It’s high citrus season in the desert Southwest. Oranges and grapefruits and lemons, oh my! Many people in Tucson have trees that produce so abundantly that they can’t use it all and even have trouble giving it all away. (Witness bags of grapefruits in break rooms all over town). There’s an answer to finding good homes for all the citrus.
It’s Carolyn today, here to tell you about a wonderful local organization. Iskashitaa Refugee Network is a volunteer group of locals and refuges who have been settled here who go out to homes and farms where they have been invited to harvest extra produce. Barbara Eiswerth founded Iskashitaa in 2003 as a way to not only help acclimate United Nations refugees who had been resettled in Tucson, but also to find a way to rescue and make use of some of the unharvested and unused fruit that goes to waste in Tucson. The first group Eiswerth worked with was from Somalia. The warm comradery the women developed led to the name of the group. Iskashitaa means “working cooperatively together” in a Bantu language spoken in Somalia.
Gleaning has a centuries old history. The Economist recently ran a fascinating article on gleaning in Europe and described it as harvesting “the good and usable fruit of human activity; they have not been discarded, merely overlooked, or thought not worth bothering with.” The article is worth a look.
The Bible advises landowners to support gleaners. In Deuteronomy, a sheaf forgotten in the field was to be left “for the stranger, for the fatherless and the widow”; and “When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again.”
Each year 800 to 1200 refugees from more than twenty countries are resettled in Tucson, all of them forced by conflict to start a new life in the United States. Many of them were farmers in their native land. They understand plants, and they also have heritage recipes for cooking and preserving desert foods, many of which grew in their homelands.
The volunteers harvest a cumulative 100,000 pounds of vegetables and fruits including grapefruits, oranges, pomegranates, dates, mesquite pods, even desert berries—ninety different food items—all of which would have been discarded without their attention. “And still, it’s only the tip of the iceberg” Einsworth says
“U.N. refugees are challenged to become part of the society,” Eiswerth says. “Working with our American volunteers, they get to practice their English, develop job skills, and begin to feel part of the community.” It’s not only work, it’s a support network using the universal language of food. And it doesn’t go just one way. The refugees teach the Americans new and delicious ways to cook familiar desert foods. There make citrus jams, pickled garlic, date vinegar, and powered fruit seasonings. The products are available at Iskashitaa headquarters at 1406 E. Grant Road and at food fairs.
Frequently, there is more food harvested than the refugee gleaners can use themselves. In that case, the extra produce is donated to other refugee families, the Community Food Bank, schools, and soup kitchens. With one in four Tucsonans suffering from food insecurity, the food always finds a welcome home.
Eiswerth sees this as a double positive. “The work is an opportunity for refugees to give back to the people of Tucson while also providing for their families,” she says.
Date Vinegar Salad Dressing
When there is lettuce in my garden in the winter, we have salad for lunch every day. When I add apples or pears to the lettuce (instead of tomatoes), I like to use a citrus dressing. This uses Iskashitaa’s wonderful date vinegar.
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Iskashitaa date vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mustard
juice of one orange
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
Put the olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk in the date vinegar and add the mustard to emulsify. Whisk in the juices and taste. If you want it sweeter, whisk in the honey.