Hope for a Beleaguered Planet....

Our book Milpa: From Seed to Salsa - Ancient Ingredients for a Sustainable Future explores through a blend of essays, recipes and documentary photography how the ancient agricultural knowledge and the wealth of 1000 year-old seeds and planting practices still in use among the Mixtec peoples of southern Mexico can help us to meet the ecological and food crises of today.

The essays, written in conjunction with campesino farmers, serve as a warning about the complicated dangerous effects inherent in the rapidly expanding distribution of GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds in Mexico, the birthplace of corn. Our documentary cookbook discusses alternatives for campesino farmers across the world and gardeners and consumers who care about food safety. Using the example of the Milpa planting system in the Mixteca Alta region of Southern Mexico just north of Oazaxa City, the book supports recent studies by UN investigators that show that small plots of land, heritage seeds and sustainable practices can in fact feed the world while enriching the soils on which we all depend for life…….

Milpa contains the traditional recipes lovingly shared by the local indigenous Mixtec women, allowing readers to re-create the culinary magic that flows from this ancient agricultural system. Recipes are painstakingly tested and photographed in traditional indigenous kitchens as well as in a professional modern test kitchen. Please purchase the book, below.....

All Rights Reserved: © Phil-Dahl Bredine, © Kathy Dahl-Bredine © Judith Cooper Haden Photography, © Susana Trilling SOMH.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fiesta Month in Oaxaca!

December is a month of fiesta in Oaxaca.  Traveling by bus recently I saw several groups of young people on bicycles traveling with a flower-bedecked truck, on bike pilgrimages to the various shrines, Guadalupe or Juquila.  Yesterday we took part in a pilgrimage from our village to the town center of Tilantongo for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Some walked down into the deep valley and up the other mountain side cross-country, while we drove our old pick-up truck for those who weren’t able to do the walk.  Then we all met outside Tilantongo and made the rest of the way all together on foot to the church, taking turns carrying the banners of our village, San Isidro, and the Virgin of Guadalupe.  There we were met by other groups arriving in pilgrimage from other, even more distant, villages across the mountains.

This Sunday will mark the beginning of the Posadas, the nine days before Christmas, with a gathering each night to reenact the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.  Families will assemble and walk with candles, singing the traditional songs as they journey each night to a different house up and down the mountainside.  Outside each house, according to custom, a group sings the verses requesting lodging for the night, then to be answered by a group inside whose song turns them away, until finally they agree to let them in, at which time all gather inside the house for prayers and then refreshments and a social time.  We will host the posada for one of the nights; other families on other nights, and on Christmas Eve, the final posada will end at the dirt-floor chapel, which will be decorated for the fiesta, with colorful streamers, balloons, plenty of fireworks, food and drink. 

These customs are an expression of faith and the joy of celebration in community, with all members young and old.  Also participating will be those extended family members who have migrated out to Mexico City or other urban centers and always love to return to their villages of origin and to the community life which is still important to them. Presents are generally not a part of the Christmas celebrations, but since most families in the village live without television, they don’t seem to feel they are missing anything.

There is much in the indigenous rural life and the values of a non-money based economy that we admire here and believe can provide some guideposts for our U.S. culture, now seemingly based on extreme consumerism. Yet at the same time there are many basic necessities here that we have been able to help with, through the generosity of many of you who have contributed to these efforts. 

We are happy to be able to report the success – finally – of the great water project which has taken nearly two years to complete.  All the labor has been done by local residents, and it has been enormous, but we now have water piped to every house in the village.  For the first time in the history of San Isidro, people will not have to make the trek with their donkeys to the spring – or some simply having to carry the heavy containers on their backs - to fill their water jugs.  Our oldest resident, 95 year-old Maria, who lives with her 94 year-old husband, Florentino, at the top of the mountain, joked recently, “Well, when are you going to get that water?  You know I don’t have much time left!”  So Maria was the first to get her water tap.

One of the needs in these communities is for some small, cooperative projects to create a modest income, needed for some of the things that people can’t grow or produce themselves.  One such project is the new nursery, started earlier this year, which will produce organic fruit trees and ornamentals.  To produce some start-up income, the participants decided to do a poinsettia project, with the first plants ready to sell for Christmas.  Poinsettias, which originated in Mexico, are always an important part of the Christmas celebrations here.  Everyone is excited that the first plants are now ready and will be on sale in the Tilantongo market this weekend! 

Another interesting project has been the carpentry training.  Some time ago, Phil started teaching one of the older boys in the neighborhood some basic carpentry skills, with his table saw and some basic tools.  That effort has now resulted in 3 older teenage boys who can make doors, tables, beds, cupboards, and book shelves, as well as complete bee boxes for starting honey projects, and the composting toilets that we’ve introduced here.  These three boys: Angel, Daniel, and Pedro are now launching into their own business, taking orders and delivering their finished projects on foot here in the village and the surrounding area.  Phil is helping them to get their own power saw and other equipment soon, so that they will be completely independent with this.  We are also making the contact with a couple of master woodworker friends in Oaxaca City, who will give some training at higher levels as well.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Our Democratic Commission of Communal Goods

AUGUST 2012.....

In the 18th century Jean Jacques Rousseau decried the chicanery of those who would stake out the
“commons” of Europe protected for use of all by the Charter of the Forest, and claim, “This is mine!”
He called on the people of his time not to be duped by the “imposters” of privatization.
Yet a few decades ago, by accepting the self-serving concept of the “tragedy of the commons”, invented
to support the radical privatization agenda of the Reagan/Clinton/Bush free market politics, it seems we
have let ourselves be duped once again. The fictitious “tragedy of the commons” (if it doesn’t belong to somebody, it will get trashed) does not exist. What does exist is the tragedy of an unmanaged and unregulated “commons” (our air, water, oceans and biodiversity) innan era that prizes unlimited individual and corporate greed.

Here in Santiago Tilantongo, Oaxaca, we have the privilege of taking part in one of the relatively few managed commons that the followers of Rousseau’s “imposters” have not yet been able to enclose. And it is instructive to see how well it works.

As in most indigenous communities of Oaxaca, here there are two parallel governments, the municipal and the Commission of “Bienes Comunales”, or communal goods. As the name indicates, it is the responsibility of the Commission of Communal Goods to regulate the use of the forests, grazing lands, and, when appropriate, agricultural lands that families have abandoned, in the name of the community. All of this is the commons of Tilantongo. The Director and Vigilance Committee of bienes comunales are democratically elected in town meetings of the entire pueblo of Tilantongo, including its 17 different communities. For any major decisions the entire pueblo needs to be convoked to approve or disapprove. Meanwhile, it is the task of the director and bienes comunales committee to regulate and manage the common resources of the village, approving permits for harvesting trees for building and firewood, and medicinal plants, for use of gravel and sand, water, and minerals, as well as for fining abuses. Although the serious deforestation that marks the post-conquest history of Tilantongo is testimony to lapses and abuses of the trust placed in the commission of common goods, the system has and continues to successfully govern the commons of Tilantongo and hundreds of other indigenous communities of the state of Oaxaca.

Nevertheless, Rousseau’s “imposters” have not given up. Mexican government free market advocates
promote programs to privatize common lands and revoke constitutional provisions that protected them
from sale or use as collateral. Foreign corporations are anxious to patent indigenous biodiversity and
reduce the rich commons of indigenous native seeds to dependency on imported genetically modified

And now, in the name of conservation of the planet’s resources, contaminated and made scarce by the excesses of the Global North, international environmental groups and commercial corporations wish to take control of indigenous resources – the indigenous commons – by putting a monetary value on the forests, biodiversity, water, and even the wildlife of theindigenous South. Through contracts for “environmental services”, and investments in commodified biodiversity, water, and biological resources, they intend to effectively transfer control of the commons of the South to private corporations and speculators, using tools such as bio-reserves and carbon sequestration projects that exclude indigenous peoples from access to their own lands. In essence they propose to solve the problems that attachment to money (greed) has created, with more money. Are we naïve enough to be duped once again by the new form of enclosure of the commons proposed by the radical privatization politics of Rousseau’s 21st century “imposters”? Or are we ready to learn something about the management of the commons of the planet from the indigenous communities of Oaxaca?

©Kathy and Phil Dahl Bredine, Tilantongo, Oaxaca August 2012

(P.S. We just finished learning even more from our local contributing industrious Mixtecan chefs this August, how to make a Dried Shrimp Mole, and Amaranth Seed Cookies.......all while chatting, weaving and cooking in our instant kitchen! ) 

©Judith Cooper Haden Photography

Friday, August 10, 2012



This récipe was one of several that Catalina Lopez Maldonaldo taught us while we were in her kitchen in Noxchitlan. With her parrot Hector, overlooking on her shoulder, she made several dishes based on young sweet corn called elote tierna.  She showed us if you put your thumb nail into the kernels, milk squirts out, to ensure freshness.  I found if I used the chiles guajillos instead of their hotter counterpart, the chile pulla that is so popular in the Mixteca, I needed to add some chile de arbol to give it the right heat. . She spoke of learning dishes from her mother in the traditional village of San Miguel Huatla, where she grew up.

Yields 3 quarts

2 tablespoons sea salt
12 elotes, or fresh young corn, kernels removed
40 squash blossoms, stems and pistils, stamens removed
2 cups fresh epazote leaves
8 chile guajillos (90 grams) and 3 chile arbol OR 10 chile pulla, stemmed
3 garlic cloves, roasted
1/2 medium white onion, roasted
7 ounces prepared masa

In a soup or stock pot, heat 2 quarts water (reserving one cup of the water for later) to boil over high heat. When it has come to a boil add the salt and the corn kernels. As the corn is cooking add the squash flowers, lower heat to medium and stir lightly, trying not to break up all the flowers.
On a comal, griddle or a dry frying pan over medium to high heat, roast the chiles until the color changes and the scent is released on both sides. Remove from the comal and place in a small bowl. Add hot water to cover.  Roast the garlic and onions until translucent making sure they do not burn.
Place the chiles, garlic and onion in a blender jar and add water to cover. Blend well for several minutes until smooth, and then pass this puree thru a sieve or a food mill. Add this mixture to the cooking corn and heat through for 10 minutes.
In the same blender, add the masa, broken up in pieces the size of golf balls and cover with the reserved 1 cup of water.  Blend until very smooth, and add to the bubbling soup, stirring constantly.
Add the epazote leaves and heat through, adjust the salt, if needed, and serve.

© Susana Trilling Oaxaca, Mexico 
  SeasonsOfMyHeart.com     sustainablemilpa.blogspot.com

Photography © Judith Cooper Haden

Al Jazeera/English Reports on CEDICAM in the Mixteca!!!!

Mexican farmers sow seeds of productivity - Americas - Al Jazeera English

Click on this link.....it's a great story. Amazing that word has traveled so far.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Learning From Our Neighbors in The Mixteca

Life here in Yucuyoco is often an experience of being out of control. The neighbors’ bulls got into our corn and destroyed a good bit of the work of the spring, the electricity has been off and on… off principally when we needed power tools to make a door or internet to finish an important communication. Getting an electrical connection from the Electrical Commission has delayed the completion of the water system for the village.

Yet even though the consequences of lack of control in our societies of the North may not be as drastic as the hunger it can cause here, we tend to be a civilization obsessed with having power and control. Nationally and individually we struggle to defend ourselves from threats real and imagined with more arms, more insurance, greater production and consumption of goods and an ever faster race to secure more comfort and security. Paradoxically, our fixation on control seems to have made us more vulnerable in many ways.  

Laundry Day
Much in the way our efforts for control in the “war against terror” have made us less secure, our efforts to defend ourselves against the uncertainties of the world through a growing cycle of production and consumption and by ever greater energy use, have also made us more vulnerable. Prolonged power outages, which are a bother in San Isidro, cause major disasters in the highly artificial, energy-dependent urban centers of the North. Our growing consumption patterns threaten the very biological systems of the planet which provide us with clean air, fresh water, rich soils, diverse marine life, etc. Morover, the waste generated by our energy use is making the very planetary environment in which we live more dangerous. In most of the oceans of the earth the incidence of severe hurricanes has doubled in the last 20 years and increased 7-fold in the Indian Ocean. Severe floods have followed a similar pattern, all attested to by skyrocketing disaster payments by the world’s insurance industries.

Perhaps worst of all, the pace at which we work to build safe spaces through increased consumption of goods, energy, and information tends to deactivate the reflective side of our personalities. As indigenous activists from Bolivia put it, “disinformation by over-information deactivates the reflective modes by which we appropriate information and construct our world.”

Preparing the Soil for Planting

Yesterday Don Narciso, one of the wise ones of the pueblo, stopped us on the street and said:
“I have been watching how you interact in our pueblo and take part as representatives of your village of San Isidro. And I really appreciate the kind of sharing that is happening between our two cultures. “   Clearly he had been doing some reflecting, and so had we.
“And we have learned that you, the Mixtec people, have something important to teach us in the North about community and individualism and about how to live well,” we replied. 

Typical Home in the Mixteca Alta
What a privilege we enjoy to be able to 
reflect together with our indigenous neighbors! Perhaps if we are to save ourselves -- we the human family -- in this time of epic crises, we need to become reflective enough to hear the voices around us, the voices of the cultures which can still reveal to us that there are alternatives to our civilization of control that is in crisis.
In such a time of crisis perhaps we need to cultivate what we could call a “dialogue of knowings”, listening and sharing with the cultures that still have not internalized the fatal flaws of our civilization of control and with the ancestors of the human family who perhaps knew more than we thought about how to live well on the planet. Perhaps we could even reestablish a dialogue with the other species in this living planet to see if they have something to tell us …if we were to listen.

With your contributions we have been able to start a kind of revolving store of corn, which we buy locally and make available to the community to buy at a much-reduced price, thus protecting their dignity, and providing local residents with food, since virtually everyone’s stock of corn was destroyed, both by the erratic weather last fall and by the Great Storm this spring.  Thank you!!

September 2011

We thank you for your letters, your prayers, and your donations, which continue to help to make this work possible.   Our aim for these letters is to share our view from this vantage point of the world.  But if you do wish to contribute to this work, you can send a tax-deductible donation to: 

Instituto Paz en las Américas, 2645 Mountain View Rd. Silver City, NM 88061.                                      Please write on the memo of the check: “for Dahl-Bredine projects”.    

                                                  We thank you very much, and we always love hearing from you.                                                           

Peace and Blessings to you all.
Phil and Kathy    

Photos © Judith Cooper Haden                                                                                                                                      

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Check out our latest YouTube video and PowerPoint.....

This Time in Human History is "Our" Time....

 June-July, 2012

Dear Friends and Family,

As many of you know, we recently left behind the hillsides and fields of Yucuyoco for a time to celebrate the wedding of our oldest son, Chris, and his love, Lisa, in New Mexico, with all the family gathered from near and far, and of course to enjoy the five grandchildren. While there we did a few talks about Yucuyoco and how it has stimulated our imagination as to what is to be done in the crises of our day. Yet we found a certain discouragement and disillusion among friends and family there that we don’t feel back here in the rarified atmosphere of change in Mexico and Latin America. What to do?

A few weeks ago an indigenous friend reviewing the ecological, economic and social crises of today proclaimed, “They’ve had their turn and have created a disaster. Now it’s our turn!” Perhaps the first thing we need to do is recognize and proclaim that this time in the history of the human family is “our” time. It is the time of indigenous communities and of all of us who believe that the purpose of life is not to consume but rather to create harmony within the human community and the larger community of life on the Mother Earth. It is the time of those of us who will not accept a future of resource wars and ecological disaster for our children and grandchildren.

Time Honored Method of Threshing Local Heritage Wheat - It Works!
 In the face of irrational growth in resource use that has brought us to the limits of the only planet we have – and to income gaps that have become totally socially unsustainable, we proclaim a way to a hopeful future for the planet. And we need to proclaim this as loudly as some profess their allegiance to the ecologically and economically outdated vision of free markets, consumerism, radical individualism and the injustice, racism and war that it breeds.

We cannot be intimidated by those who claim that there is no other way and maintain that our ideas are impractical. Certainly, we have learned from indigenous communities that are putting our values into practice in Latin America, that there is another way. The social chaos, bankruptcies, and recessions of today proclaim that it is the current model that is impractical. And when our analyses begin to scratch under the surface of what is supposedly the only model, we find such anomalies as a U.S. food system that requires 10 calories of energy to get one calorie of food on the table, while in Yucuyoco we can get 3 to 7 calories of food on our tables for one calorie of energy input!

If we can’t have immediate impact on national politics, at least local governments and civic groups can put into practice the new agenda:
·       Reduce energy use (look what an opportunity our food system presents)
·       Produce locally
·       Decommodify our production systems and our households by using fewer products that we need to buy
·       Rezone for local food production (the city of Havana, Cuba produces 40% of its vegetables in urban garden areas and lands that surround cities, zoned for organic food production)
·       Reassert community with concepts that can reduce our need to depend on the cash economy, with mutual aid (gueza), community work projects (tequio), and a careful and responsible use of all the resources that make up our communities’ commons
·       Recognize and enforce the rights of our Mother Earth.

We have a platform to put into practice in the North as well as in Yucuyoco!

Here are some of the projects your donations have helped support in the Mixteca Alta during this past year:

v  Piped Water Project for the Village – we are close to finishing this effort now.  The system will pipe water from our mountain spring, by pumping it up to a level above the highest house, then piping it now by gravity to every house in the village.  This has taken an enormous amount of work, with the whole village turning out to do the digging of all the ditches, laying of pipes, covering them, etc. 
v  Children’s Preventive Health Education - our Mixtec version of the international Child to Child (Niño a Niño program) of working in village groups with a local guide to empower children and teenagers to create and work on projects to improve community health and wellness and protect the environment.
v  Children’s Mobile Library – promoting reading skills and enjoyment by providing access to literature for children in remote rural villages.
v  Sustainable Farming: Biological Pest Control – production of organic fertilizers and biological control of the Japanese beetle larva (very destructive to corn).
v  Promotion of Native Seeds and Agricultural Technologies – the Museum of the Milpa and experiments with family seed reserves. 
v  Nonviolent Conflict Resolution – Enabling training workshops for leaders in the theory, background, and practice of methods for nonviolent, peaceful change.
v  Aid to Indigenous Villages – in times of scarcity and natural disaster, such as crop failure, this effort gives emergency support for food and basic necessities.  

We thank you for your letters, your prayers, and your donations, which continue to help make this work possible.   Our principle aim for these letters is to share our view from this little corner of the earth.  But if you do wish to contribute to this work, you can send a tax-deductible donation to: 

 Instituto Paz en las Americas, 2645 Mountain View Rd., Silver City, NM 88061. 
 Please write on the memo of the check:  “for Dahl-Bredine projects”.
Many thanks, and we always love hearing from you. 
Please send us your email address, if we don’t have it!  We will continue to postal-mail to those we know prefer it.

Peace and Blessings to you all,
Phil and Kathy

Oaxaca mailing address:
Kathy & Phil Dahl-Bredine, Apdo. 29, Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, 69600, Mexico
Tel. 52-951-440-8951, kpdbmx@gmail.com

Friday, July 6, 2012




This is so worthy of a read, or a re--read as the case may be, and explains in a nutshell what we are up against with our food supply issues and our national food agenda. Obama is readying for a second term; this was written right as he was readying for  office in October of 2008....

"Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is recycled."  Amen!  From the Oaxacan village of Etla, which features one of the all-time great markets on Wednesdays.....

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Zaragoza Tilantongo, Oaxaca- Señora Epifania Palacios and Rosario Santiago Santos

Rosario Santiago Santos is a pretty goat herder and campesina and the young, gregarious granddaughter of Epifania Palacios, a village cook in the mountain pueblo of Zaragoza Tilantongo.  We arrived at their brick home about sunset after a breathtaking ride up the side of a mountain on a one lane road with a sheer drop off both sides, praying all the while we wouldn’t meet a car coming down in the opposite direction! After that little surge of adrenaline, I was happy to get out of the driver’s seat and walk down the pine tree lined path to their house, stretch my legs and slow down my beating heart!

As we arrived, they were just finishing the Mole Amarillo de Frijol Blanco and Nopales for the annual Feria de la Milpa to be held the following day. The kitchen was the standard Mixtec country kitchen in a separate building with a stone table set up to build a fire on, with a molded adobe ring to hold the flat unglazed disk called the comal. Next to that was her metate, where she massaged the dough and made little thick masa cakes that were pressed into large very thin tortillas on a big iron press.  Rosario amused us with stories while she made countless fresh tortillas on the comal. 

Nearby were two more molded rings to rest the round ollas where she had cooked beans, and the nixtamal, which is dried corn boiled in water and calcium oxide (cal) to soften. Lots of firewood was stacked in a corner. The large cazuela they were stirring held enough mole to serve small bowls to about 200 people. True to tradition, the people in the Mixteca are very generous and they insisted on giving us some to try. It was delicious, very filling with the beans and cactus pieces immersed in a tasty mole sauce bursting with the flavor of chile guajillos, cooked in combination with corn masa and herbs, and ever so picante! The belief in their household is that if the food isn’t “hot” or picante, it can make you ill! 

It is said that this dish or some rendition of this recipe is the traditional food to make when the family and others in the community come to plant corn.  Very appropriate to make for the Feria de la Milpa, where everyone in CEDICAM gathers to exchange seeds of corn, beans and squash! 

YIELDS 12 - 14
For the beans:
I pound white beans
½ medium white onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 hierba santa leaves, torn into big pieces
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 pound nopales, grilled, then cut into pieces

For the mole:
1 head garlic, peeled
1 white onion, in thick slices to grill
3-4 ounces chile guajillo, depending on how “hot” you want it
2 tablespoons Oaxacan oregano, or marjoram, dried
2 teaspoons cumin seed
3 whole allspice berries
6 oz.  prepared masa OR  (2/3 C. masa harina mixed with 1/3  C + 2 TBS water)
 sea salt, to taste
For the beans:
In a olla or clay pot with a lid, heat 3 quarts of water to boil.  Add onion and garlic and cook 15 minutes. Add the beans, lower the heat and cook 45 minutes or until almost soft.  Add the hierba (hoja) santa leaves and 2 teaspoons sea salt, continue cooking five minutes and add the nopales.  Remove from heat. 
For the mole:
On a comal, griddle or dry frying pan, roast the garlic and onion until translucent.  In a small pot heat 1 quart of water to boil.  Pour over the chiles and soak for 15 minutes, or until soft.
With tongs, remove chiles from soaking water and grind in the blender with, the roasted onion and garlic, oregano, cumin, and allspice until very smooth. Place puree in a food mill and strain.
Add the puree to the bean mixture and heat through about 10 minutes.
Place the masa in a blender with one cup of water and blend until smooth.  Add this mixture to the mole and cook for 15 minutes more.  Add salt to taste and serve with limes.

©Susana Trilling SOMH Sept.2011 Oaxaca
Photography @ Judith Cooper Haden All Rights Reserved



Friday, May 18, 2012


I admit it. I’m confused. It was just announced that, following in the footsteps of Germany, Hungary, Greece, Luxembourg, Austria and Bulgaria, food-friendly France became the latest member of the European nations to prohibit the planting of U.S. giant Monsanto’s Genetically Modified (GMO) seeds.  Huh? And it seems that Russia, Brazil, China, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand all require labels for GM foods. And Japan, Ireland, and Egypt have even decided to ban all GMO foods. What?  Why is this not front page news?

Genetically Modified Organisms simply refers to the manipulation of DNA by humans to change the essential makeup of plants and animals. Frankenfoods is the affectionate term used to describe GMO crops. While the initial lofty goals might have been increased production in hungry nations, or having weed killer resistant seeds (Monsanto’s Roundup) in the lazy ones, enough time has passed since their introduction that we now have creditable research showing that the side effects of Monsanto’s GMO strategy are among the most deadly and dangerous present threats to our world.

Monsanto has put at risk the very seed diversity of our planet by spreading GMO contaminated pollen in the centers of origin of critical food crops, and has patented the very commons of humanity, i.e. the seeds themselves. The very existence of organic farming in the U.S. has been threatened through widespread, uncontrollable airborne GM contamination. Our soil and water resources are contaminated with highly toxic glyphosate herbicide through Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready GMO seed system.  There are high abortion rates and low fertility in cattle (and horses, pigs, sheep, and poultry) that have been traced to GM Roundup Ready soy in animal feed. And let’s not forget soy-consuming humans. Additionally the existence of the Monarch butterfly in the U.S. is endangered by the promotion of large increases in the use of their herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) that has completely eliminated the milkweed plant in many states upon which the butterflies depend for reproduction and food. And, what about our bees?? And the super weeds and Bt resistant insects that are inadvertently created with the over application of herbicides and the Bt toxin that result from the application of these GMO systems.

Non-GMO Corn, OAXACA, Mexico

The economic viability of the entire U.S. agricultural system is endangered by vigorous distribution of inadequately tested GMO species that are being rejected right and left by key international markets. Monsanto has intimidated U.S. farmers with lawsuits that make it too economically risky for farmers to save and improve their own seeds from one year to the next. Attorneys for Monsanto have pushed for risky farmer contract arrangements that are causing hopeless indebtedness, and even causing high rates of suicides among farmers in some developing countries when GMO’s don’t produce as advertised in new environments.  Imagine, if you can, the millions of small farmers around the world who won’t be able to save seeds to feed their families because of vigorous enforcement of GMO patents, or even afford to buy Monsanto seeds at four times the price, these farmers that live on $2 a day or less.

Testing for these relationships between skyrocketing food allergy and chronic disease rates has become nearly impossible, and the consumption of foods containing GMO´s is also impossible to track due to the ferocious lobbying against GMO labeling on foods. This serves to keep us in the dark about the entire issue.  In 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on physicians to educate their patients to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when. GM corn and cotton are engineered to produce their own built-in pesticide in every cell. The Institute for Responsible Technology recently discussed the only published human feeding study, which revealed what may be the most dangerous problem of all from GM foods. The gene inserted into GM soy or corn transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function. This means that long after we stop eating GMOs, we may still have potentially harmful GM proteins produced continuously inside of us. More simply put, eating a corn chip produced from Bt corn might transform our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories, possibly for the rest of our lives. GM foods just might be colonizing the gut flora of North Americans, where 80 percent of our immune system resides.  And then?

Beautiful Native, Heritage Corn, Nochixtlan, OAX., MX
Organic growing techniques can mitigate global warming, and it’s now clear that organic farming can benefit anyone, on any continent. A recent report of the UN Human Rights Commission on the right to food estimates that we can double food production in 10 years with agro-ecological farming techniques, in spite of Monsanto’s major myth that organic-farming methods can’t produce enough food to feed the world.

 But unless you grow your own food, or eat 100% organic, you are consuming these scientifically modified foods almost daily as they are not labeled here. YET. