When you hear the phrase, "summer in southern Arizona," naturally your thoughts will tend toward heat and sunshine. Most wouldn't think of mounds of fresh produce at a farmers' market in the desert city of Tucson. But the arrival of the monsoon coincides with nature's edible bounty, even here in the desert.
The nearby Santa Cruz valley is actually one of the oldest continually-farmed regions in North America, with agriculture dating back four thousand years! Heirloom beans, squash, chiles, and tomatoes are still grown. The nearby higher elevation lands near Willcox are known for their orchards and even a few vineyards. Mesquite flour is made into cookies and tortillas. Prickly pear cactus is made into jams and frozen treats.
All this is available throughout the week at various farmers' markets around Tucson. The biggest one is on Sunday morning in the neo-colonial courtyards of St. Philip's Plaza. And, if you're curious, you'll get language and cooking lessons, too. On a recent Sunday morning, my wife and I asked what some curious looking greens were. The answer? Purslane, or "verdolagas" in Spanish. They grow like weeds once the monsoon rains begin, and they contain more omega-3 fatty acids (think fish oil) than any other leafy plant. In a salad, or sautéed or stewed, they're great. Who knew?
Farmers' markets are always a great place to get a vibe for a city—a cross section of people and produce. And, even in the desert, it is possible to shop and eat local.