changemaker's "Design Your Neighborhood" activity was well received. It was a good vehicle for educating participants on complete streets and water-harvesting features. I also used it to lure audience members into our storytelling tent. While families played, I asked the parents if their children liked stories about lions. Then I made Jeremy tell his mountain lion story for them. He must have told that story five times! Sustainable Tucson member Stuart Moody joined in by telling stories suited for kids.

Later in the day, there were a couple of magic moments when community members joined our volunteers in the audience. There was a real sense of community as people listened to each other and responded with stories of their own.

Tactical Urbanism Block Party (October 20th)

When we arrived at  Sixth Avenue and Seventh Street, there were volunteers of all ages painting the intersection bright colors. It was an amazing sight! 

Jasmine, from Changemaker High School, showed up just in time to help us set up the tent. She was indispensable! We spent most of the morning tying down everything to secure it against the wind.  A resourceful volunteer from Living Street Alliance brought by plastic donation buckets filled with water to weigh down the corners of the tent. When the wind blew them over, we filled them up with soil that Tank's Green Stuff had generously donated. We taped paper on the table, so the kids would have a place to draw that wouldn't fly away. When we finally got everything secured, Jasmine demonstrated the "Design Your Neighborhood" activity. She did a great job representing her school and Sustainable Tucson. 

After the event, Jasmine asked me to let her know about the next Sustainable Tucson meeting. She might have some other students who would be interested in attending.  I learned an important lesson -  if we want more teens involved, we need to make an effort to engage them. Then show up to show support.  It is so worth it. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Purslane Season Extended!

This year I was delighted to have lots of the good purslane (common purslane) growing around my front yard. Three large patches grew up between the two piles of gravel Dan dug up. Purslane loves gravel!

I always feel a pang of regret at the end of the purslane season. Once the purslane gets those pretty little yellow flowers, it is already becoming less palatable. Then the pinkish green stems get thick and woody and start drying up.

After some discouraging gardening experiences (infrequent summer rains and critters devouring my carefully tended tomatoes, eggplant and mint ) I was heartened by the recent rains that gifted me with a second season of this native edible plant.

Clever volunteer taking advantage of my daily watering of the loquat tree 

Along side of the lone survivors in my summer garden (bean stalks and self replanting chard) the purslane I planted from seed is growing nicely. (I rinsed off the purslane over a bowl and the little black seeds sunk to the bottom. I just poured them onto the spot I wanted them.)

I'm grateful for one last taste of summer.

Potato, tomato, cilantro, onion, lime and purslane salad! Yum! 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Crazy Weed Lady

Just after it rains is the best time to pull out weeds. So when I awoke this morning, I rushed outside in my bare feet to take advantage of the wet ground. Out there pulling weeds, got me wondering if the neighbors ever think, "There goes that crazy weed lady with the disheveled hair."

Earth mother that I am, I like to go barefoot to feel the ground under my feet. So I pick all of the sticker weeds - like the dreaded goat heads - before they go to seed.  (Especially seeking out those that disguise themselves with pretty yellow or purple flowers.)

sticker weed on neighbor's side
Sometimes, I'll be weeding along the property line, and I see some sticker weeds in my neighbor's yard. I'll just grab those too while I'm out there.  And that little one over there... Soon I'll end up picking all the weeds on that side of their house. I practice what I would say if the neighbor caught me pulling their weeds... "Just bein' neighborly, ma'am! You know...random acts of it forward...and all that." At least their stickers won't get tracked into my yard! And maybe, just maybe I won't get woken up at the break of dawn by a noisy weed-whacker!

I'll admit I drive Dan crazy by stopping to pull out a weed in a neighbor's right of way on our walk to the store. There are two benefits for me: to catch the sticker plants before they take over their whole yard and get tracked into mine while (hopefully) discouraging them from using weed killer in our neighborhood.

You might recall I had some run-ins with a certain landscaper who insists on spraying Roundup in our neighborhood. Remember this photo on facebook?

 Poisoning by T.D.T. 
This guy said, "If the city can use it, so can we."  Then a member of the "landscape advisory committee" stood up at a city council meeting and asking them to spray pre-emergent on all of the city property before monsoon rains brought out more weeds.  That was the last straw! Even the Pima Department of Environmental Quality's G.I. manual states that herbicides seep into our ground water.  I wrote the mayor and my city council member urging them to stop spraying the ineffectual weed killer. The mayor forwarded my e-mail to an expert who agreed with my assessment. I'm waiting to hear back from the landscaping committee.

