With their low, spreading branches, mesquite trees provide cooling shade in the Southwest. And the pods they produce have long been a source of food for Indigenous communities there.

“The mesquite pod was a significant part of the diet for thousands and thousands of years in this region,” says Victor Miguel Ceballos Lira of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, in Tucson.

The group is leading a project to help people grow and care for velvet mesquite trees in their neighborhoods.

The primary goal is to provide shade to some of the city’s hottest neighborhoods.

“The south part of Tucson has been historically under-resourced, and there are not a lot of tree canopies there,” Ceballos Lira says. “If you go to the northern part of Tucson and it’s 87 degrees there, and then you just drive 10 miles south, it will be 100 degrees.”

Planting shade trees can help reduce this inequity.

And as part of the project, local groups will also teach people how to grind mesquite pods into flour — knowledge that’s been lost in many communities.

So the effort aims to help Tucson adapt to climate change and bring back cultural traditions.

Read: The link between racist housing policies of the past and the climate risks of today

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media