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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Taste the Desert during with Prickly Pear Party and Mesquite Pod Milling this Saturday

    Alex McIntyre
    A prickly pear cactus bathed in morning light at the Hueco Rock Ranch.

    Come taste the desert on Saturday, Sept. 12, at the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning’s first-ever Prickly Pear Party and Mesquite Pod Milling event. People of all ages are welcome to attend, and the best part: it’s free.

    From 8 a.m. to noon, the Center will offer a variety of demonstrations and hands-on learning experiences that focus on making use of two of the Sonoran desert’s most overlooked natural resources: mesquite pods and prickly pear cacti fruits. 

    Often found on city streets, as well as in public places and even backyards, fruits and mesquite pods abundant here in the Sonoran desert hold benefits very few people utilize.

    At the Prickly Pear Party, the Desert Harvesters organization will provide lessons in safely picking out mesquite bean pods and milling them into flour. They will also host activities that involve learning about safely harvesting prickly pear fruits from cacti and processing them into syrups and jellies.

    Visitors who bring their own empty containers to the event are welcome to take some of the processed syrup and jellies home.

    Located at 5403 W. Trails End Rd., the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning, formerly known as Camp Cooper, has provided unique desert learning experiences for nearly 50 years. 

    For the last seven years they have been in a partnership with the Tucson Unified School District and the UA College of Education, hoping to educate young students on basic ecological concepts and the impact that humans have on desert resources.

    “It’s really to deepen their connection to the Sonoran Desert and the earth,” said Dr. Sanlyn Buxner, an assistant research professor for the College of Education, who is helping to organize the event.

    Recently, the Cooper Center has been looking to expand its goals of outreach and education to a broader audience. The Prickly Pear Party and Mesquite Pod Milling event, which is the first of its kind, is what the center hopes will be one of many community outreach events open to people of all ages—from the center’s traditionally younger audience, to families, UA students and the Tucson community.

    “One of our goals … [is] trying to expand and take environmental learning to a place where it is something we can do with all ages,” said Colin Waite, the director of the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning. “We want to provide opportunities for people to go out into the desert and learn about the desert in a fun and interactive way.”

    In addition to the demonstration and activities, refreshments will be available for purchase with cash or check only. The Big Skye Bakery will provide snacks and baked goods made from mesquite flour, which guests are welcome to come and try. 

    The Small Planet Bakery will also be present, and they will be serving pastries that are made from all-natural organic ingredients. Finally, Tucson’s own mobile beverage cart, Prest, will be there to offer drinks that can be infused with the prickly pear syrups obtained from the demonstrations. Prickly pear and mesquite products will also be available for purchase at the event.

    The event will be taking place outside in the desert, so attendees are encouraged to plan accordingly. Remember to bring plenty of water, and wear hats and sunscreen for protection.

    “It’s really an opportunity for people to come out and interact with the desert in a different way,” Waite said.

    Visit the Cooper Center’s website for further information, or contact Sanlyn Buxner at or at 520-626-1825 with questions regarding the event.

    Follow Cheyne White on Twitter.

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