Found on Aug. 7, 2018
I wasn't always obsessed with weeds. Dan started it!  In an early blog, I expressed my shock when Dan weeded our overgrown garden only to turn around and cover it with Bermuda grass clippings!

chard we grew in Bermuda weed mulch
Since then, we have successfully used Bermuda grass as mulch in our garden and around baby trees. No new Bermuda grass came up. I'll repeat that... No new Bermuda grass came up. Now I harvest Bermuda grass for mulch and compost! Bermuda grass is so abundant in our desert. Why shouldn't we put it to good use?  You just have to be sure to gather it before it goes to seed.

Speaking of crazy... I wonder what the neighbors thought of Dan out there in the heat of the day digging up Bermuda grass (a foot deep) to make a right of way catchment basin - and then purposely transplanting native grass into that basin! (This is actually a thing. The native grass works with the wood chip mulch as a sponge to keep the ground moist. Native plants also prevent erosion on the sides of the basin.)

Last year, Dan looked on in dismay as I picked the Bermuda grass in the easement behind our house... and the neighbors' house. But there was method to my madness! I was making room for the edible weeds to come up. And it worked! We had an alleyway buffet of amaranth and purslane!

Remember this sign?

our alleyway buffet
This year I posted a bigger sign, but so far there aren't as many edible weeds. Was it because of the slow, erratic monsoon season? Maybe the lizards are getting all the amaranth? Usually, purslane comes up after the second or third rain. Maybe it can't take the record heat either.

So... I've had to resort to finding my purslane elsewhere. I've been known to pull out weeds in front of the neighborhood steakhouse, so they won't start spraying poison on them. There were three huge patches of purslane under the downspout from their giant roof. One day I grabbed a big bunch on the way to the bus stop and put it into my reusable grocery bag. (Caution: stinging ants under the weeds.) Of course, it's always a good idea to ask the owner if they use weed killer. If you're not sure, you can still liberate that purslane and replant the roots in your own yard. That's how I got a nice row of purslane in my garden last summer.

I have two pitchers full of purslane that I nibble on throughout the day.  During purslane season, I like to throw it into everything: soups, salads, scrambles, and sauces. (Well, everything starting with "s.")

The other night, I used a big bunch to make one of my favorite purslane dishes: verdologas stew! YUM!

Scroll down the blogs on this link for more of my favorite purslane recipes.

So there are good weeds and bad weeds. I leave the good weeds where I want them and pull the bad.

I spent the better part of one summer trying to eradicate the Russian thistle from the alleyway and our garden.

Russian thistle right next to our fenced in food garden...
This weed would climb up the fence and throw it's pink seeds into our garden.  Everyday I had to pull the tiny weeds out of the garden, making sure to get the whole root so it wouldn't come back. These were so invasive that I would pull them out in the easement behind other people's houses too - so they wouldn't spread back to my garden.

I was successful at getting rid of the Russian thistle. Here's a picture of that same spot last November. The ground was so rich from the decomposing weeds and leaves that we grew a 3 Sisters garden without any fertilizer - just a thin layer of wood chip mulch.

This patch was overgrown with Russian thistle.
Here I'm watering some cowpeas that survived the hot summer.

That's odviously amaranth! 
Remember my blog, "Are you a good weed or a bad weed?" Immediately after posting it, there was a rush of views. But viewership slowed way down once people realized that I wasn't talking about another infamous weed. Come on, guys! I'm not that kind of weed lady!

I'll bestow the virtues of edible weeds on anyone who will listen and even some who won't (much to the horror of my teenage son). Hey, they'll be glad to have that food security if we ever have an emergency where Mexico and California stop delivering us produce.

On the way home from the store yesterday, I noticed some amaranth growing in a neighbor's yard. I knocked on the door and asked if they were going to eat the edible weeds growing there. Because if they weren't, I could save them the effort of picking it by foraging it myself.

Yep, I'm the crazy weed lady. I own it. But - seriously - Dan started it!

