Saguaro fruit harvest teaches native tradition to anyone who wants to learn

AJO, Ariz. (FOX 10) -- At the end of the month, the fruit of the saguaro cactus will be ready to harvest. It's a long-time tradition the people of the Tohono O'odham nation have passed down. Now, a resort in Ajo is allowing anyone who wants to learn about this practice to take part.

"People had to go out and harvest in order to survive the winters, which was very lean," said Ajo resident Lorraine Marquez Eiler.

Marquez Eiler grew up outside of Ajo. Every late June, she would come with her family to harvest the fruit from the saguaro cactus.

"Through years of harvesting, people have passed on and passed on, and so, it was my great-grandmother who taught all of us kids how to harvest," said Marquez Eiler.

It's a tradition of the Tohono O'odham people.

"We used to run around the cactus with a basket. Now, we run around with a bucket and catch the fruit as it comes down, otherwise, it just splatters," said Marquez Eiler.

"I think it's one of the most unique and authentic cultural experiences one can have," said Stuart Siegel, Co-Director of the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center. "This is one of only a few places in the world where this is happening."

Siegel came up with the idea to let anyone participate in the harvest that wants to, by making it a weekend adventure.

"I think it's important, even for locals in Phoenix in Tucson, know that they live in this spectacular landscape, but we all get caught up in doing or day-to-day American life that interfacing with these plants is something that connects people more to place in their hearts, and also pays honor to the people who were here originally," said Siegel.

Guest will go out with their guide to learn about the fruit, and how to carefully knock the fruit off the cactus. They'll then have a chance to use the fruit to whip up some delicious treats.

"For me, I'm happy to share," said Marquez Eiler.

As for Marquez Eiler, she is excited to pass these uniquely Arizonan experiences on to whoever wants to learn.

The harvest will take place the weekend of June 28.

Authentic Saguaro Fruit Harvest Weekend