Cultivated Landscapes

Agriculture at the Mission
illustration of farm fields uniformed NPS employee on tractor mowing green field
An artist's rendering of mission-era agricultural fields
Tumacácori's fallow fields



 
 

How It Was

Evidence of agriculture goes back nearly 4,000 years in the archeological record at Tumacácori. Nearby sites preserve the evidence of agave cultivation. The O'odham (and the Hohokam before them) had developed a system of agriculture utilizing the floodplains of the Santa Cruz River and supplementing with irrigation from hand-dug canals. Corn had long been a staple crop of the O’odham. It could be planted in April and harvested in June, planted again in July and harvested in October. The O’odham also cultivated native tepary beans, squash, pumpkin, muskmelons and the ever-popular watermelon. Wild native foods like saguaro fruit, mesquite beans, and dozens of others could be collected and consumed.

After Spanish contact, many new food crops joined the regional diet. Fully developed mission communities included an orchard of fruit trees, and gardens containing edible and medicinal plants. Wheat could be grown over the winter and reaped in June, thus eliminating the “lean” months before corn could be harvested. Wheat could be ground into flour to make loaves of bread and large, stretchy tortillas. Both corn and wheat could be grown in enough quantity in years without drought that the mission could feed itself and sell any surplus. In 1818, Tumacacori's fields yielded 150-160 fanegas (1 fanega = 2.5 bushels) of wheat, 12 of corn, 16-40 of beans, garbanzos and lentils.

Anxiety about lack of water was constant. Droughts were not uncommon. Rain typically fell during summer monsoon with a smaller amount in the winter. Irrigation water from the Santa Cruz River could be hard to come by, especially when there was competition with large herds of cattle and horses. The constant threat of Apache attack made farming difficult and dangerous.

 
 

How It Is Now

In 2004 Tumacácori National Historical Park acquired property adjacent to the mission grounds which included the original 5-acre mission orchard and a significant portion of the original agricultural area. The challenge: replant a Spanish mission-era orchard and garden using heritage fruit tree cultivars. A team of researchers from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the University of Arizona, the National Park Service, and other Tucson area organizations answered the call.

Today, visitors can walk through a portion of the original mission orchard now restored with heritage varieties of quince, fig, pomegranate, peach, plum, apple, and pear. Adjacent agricultural fields on park land are undergoing natural succession into a mesquite bosque.

 
 

Other Agricultural Stories of the Southwest

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    Last updated: July 23, 2020

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    P.O. Box 8067
    Tumacacori, AZ 85640

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