More Information:

What common weeds have to offer the organic gardener and how to keep them from taking over

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Stories of the Orchard

After a gallant effort to keep the monastery open, the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration finally had to close their beloved home in February and return to the mother house in Clyde, Missouri. This was a sad day for the Sisters, the congregation and for our Tucson community. There has been considerable coverage about the developer, city council and neighborhood associations battling it out over the details of the development plans for the monastery property.

I would like go to a happier place and share some lesser known stories about the Benedictine orchard and garden that nourished the Sisters and our community for over 70 years. I want to thank Sister Cecilia Rose, Sister Joan Ridley, and the community members for sharing their stories.

I met Sister Cecilia Rose after the neighborhood meeting at the Monastery. She kindly agreed to speak with me in the orchard. 

As Sister Cecilia Rose shared her memories in the lovely Benedictine Monastery orchard and garden, I pictured nuns in full habits and veils up on scaffolds hand selecting date palms. As the summer breeze ruffled leaves, I could almost make out the laughter of the sisters acting out the disciples reeling in 153 fish. Sister Cecilia Rose shared so many happy memories! So many acts of generosity! Knights of Columbus families picking and juicing oranges as the aging nuns kept the younger children busy. Iskashitaa refugees holding nets under fearless tree climbers.

The first memory that Sister Cecilia Rose shared as she entered the orchard...

Sr. Cecilia Rose – memories:
We used to come out here for recreation in the early days because we didn’t have that much contact with people. Because we were considered semi-cloistered.  We’d perform biblical scenes to entertain ourselves. -- fish that the disciples brought in - in that story after the resurrection. The disciples weren’t catching anything. And Jesus was standing on the shore. He said throw it on the other side so they caught a whole net full.

We had a Sister behind the bush. And we were acting like we were tossing a net to bring in the fish. But it was actually a volleyball net. We had a sister playing Jesus who said, “Throw it on the other side.” We threw it out there into the bush and the Sister (whose laundry number was 153) got into the net and we started reining her in.

Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn” (John 21:11)

We used to do things like that to entertain ourselves. We didn’t have television. We didn’t have radio. We didn’t have anything like that. We didn’t have computers. We just had each other and your spiritual director and especially in the beginning you had your postulant director who tried to introduce you to what the schedule would be and how you were supposed to act. The reason we were called the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration is because we prayed for the whole world, for all people for all time. There was a reverence you were to have about everything, because the Benedictine’s had this rule that all objects were to be treated as if vessels of the altar. So you should have a reverence for everything and everyone. Because Christ is the one who gives life. Creation is a part of us and must be honored.

A little history

The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration moved to Tucson from the Midwest in 1935 and onto the Country Club road property in 1940. First thing they did was dig a well. No “city water” existed then. 

"They started planning right away how they were going to use the land. Because when they first got out here there was nothing around them. You could walk out in the desert and you wouldn’t meet anyone. Some of the sisters were from Germany, so they didn’t know what a cactus was," shared Sr. Cecilia Rose 

Community Garden

Sr. Cecilia Rose – memories:
There was a community garden, one of over 30 operated by the Community Gardens of Tucson. It was opened up in 2008. It was open to anyone who wanted a plot as long as they took care of it. They had to pay $15 a month for water, CGT expenses for piping, fencing and administration. We had a garden manager who would see if anyone wasn’t taking care of their plot, he would take it away from them and give it to someone else. I had a plot. I tried to grow lettuce and I tried to grow celery, I think it was. Something that we could bring in. I did bring in something but it sure didn’t last long. Trying to feed, at that time, 30 people here, 3 or 4 heads of lettuce was gone in one meal. 

Terry Moss – memories:
The Benedictine garden meant a lot to me. It was such a beautiful, tranquil spiritual space. I would usually come very early in the morning, sometimes as the sun was rising. First there was the beautiful sight of the monastery. Then after walking past the fountain and listening to the trickling of the water, almost like a mountain stream, you would come into the garden and the cityscape disappeared. Often Sister Cecilia Rose would appear looking for the church dog who would usually have already come to greet me. To see a sister in garments in the early morning light was also a look into times past. It was a comforting feeling, especially knowing that she was a person praying for peace in the world. I would often leave extra vegetables for her. She would tell me how the cook had integrated them into the previous night's meal. What a wonderful feeling to be able to have your vegetables enjoyed by such a loving group of people.

