Food Security in the Desert

A small water-harvesting tank from Home Depot.

A small water-harvesting tank from Home Depot.

Carolyn here. This is an extra mid-week post regarding not only harvesting food in the desert, but growing it as well.  The issue, of course, is water.  Tucson community activist Tres English is prodding Tucsonans to look to their food future and consider how we can become secure by growing more of our own food. A hundred years ago this would not be a novel idea but family business as usual.  We are moving in the right direction as a communty. Tucson already has 44 community gardens, thousands of fruit trees,  and over 100 experimental aquaponics systems. Nearby farms are keeping are farmers’ markets well stocked. But still, the vast majority of  our food is imported from far away.

Because I get deep satisfaction from gardening, my husband and I have installed three rain water tanks on our property. In a really good rain, I should be able to catch about a thousand gallons. I have watered most of my winter veggies this year with rain water from our first tank.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t rained much since we installed the last two tanks, but when (if??) it does rain, I should be able to take care of the flowers as well, leaving only the trees  and the house on city water.

Our biggest tank drains water from roof of guest house and provided water for my winter vegetable garden.

Our biggest tank drains water from roof of guest house and provided water for my winter vegetable garden.

We need to pull more people into growing their own food. Whether you catch the rain in big tanks, 55 gallon drums, or 5 gallon paint buckets (like I did until recently), you can water your garden at least partially with rain water. You can read what Tres has put together on his website, but here are some of the points:

We have vast, untapped resources

Every square foot of Tucson receives an average of over 6.5 gallons of rain every year (that’s before Global Climate Change), or about 175 million gallons per square mile.  That’s 80,000 gallons of harvestable rain per person.

We have about 40 square miles of rooftops in metro Tucson and over 80 square miles of paving. If we harvest (and use) water very near where it falls, we could potentially have over 50,000 acre-feet of “new” water that isn’t currently being used for any productive purpose.

When combined with directly used rain and net natural recharge from mountain fronts and river beds, our maximum potential renewable, harvestable, local water supply is close to 260,000 acre-feet per year — compared to 192,000 AF used by all municipalities.

Tres English says: “We are not alone in developing local food systems, so we don’t have to start from scratch.  What are some of the most innovative approaches in the world to creating all elements of a complete food system?  What will it take adapt them for our needs?”  These are the answers he will seek but he needs a little money to do it.  To that end, he has set up a crowd-funding site at    Or you can also donate on the website. If you want to see all Tucsonans have access to fresh, local food, go to the site and chip in a few bucks.


Cholla Bud Workshops.

If you enjoyed Martha Burgess’s post on cholla harvesting, perhaps you’d like to go gathering with her.  Sign up through Native Seeds SEARCH. It’s been unseasonably warm here in Tucson, and the chollas are budding a bit early.  Choose one of two dates: Saturday, April 12 and Friday, April 25 8 – 11 am $30 – NS/S Members $40 – Non-members

3 thoughts on “Food Security in the Desert

  1. Dried cholla buds are expensive because of all the work involved. Since it’s cholla bud season now, you could gather your own. Martha rubs the stickers off on a screen the traditional way. I prefer to lay them on the screen and pass over a torch which takes care of the stickers in a second.


  2. I have the feeling that Tucson is leading the way. Water resources are going to be crucial in the future, and you can teach us how to feed ourselves without reliable water. We’re heading into a new world, and maybe Tucson is already there.


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