Western Ag Life Magazine - Spring 2019

Page 10


Near the start of the 18th century, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino—a Jesuit priest whose time serving in the Pimería Alta made his a household name for modern Arizonans— noticed a thriving O’odham rancheria bordering the Santa Cruz River. Kino decided the population, at the base of what Tucsonans now call Sentinel Peak (or “A Mountain”), was significant enough to require a local mission to serve it. He designated the village a visita, or substation, of Mission San Xavier del Bac, calling it San Cosme del Tucson, a name derived from the Piman (O’odham), Shukshon, meaning “at the foot of black mountain.” In 1767, the Spanish removed the Jesuits from the New World and replaced them with Franciscans, who later fortified and expanded the mission. But, by 1821, the location was abandoned. Just as the Spanish removed the Jesuits, Mexico gave Spain the boot. Left behind, the adobe structure eventually melted back into the desert, literally adding another layer of history to the site. Though named for the Spanish mission PG. 10 :: SPRING 2019

that once stood on its ground, the history of Mission Garden, in Tucson, Arizona, extends far beyond European contact. Tohono O’odham farmers practiced ak-chin floodwater farming in surrounding washes. Rock terraces brimmed with cultivated agave during the Hohokam period. In addition to uncovering a network of irrigated fields, 53 pithouses, thousands of storage pits and more than 113,000 artifacts, the Las Capas excavation in the Tucson basin revealed corn fossils dating back to 2100 B.C. For anyone who still thinks of the Southwest as an arid wasteland, thousands of years of agricultural diversity on this site beg to differ. It was exactly for that reason that I found myself tagging along behind a tour of exchange students and filing through the mission’s walls almost exactly two years ago. Our tour guide Roger Pfeuffer, Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, began by telling us just how deep the agricultural roots run along the banks of the Santa Cruz River. “This is the only piece of property that has been continuously cultivated

for 4,100 years,” he explained. “These folks were farming using water from the Santa Cruz River, diverting it using acequias (canals) and rainwater.” Community Outreach Coordinator Kendall Kroesen recognizes that this can be a challenging image to reconcile with the now dry riverbed of the Santa Cruz. “Because of the profound desertification of the Santa Cruz River floodplain during the last 100+ years, many Tucsonans of today can’t imagine flowing water, canals, and agriculture in Tucson,” he acknowledges. “Yet we have a deep and diverse heritage of agriculture, stretching back thousands of years and diversifying amazingly over time into the City of Gastronomy that is Tucson today.” Mission Garden allows visitors to walk backwards through this timeline. The garden contains dozens of unique plots in which plants from each period of Tucson’s history are still being grown and cultivated. Jesus Garcia, Director of the Kino Heritage Fruit Trees project, identified trees throughout