Often I would walk to the enclosed courtyard garden that was a part of the church. I would leave my extra garden bounty there for them to fetch and use. It was also to admire the rare sight of a decades old fruiting avocado tree. It almost was saying "Only here in this courtyard could I thrive in Tucson". It was loved and protected.

To me community gardens say "Tucson". They make me feel proud to live here. It is probably part of the reason why Tucson has been named a Unesco City of Gastronomy.

Richard Roati – memories:
I tagged along with Jesus Garcia as he took cuttings from the Valencia orange trees for grafting at Mission Garden. It was like stepping back in time being in this orchard that is nearly as old as the monastery itself, being more than 75 years old. Jesus identified plants including Tucson’s oldest and largest and best producing avocado tree, three varieties of pomegranate that can only be found at the orchard, a sapote tree, a unique large sweet lime, and a date and citrus orchard, among other trees. Thanks to years of care from the nuns, a University of Arizona arborist, and many others, I was delighted to see that all of the trees are currently in good condition. 

DATE PALM TREES -- Nuns up on scaffolding

Sr. Joan Ridley, historical background:
Date palms, that were planted in the 1940s, are interspersed among the orange trees and elsewhere. They have a glorious history. When the trees were of ‘picking’ height, the sisters themselves (with a ladder or low scaffold) used to hand pollinate and hand select and pick the dates as they ripened. [Not all dates on the same stalk ripen at the same time]. Then they cured the dates in some ancient machinery involving gas, pitted them and made hand crafted delectable Date Candies, boxed in lovely arrangements for sale. In fact, there was a sign at the front door of the monastery “Dates for Sale”. That wording may have caused some confusion!

Date trees grow tall fairly quickly and the diameter of the trunk varies from year to year depending on water conditions. Though we watered them with well water, the trunks have ‘narrower’ spots and they are now very tall. In the last 20 years, we had to hire a professional, who used either a scissor lift or cleats on shoes, to climb them and cut down fronds - trying to guess when the most dates are ripe. It is not a very successful outcome as for getting edible dates. But we got some, cleaned and bagged them. Over the years, about half of the date palm trees have fallen down in high winds or been removed due to danger to the monastery if they would fall.

- Sr. Joan Ridley, the last superior of the monastery

Sr. Cecilia Rose – memories:
In the early days, the sisters did all the picking. (They would be up there in their full habits and veils.) But our sisters were getting too old. Especially when it was time to pick the dates. One of the sisters fell from the scaffolding. And that was no joke. She landed on her back. It’s a wonder she wasn’t hurt. To me that was a miracle because she fell on the sidewalk. The Knights of Columbus were with us all along. They did just about everything. Anything we needed they would do. When the sister fell, they said, “We can do that too.” 


Sr. Joan Ridley, some historical background:
About 35-40 orange trees were planted in the 1940s. In the last 10 years we have had to take down about 1/3 of them due to age and gradual failure. Their frailty may have been compounded by a long-ago landscape employee who trimmed off all the low branches, exposing the trunks to the hot sun and then painting them WHITE [!] -- we are not sure. The original trees are not a particularly rare type of orange tree. They are VALENCIA oranges, a very nice smaller orange for juicing, often planted in the big commercial groves in California and Florida, and a few groves in Tucson [think “Orange Grove Rd”]. New, replacement orange trees are of other varieties sold in nurseries.

Sr. Cecilia Rose – memories:
In recent years, the Knights of Columbus would bring their whole families here to pick the oranges. So we just had a regular picnic for them. We would set up something for them to get drinks. Try to entertain the kids and stuff like that. Try to get them to do things for you like “Can you take that orange juice over to your mother?”

We had an old machine that would juice the oranges. And they would do all the juicing for us. They would put juice in these one gallon containers. There was about 100-150 gallons each year. And we would put them in the deep freeze. We always gave them a one gallon container for coming. Or usually they wanted oranges because we had a lot at that time. We always gave oranges away because we had too many. We’d be doing all this juicing and we’d give the juice away, too. And we’d give them as Christmas gifts too - to people who’d been so good to us.

