Sunday, May 31, 2020

Time to Move Tucson!

All this downtime has given Tucsonans a chance to reflect on how we do things here. When the city shut down, people drove less and air pollution decreased! As soon as the state weakened the stay at home recommendations, air quality got worse. This is a teachable moment!

How can we expand travel options so more people can walk, bike, or take public transit? How do we improve reliability of travel time, particularly as we grow? Do you have an idea about how to make our streets safer? Do you have suggestions for areas that could use tree-lined sidewalks, biking trails, shaded bus stops, and traffic signs?

Your help is needed in shaping the City’s vision and action plan to answer these questions and more. Together, we can create the city we want to live in.

The City of Tucson is preparing a city-wide transportation master plan that will create a mobility blueprint for the City’s future in a rapidly-changing world. The plan will be innovative, creative, and inclusive. By working together, we can commit ourselves to create a mobility future that works for all of us.

The outcome of the planning process will be a document that informs the Mayor and Council’s decisions in the very near future about policy, resources, and how welcoming and livable our city is to visitors, residents, and business owners.

The City of Tucson has been hosting town meetings to introduce their mapping app. This app is so cool. You can click on specific areas and add your own suggestions about what should be included there (like sidewalks, biking trails, green infrastructure, shaded bus stops, safer crosswalks, etc.)

Do you know of an area of town that needs any of these features? Do you have your own ideas? This is your chance to share them!

Jana bringing glass bottles to Ward 6 before the pandemic 
I personally ride the bus, so I see the need for more stops, later running times and more shade. Right now you can't get everywhere in Tucson. I've heard stories of people getting stranded because they didn't realize that the bus stopped running so early. Imagine being stranded on a cold night. If we are going to get more people to ride the bus instead of driving all over town in single-occupant vehicles, then we need to make it accessible and comfortable. I shared that opinion on the survey. Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas too!

Here is a link to the website with the transportation survey and the interactive map app.

Have fun!


Friday, May 29, 2020

Powered by the Sun. And Beans

By guest blogger Sergio Avila*

Time at home can help feed some creativity, or at least allow some leisure time to try new things. Some people are gardening and/or cooking at home; some are working out, painting or playing an instrument. In my case, it has been a time for trying, learning and even experimenting, and I acknowledge it is a privilege. A few weeks ago, I decided to dust off my solar oven and cook some meals while taking advantage of the longer, warmer days. This time has allowed me to experiment with my cooking, new recipes and also to share with other people who haven't considered cooking with the sun. 

The solar oven (also known as 'sun oven') is a box made of wood, metal or another material, lined with insulation on all, but one side; with a small door to insert cooking pots and pans, sitting on a metal plate at the bottom. The box is open on one end, but covered with a glass to allow the sunlight to heat up the metal plate. The way this works is by heating up the metal plate where pots sit (like your stove) while also keeping the heat inside the box (like an oven) while it sits directly under the sun. Sometimes people add metal “wings” over the box to capture more sunlight. In my case, my solar oven is large so the sunlight comes in through a glass window; temperature inside can get up to between 250 and 300 degrees F. 

It's important the solar oven rotates to always face the sun with the glass side. There are many ways of doing this, from just moving the box with your hands, adding wheels or even a solar sensor that will rotate the box when shaded - which I saw once while visiting Tucson's Festival of the Sun, an annual solar potluck and exhibition at Catalina State Park. 

Generally, vegetables are the easiest to cook. I like to cook beans (black, pinto or tepari beans), lentils, calabacitas (a dish made with squash, onions and other veggies.) Pre-soaked beans will cook in around 3 hours, and with enough water, they can stay there a little longer. Once I made Mexican rice and I was pleasantly surprised! I'm not much of a baker, but sugar or oatmeal cookies would be easy to make.  At the Festival of the Sun I saw people cooking meat, ribs, cakes. I think this takes practice, and knowing your oven well, but it's worth the try. You can even use it to boil water, make sun tea or dry fruit (though this requires air circulating).

If you are a do-it-yourself kind of person, there are many plans to build your own solar oven online; a quick search should give you lots of results, ideas, and photographs. You can use mostly recycled materials, and might need to buy a piece of glass, a metal plate for the base, and the insulation that covers the walls. If you want to invest some money and buy one already made, that's also a good route and you should find many alternatives.

In Tucson, you can experience the flavors of solar-cooked food and learn about appliances and solar arts from Citizens for Solar and the Solar Guild. Their annual Solar Potluck, co-sponsored by Catalina State Park, is an educational, family-friendly event to learn about solar cooking, energy conservation and other topics on sustainability.

A little practice will help you estimate cooking time, amount of water or other details for successful, delicious meals. In years past I left food cooking, went to the office and came back to a ready pot of veggies or lentils. Solar ovens can be used at home, at the work place, the park, or even during camping trips. I like the solar oven because I can cook some meals with little supervision and zero energy. My solar oven also provides me with the opportunity to show and tell, to share ideas for sustainable alternatives, and inspire others to create their own. It makes me feel independent and taking advantage of a resource we enjoy in Arizona pretty much all the time. 

Sun’s out. Solar oven’s cooking!

