Bean Tree Farm is an example of how sustainable homesteading works

Barbara Rose lives on an atypical farm on the northwest side. There are no horses or cows roaming, no irrigated rows of crops and no cornfields. Instead there are trees.

"Everything out there taller than you that's not a saguaro is a bean tree," Rose says. "Every tree here is a legume tree with edible seeds and or pods." Hence the name of her homestead: Bean Tree Farm.

When people visit Rose on her 20-acre spread and ask, "Where's the farm?" she often replies, "This is it." Outside her window, there are ironwood, mesquite and paloverde trees; prickly pear, barrel and cholla cactus; hack and wolf berries and other edible or medicinal plants.

Rose and her partner moved to the property in 1985 as caretakers and purchased the property in 1989. Rose says the home was practically falling down, so she set out to rebuild. She decided on a rammed-earth structure.

But Rose didn't build on her property the usual way. "The way that I designed this is kind of the opposite of how development has gone in this area. Usually there's a driveway that goes all the way up to the top and then they put a house up there." A map of Rose's property shows that all development was done away from the mountains, leaving much of the land untouched.

"All the building and development we did ... is about the same footprint as one home in this area," Rose says. There are several buildings on her property, including five residential spaces. "We really minimized our footprint by clustering the buildings as close as zoning allowed," she says.

"So much of what has happened here has happened from permaculture ethics: caring for the Earth, caring for people, reducing waste or creating surplus. Our job here is to live here and take care of ourselves, but also take care of the land."

Caring for the land is evident as one walks around the farm. All pathways are built higher than the land on each side, so that plants are watered naturally. "Everywhere we shaped the land so that instead of water causing erosion and running off, we were holding the water on the sites," Rose says.

Water is also harvested off roofs into cisterns. "The water we harvest is a larger volume than what we draw out of the well," Rose says. Solar panels are also used, creating a surplus of energy. "This is a zero energy house," she says.

Special evaporative coolers also contribute to the energy surplus. Tucsonan Bill Cunningham builds ultra-low-energy evaporative coolers that use between 25 and 120 watts, Rose says. In some cases, that's less wattage than a light bulb.

Permaculture ethics also include following the principle of reducing waste. Rose says she composts food and paper waste. And clippings from trees, rather than being hauled away, remain on the ground as mulch.

And as Rose takes care of the land, it provides for her. "Everything here can feed you," she says. A peek into Rose's freezer illustrates this point. She has paloverde seeds, Ironwood seeds, prickly pear fruit and juice, cholla buds, barrel cactus fruit, hack berries, wolf berries and pomegranate seeds. On her shelves, there are chutneys, kimchees, syrups and barbecue sauces all made from the edibles outside.

The goodies from the farm are not for Rose and her partner alone. She shares the harvested bounty with her neighbors and also teaches workshops so that others can do the same. The classes she offers include cactus fruit processing, cooking with mesquite, "clay play" with native soils, harvesting seasonal berries and beans, and even making salves and tinctures from medicinal native plants. Visit for more information.

Rose says about 15 percent of her diet comes from her farm. Another 35 percent is from local sources, making 50 percent of what she eats local food. Rose says it's important to start somewhere. "If you eat one local product a week, that's a huge change. ... The important thing is to want to start."

Rose likes to see people get inspired while learning about what is around them. Even if someone lives in the middle of town, Rose says, it's possible to "re-wild" the urban center. In the end, she says, "I want people to fall more deeply in love with this place."