Thursday, June 4, 2015

Iskashitaa: Harvesting Hope Empowering Dreams

We met Barbara Eiswerth while she was attending the International Seed Library Forum. She is the founder and director of Iskashitaa Refugee Network whose mission is to empower and help build local relationships for refugees in Tucson through unique programs such as harvesting, food preparation, sewing and crafts, English as a second language, and advocacy.

Barbara Eiswerth at International Seed Library Forum

At the opening Seed Library event, Barbara and Iskashitaa staff person Sherrell were handing out slices of gigantic local grapefruit and talking to folks about the work of Iskashitaa. They were also trying to wrangle up volunteers for the weekly harvest of fruit and vegetables from underutilized food resources around Tucson such as backyard and streetside fruit trees. Like the many crates of grapefruit being handed out at the event, the quantity of fruits and vegatables that go unused and thrown in the landfill is astonishing. Iskashitaa gathers together refugees, volunteers, and homeowners to harvest this food and then redistribute it. They also sell at the local Farmer’s Market.

Iskashitaa headquarters

The next harvest would take place in a few days while we were still in Tucson. This would be the perfect opportunity to tag along and glean with the best of them.

glean, verb:
to gather or collect (something) in a gradual way
to search (something) carefully
to gather grain or other material that is left after the main crop has been gathered

On Wednesday, May 6th, I drove out to the Iskashitaa headquarters and met Chloe the Harvesting and Farmer’s Market Coordinator, several volunteers and the three refugee harvesters who I would be working with, Adam from Aljendae, Darfur, Marim from Mt Nuba, Sudan, and Kali from Butan. We would be heading out to a gated community in the Catalina foothills to pick grapefruit.

Sherrell and Cindy prepping for Market
Grapefruit harvest

The view was picturesque with lavish yards and landscapes filled with abundance. Barbara pointed out many different fruit trees, bushes, and edible flowers. Many were exotic citrus filled with ripe branches of sweet tartness. The tree we headed for was moderate in size and the grapefruit large, thick skinned, and mild.

Pineapple guava flowers a sweet melt-in-your mouth insanely wonderful edible flower.

The harvest works based on an equal exchange of labor, food, and generosity. Here’s how it works… home owners or businesses contact Iskashitaa when they have fruit or produce available to be gleaned. Then the harvest team swoops in to pick the food and carry it off to be redistributed through the group. It is that easy.

Catching the fruit

While we are picking, Adam warns us to be careful in case some of the fruit falls. No one wants to get beamed in the head because it would likely knock someone out. We cautiously use fruit pickers to pluck the fruit from ground level while others climb into the tree and hand pick directly. After about 30 minutes all the fruit has been picked, crated, and loaded into the van with a total of about 5 crates filled with grapefruit. This team effort makes for quick gleaning and fun as we chat during our work together.

This is a fundamental aspect of Iskashitaa and all of their programs. For its not just about the food, the gleaning, or the service. It’s really about relationships, empowerment, and healing by giving refugees a safe place to learn and become a part of the Tucson community. And this in no one-way street. Many come from land-based traditions and carry an incredible wealth of knowledge about farming, foraging, and cooking. They have much to teach us of edible landscapes and maximizing resources in culturally powerful ways.

Kali from Butan
Marim from Mt Nuba
Adam from Aljendae
More fruit!

Here are Seed Stories post-gleaning from Adam Abubakar and Barbara Eiswerth:

Adam Abubakar talks about his life from farmer in Darfur, Aljendea to gleaner in Tucson, Arizona.

Barbara Eiswerth talks about how food justice and refugee resettlement go hand in hand.

Stay connected, volunteer and help support Iskashitaa Refuge Network at:

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