Thursday, April 24, 2014

Creating an Edible Forest at Church

 New Chapter Unfolds in FUMC's Partnership With Iskashitaa

For the past four years First United Methodist Church has worked with Iskashitaa Refugee Network in a variety of ways. One of the first things Rev. Beth Rambikur did on arriving at FUMC was to go to Iskashitaa to meet Dr. Barbara Eiswerth (founder & director) and Natalie Brown (development director & member at FUMC) and to explore the partnership:  past, present, and future.  Brainstorming for the future focused on exploring ways to produce food on FUMC property.  

Shortly after, Pastor Beth wrote a letter of support affirming the partnership that helped Iskashitaa in receiving a grant from the Arizona State Forestry Department.  In part, this grant supports Iskashitaa staff and volunteers in collaborating with FUMC and the Wesley Foundation to establish an “edible forest” at FUMC.  The edible forest will consist of trees, herbs, and shrubs that will provide food resources for refugee families.  The grant also assists with the costs of the existing Iskashitaa harvesting program and provides resources to establish a program of systematically identifying, pollinating, and subsequently harvesting dates from palm trees throughout Tucson.

Two planning meetings have outlined steps in developing the Edible Forest at FUMC.  An initial action step was the recent composting workshop at FUMC, led by Iskashitaa volunteer Sheryl Lehman.   Follow-up will be to establish a composting site at FUMC.   Lauren Maghram from FUMC plans on using our "recyclables" from Social Hall events as "fodder" for the compost.   Additionally, Dr. Barbara Eiswerth recently taught an adult Sunday School class entitled, “Heart of the Harvest”.   Additional classes will be held later in the year. Separate from this grant project, Iskashitaa’s Faith-Based Organization Liaison and United Methodist US-2, Stephanie Plotas, recently coordinated a Food for Thought potluck at FUMC with refugees and members of other faith communities present. The September Coin Sunday offering and a United Methodist Women's donation were designated for support of Stephanie's work.  Our partnership is indeed multifaceted. 

Leadership and volunteers from FUMC are meeting regularly with Iskashitaa staff to finalize plans for the Edible Forest.  If you have an interest in assisting with planning and/or maintaining these fruit- bearing plants, or assisting with the compost pile, please contact Natalie Brown at or call 520-440.0100.

Iskashitaa Refugee Network is very grateful for the ongoing support of First UMC.  Your partnership truly makes a difference in the lives of hundreds of refugees throughout Tucson.

For more information about this Iskashitaa partner, visit the First UMC website

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Students, Refugees Harvest Sour Oranges

Following the success of the LEAF Team’s first calamondin lime harvest on March 8, the momentum continues with another Seville (sour) orange harvest, April 5that yielded 600 pounds. (LEAF: Linking Edible Arizona Forests)

This time the team is focusing its efforts on another valuable, yet misunderstood citrus food resource – Seville oranges, known to many as “sour oranges.” 

Seville oranges, although sour in taste, possess many cultural values for refugee communities within Tucson. In fact, for much of the Arabic speaking world this“narenge” is used even more frequently than lemons. During a food preservation demonstration planned for April 17, UN refugees will be sharing some of their culinary knowledge about these fruit incorrectly considered inedible by many locals.

Glenn Wright, a citrus expert and associate professor at the University of Arizona’s Agriculture Center in Yuma, shared some valuable information on harvesting techniques:

·         When picking citrus by hand, avoid “plugging,” or ripping of the fruit’s outer rind, as much as possible. Especially for calamondin limes, this will extend the shelf life and quality of the fruit well beyond the harvest date.

·         When using a clipper, trim as close to the stem as possible. If there is concern about bacterial transmission between trees, using a 5% bleach dip to sanitize clippers is recommended.

·         Get to know your trees. Yellowing leaves or bumpy bark can indicate nutrient deficiencies or viruses, which can result in lower quality fruit.

·         Harvesting technique decisions should always be made on a tree-to-tree basis. Some older trees may require handling with care, and some fruit are more delicate that others. For instance, the rinds of calamondin limes are soft, making them prone to rupture, while Seville oranges tend to be hardier in harvesting and storage.

·         For juicing purposes, don’t be afraid to pick the ugly fruit. Fruit not traditionally beautiful can be desirable for what they provide in their juice.

For more information about the harvests, or to get involved, contact citrus intern Ty Trainer at ttrainer@email.arizona.eduMelanie Lenart, project manager for LEAF on the UA Campus, at, or Barbara Eiswerth, director of Iskashitaa Refugee Network, at

Further, the harvesting of these oranges has provided ample opportunity for research and an expansion of our awareness of the conditions that affect the fruit’s quality and longevity.

By Ty Trainer, LEAF Intern