Brad Lancaster describes the strip of vegetation beside the sidewalk outside his Tucson, Arizona home as “an orchard and a pharmacy.” The desert ironwood tree has peanut flavored seeds and blooms that make a delicious salad garnish. Creosote is good for athlete’s foot. Chuparosa has a red flower that tastes like cucumber. The barrel cactus’s yellow fruit can be used for chutneys or hair conditioner. Mesquite pods make nutritious flour. And many more. Depending on the season, Lancaster gets 10 to 20 percent of his food from this sidewalk garden, and another in his yard.
Lancaster grew up in the desert outside Tucson. He and his brother often played in the sand until, one day, the suburbs of nearby Tucson engulfed his neighborhood and there was no more desert to play in. Now, he’s trying to integrate a desert playground into the city.
“We’re trying to bring the desert into the urban core. Not a survival desert or desert of scarcity, but a thrival desert of abundance,” he said.
By we, Lancaster means the Dunbar Spring neighborhood, home to about 900 people dispersed over six urban blocks in Tucson. Through rainwater harvesting, Dunbar Spring is reaping sustenance—both caloric and communal—from a landscape that others see as stingy.