Sr. Joan Ridley – memories:
That’s what we did; harvested the oranges and juiced them with an old commercial juicer. It took about 40 volunteers to get the oranges off the trees in one day, sort for size, and wash them. Then it took another 4 volunteers several days to juice them. We froze the juice and used it all year round. We would give about half the oranges, that were too small for the juicer, to one of those organizations around town who will come get the fruit from homeowners who either were too elderly or no longer have an interest in picking the citrus fruit from their trees. (Usually they pick; but we were able to.) We irrigated the trees with well water. They are certainly something we used, loved and appreciated for over 70 years, but I am not sure they are worth a big fuss at this point.

Iskashitaa Refugee Network gleaning. 

Iskashitaa Refugee Network

Amelia Natoli - memories: 
One of my memories in the Benedictine orchard is harvesting fruit with Iskashitaa Refugee Network. We sometimes brought a group of resettled refugees there to pick citrus. One of our goals is getting our volunteers out into the community, and interacting with a variety of people around town. The sisters were very welcoming, and the orchard was a pleasant respite in the middle of the city.

Barbara Eiswerth – memories:
We have had multiple years picking, perhaps as far back as the last 5-6 years. When Sister Ramona starting harvesting the dates again (after a hiatus due to lost internal local food knowledge), Iskashitaa thought they could learn or offer their global expertise. After offering to sponsor their date palm tree harvest fees (at that point $25/tree), we lobbied Bartlett Tree Experts to lend their time, sweat, palm expertise, and bucket trucks. Bartlett folks were great and generous. One year, they had highly experienced tree climbers harvest with Iskashitaa- a treacherous job from our viewpoint. With a small fire brigade-like crew below the date palm, yelling, “jump, jump” for the dates to drop into our community held net. What an experience and new appreciation for the arborist and the landscaper’s work and especially those who climb palms of any sort. As a show of appreciation, Iraqi refugees gifted Iskashitaa made date rewards to the monastery sisters and Bartlett - including bottles of date syrup and date vinegar made from fermented date pulp. Definitely think yum yum. The sisters used to dry the dates in the large ovens in their enormous basement using only the pilot light, then package and sell in the gift shop after the nuns had their fill. They fed community goats substandard dates that were not grade A. This was a win-win collaboration between mother earth and faith-based, non-profit and for-profit entities.

--Barbara Eiswerth, Founder Iskashitaa Refugee Network

 Sister Mary Estelle pours coffee. Courtesy Arizona Daily Star
The Egg Lady

-Sr. Cecilia Rose – memories:
We had what we called the “Egg Lady” here at one time, Sister Mary Estelle. From 1974-1981, the people would come and she would give them three eggs and a cup of coffee. Oh! And she made egg salad sandwiches. She and her sister would work and make all those sandwiches. They would do it twice a day. We had a lot of students coming and a lot of homeless. They knew what time it was and they would line up at the back door here.

That was something we saw as a need in those early days. Sister Estelle was walking out here and there were people sleeping under the bushes. It scared her half to death! She didn’t expect to see anyone. We were so strictly cloistered.

Then other churches began to realize that people in Tucson needed this. In the 1980s they started to open different places to feed the poor. But the Benedictine Monastery was the first place to do it.

It was very popular and she was very popular. Sister Mary Estelle was really thin. She was a wiry thing. When she worked in the altar bread department she baked five stoves at one time. And most of us only did two or three. We sold altar bread to other places. We still have an altar bread operation in Missouri. 

- Mary Sheridan:
The rule of St. Benedict, which is the governing document, says that the monks should earn their own living. So that’s why you hear about gardens and they ate the produce. Alter bread that they sell to other churches and they made church vestments here until quite recently. All of this, the nuns were doing the best they could to earn their own living. 

- Jana Segal:
It was lovely hanging out with Sister Celicia Rose in the orchard and opening a little window into the lives of the Sisters at the monastery. At the end of our time together, I asked her how it felt being in the orchard. She answered, “That’s when you thought you were out in creation for sure in the orchard. You feel so close to God when you have so much of nature around you. You can’t explain it. It just is."

Creation is part of us and it has to be honored.

Update from July 28, 2018:

Iconic Tucson monastery spared as agreement is reached in apartment deal.

Update from August 21, 2018

Some historic trees at Tucson’s Benedictine Monastery will be saved

 18/09/2018 Update: Preliminary Benedictine Monastery Plans Discussed By City Planning Commission

Historic video ( Oct 21, 2009)