The world is getting hotter and there are fewer and fewer natural resources available to us. Climate change, related water scarcity and food insecurity are defining global challenges for our generation. Much of the Western United States is experiencing severe drought conditions, fires are raging, and agriculture is being upended.
Erem believes that we must consider the desert in our calculus for how to solve our planet’s largest and most pressing problems. Why? Because close to 30% of the earth’s landmass is desert, and almost 20% of the global population lives on these lands. And because precious desert ecosystems which thrive in a very delicate balance of biology happen to experience some of the worst effects of climate change.
For these reasons and more, Erem is committed to seeking desert solutions on behalf of our planet. So without further ado, we are pleased to introduce you to the prickly pear, which we’ve learned is oh so much more than what meets the eye.
Erem has committed to planting 1M of these cacti in order to capture billions (yes with a B) of pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere, save billions of gallons of fresh water (yes, again, a B), produce millions of pounds of nutritious food to feed hungry people, and create an abundant, renewable bioenergy source that can be used in our collective shift away from fossil fuels.
Prickly pear are a widespread plant characterized by broad flat pads and bright red fruits called tuna. If you’ve lived in or spent time in the Southwest, then you’ve seen them growing in yards, along the highway, or along trails to your favorite summit overlook. Archeological evidence even shows that this cactus, also known as Nopal, has played an important role in indigenous cultures in the Southwest for thousands of years, from appearing in Aztec legends to serving today as the state plant of Texas.
But what you might not have known is that prickly pear are super-cacti with the potential to change the world. Here is how:
Prickly pear are incredibly biomass efficient. This means that they grow fast and big, which is unusual for plant species adapted to live in extreme desert conditions. Earlier this summer we visited our prickly pear farm in California’s Mojave desert on a day when temperatures were north of 115, and the prickly pear were practically humming with delight. We inspected one cactus that in just 3 years had matured from a single pad into a massive candelabra of pads and fruits more than head high and so wide you’d need 3 people to wrap arms around it.
Prickly pear can store a massive amount of carbon in their pads. Photo from our farm in CA.
Growing fast and big is good news, because prickly pear use CO2 to help fuel this growth. An average, adult prickly pear captures 400lbs of carbon per year. This means that a million prickly pear in the ground will capture ~400 million pounds of C02, or the equivalent of taking 40,000 cars off the road, every year.
Feeding the hungry
Carbon capture is great, but the best thing about prickly pear? Both pads and fruit are delicious and can be eaten right off the plant or in amazing recipes for tacos, margaritas, and more. Prickly pear are great sources of nutrition and contain numerous vitamins, minerals, 3 types of protein, and antioxidants (which gives the fruit their incredible color).
In a world under siege from fast food, Erem envisions and is working towards a reality where hungry people have access to culturally relevant, highly nutritious, extremely tasty food. Just one acre of prickly pear can yield 40,000 - 60,000 pounds of fruit. Assuming 400 prickly pear per acre, then with a million cacti, we are talking about 100,000 pounds of fresh fruit (doesn’t even include pads) being produced each year that we aim to make available to the people that need it most.
The first fruit at our prickly pear farm in CA.
Saving our rivers
There are plenty of other plants that grow quickly, capture carbon, and produce tasty fruit. So why is the prickly pear really so special? Water, water, water...According to the Nature Conservancy, 80% of the Colorado River’s water is consumed for agriculture in the Southwest. Yes, you read that right. This astonishing statistic helps explain why the river that powerfully carved the Grand Canyon no longer even reaches the ocean.
An Orange tree grown in the desert requires at least 30 gallons per day of water to capture carbon and produce tasty fruit. A peach tree, minimum 35. An avocado, 20. By comparison, Erem’s prickly pear located truly in the middle of the desert? Just 2 gallons of water per day in order to thrive so wildly that you’ve got to see it to believe it.
So bottom-line, prickly pear’s hyper water-efficiency make them a uniquely excellent and cost effective choice for cultivation in arid regions around the world.
Powering our planet, cleanly
One final super feature of prickly pear. According to our friend Professor John Cushman at the University of Nevada, Reno, prickly pear are as efficient a fuel source for bioenergy as mainstays like maize or sugarcane, but the cacti’s incredible water efficiency and ability to handle extreme heat make them a more climate resilient option.
A plant that sequesters carbon, thrives on minimal water, can feed hungry people, and could be used as a waste-free biofuel source? Yup. The not so humble prickly pear.
Erem’s path to 1M prickly pear starts with the 250 we already have planted in the ground with our partner farm on the outskirts of Joshua Tree National Park. These plants are special heirloom varieties meticulously selected and studied for their growing and delicious fruit characteristics. We will use proceeds from every Erem purchase to plant pads from these cacti (another cool fact about prickly pear -- you can cut off and replant a pad to start a new cactus rather than starting from a seed) with partner farmers all over the world until we’ve reached our goal.
If you are interested in joining the movement and helping the cause, here are some ways you can get involved:
1) Sign up to stay in the loop and we’ll donate a dollar to the movement on your behalf
2) Hashtag #eremlife or share this blog post to spread the word. Building awareness helps us bring more cacti, land, and farmers to this important endeavor
3) Purchase prickly pear products on our Marketplace or wherever you normally shop to help build demand for these incredible plants
We are just at the beginning of this incredible journey and will make sure to keep you posted along the way.
Erem’s founder Noah planting a prickly pear at our first partner farm.