*Sergio Avila is a wildlife biologist and conservationist, an immigrant, a trail runner, and a desert dweller. He works as Local Outdoors Program Coordinator with the Sierra Club, and is a Commissioner in the City of Tucson’s Commission on Climate, Energy and Sustainability, and a Society for Conservation Biology Board member. He can be found in Twitter and Instagram @Sergio_concolor

Monday, May 25, 2020

Spineless Prickly Pear Brunch

As Dan and I steward in place, we are enjoying the desert bounty already growing in our own backyard - our spineless prickly pear! My friend Duane tells me this isn't prickly pear pickin' time... But our spineless prickly pear is ripe for the pickin'!

You can identify this variety by the yellow flowers, pink and burgundy fruit and the new beaver-tail shaped pads with little curved conical green leaves. 

For the past few weeks Dan has been harvesting the ripe, burgundy colored fruit and making delicious prickly pear syrup. You can watch our "how to" video here.

Dan holding the fruit with tongs and brushing off spines 
Meanwhile, I have been harvesting our nopales and preparing them for breakfast and snacks. This has come in real handy since we aren't going to store as often in an attempt to avoid the crowds during the pandemic! We don't really have to tend the cactus like I do with our other edible plants. Though Dan occasionally dumps some kitchen rinse water on them when they are looking really desiccated.

harvesting the younger pods with bbq tongs
Lately I have been harvesting the new pads. FAIR WARNING: the word "Spineless" in the name is misleading since under the curly leaves are white spots with tiny spines that can stick to your fingers or tongue if you're not careful. I got one in my finger that was irritating me to no end last night. The younger pads are darker green and smaller (averaging 5 inches) than the older pads that appear spineless. The older pads are tougher and not as tasty. 

younger prickly pair pad with leaves ready to be harvested
Here's how I prepared the pads...

First, I put them in a plastic bowl to keep them from moving around as much. I hold them still with salad tongs as I scrape off the leaves and those sneaky spines under the leaves.  I found it easiest to use the grill scraper we had in a bbq kit. You can also scrape them with the blade of a knife - but then you can't use the bowl to control them. 

Next, I rinse off the spines with water and and pour it out over on the cactus. (We try not to waste water since we live in the desert.) 

I found that the spines on the edges of the pad are difficult to scrape off, so I use the salad tongs to hold down the pad while I cut off the end and the sides of the pad. 

Then I cut them into pieces. 

Finally, I rinse off the nopale pieces to get rid of the rest of the spines and to rinse away the slime. Notice that I am doing it outside to keep all the spines out of my kitchen. 

I don't like to waste anything, so I pour the slime water around my potato plants. I hope they like it. 

These pods produce a lot of slime. (Think "Ghost Busters.") They need to be rinsed off several times until most of the slime is gone or you lose patience. 

Then I dice an onion and saute it with the nopales. 

sauteing them produces more slime
You can eat them like that on a tortilla. But we added tomatoes, potatoes and eggs to make a yummy scramble. I microwaved a potato while I was cooking the nopales. When the nopales were cooked (tender and lighter in color) I  removed them from the skillet, added a splash more olive oil, and fried the potatoes. I added the nopales and chopped tomatoes, scooted them to one side of the pan and scrambled 3 eggs on the other side of the pan. Finally, I stirred it all together. 

nopales scramble! Yum! 
Meanwhile, Dan blended some prickly pear syrup, lemon lime seltzer and spiced rum to make a prickly pear cooler to have with our nopales scramble. We enjoyed a yummy brunch on the patio with a lovely view of hummingbirds pollinating our prickly pear blossoms. More fruit to come! 

Now that's what I call stewarding in place! 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Help needed mapping activities along the Santa Cruz River

The Soronan Institute can use our help in Mapping Activities along the Santa Cruz River

This interactive map and survey about the Santa Cruz River will help answer these questions: Where along the Santa Cruz River do you visit? Why do you choose to go there? What improvements would you like to see? Community responses will inform future management decisions about how to enhance and improve the Santa Cruz River.

Anyone familiar with the river may participate, though we are specifically looking to hear from residents of river communities. This includes the areas of Nogales–Rio Rico, Amado–Green Valley–Sahuarita, and the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Feel free to share.

- Posted April 30, 2019

Contact with questions.

Actividades de mapeo en el río Santa Cruz,

Este mapa interactivo y cuestionario sobre el río Santa Cruz ayudará a responder estas preguntas: ¿Qué sitios a lo largo del río Santa Cruz visita? ¿Por qué elige visitar estos sitios? ¿Qué mejoras le gustaría ver en estos sitios? La opinión de la comunidad informará la toma de decisiones para un mejor manejo y gestión del río Santa Cruz. Si tiene alguna pregunta, por favor contacte a

Cualquier persona que conozca o este familiarizada con el río Santa Cruz puede llenar este cuestionario, sin embargo buscamos conocer la opinión de las comunidades aledañas al río Santa Cruz en específico, incluyendo los residentes de Nogales–Río Rico, Amado–Green Valley–Sahuarita, y el Distrito de San Xavier de la Nación Tohono O’odham.