by Erik Stanford


Author Gary Nabhan has announced the release of his two newly published books, Food from the Radical Center and Mesquite: An Arboreal Love Affair, which will be released this September of 2018. We have a exclusive sneak peak into the experiences and history of mesquite…

“Many families near where I live in Southeastern Arizona suffer from unusually high rates of poverty, food insecurity, obesity and diabetes, but their members also display remarkable tenacity, ingenuity and hope. 

In the early 2000s, several of us now involved in the Santa Cruz Natural Heritage Area and Borderlands Restoration Network worked together in rural Arizona communities to explore non-timber forest products and their historical value to traditional cultures.

And yet, while we had difficulty discerning which native trees might best offer new sources of income to families in these communities, a number of the rural residents we met jumped right in and figured out which could provide them with supplemental income, perhaps because they so desperately needed it to survive.

The best example of such ingenuity came from the Arevalo family who lived thirty miles outside of Tucson in an area that was surrounded by abandoned fields and drought-stricken ranches. The daughter, Esperanza, had just lost her job for a utility company, and was forced to go out on street corners to try and sell her mother’s tortillas. When we met her and asked if she knew that mesquite pods could provide flour for making tortillas, she remembered hearing that her family had eaten mesquite decades ago.  

When we asked if we could provide her some mesquite flour for a trial batch of tortillas, she accepted our offer, and then worked several weeks with her mother to perfect the texture and taste of the tortillas before she called us to evaluate them. They were not only excellent tortillas, but once she heard that mesquite flour can help control blood sugar levels and weight of individuals suffering from diabetes, she went out on her own and found community health clinics and health food stores willing to purchase them. 

She soon became the most successful of the dozen or so entrepreneurs of mesquite food products in Arizona, providing them at a half dozen Farmers Markets from Sierra Vista to Green Valley, and employing seven other people to both make and market hundreds of dozens of tortillas per month, in addition to other mesquite products. 

Esperanza and her family and neighbors accomplished three things with their mesquite flour tortillas: They took a undervalued natural resource and made it economically valuable again; they created jobs in some of the poorest rural areas in southern Arizona; and they provided a healthful food at low cost that could help their community deal with its most pressing nutritional health issues. In Arizona today, one in every three people seeking medical care does so for the many symptoms or side effects of diabetes and obesity, while one in every ten hospital visits is diabetes-related.

What if our legacy to future generations is that instead of building more emergency rooms and kidney dialysis clinics to deal with obesity and diabetes at enormous costs after the fact, we produced healthy, affordable foods and jobs with liveable wages with which to buy them, in a restoration economy that not only restores the health of the landscape, but the health of our bodies and communities as well?”

Paraphrased from Food from the Radical Center, and Mesquite: An Arboreal Love Affair, two new books out this September by Gary Paul Nabhan 

To preorder Food From the Radical Center from Island Press, click here.

To preorder Mesquite: An Arboreal Love Affair from Chelsea Green Press, click here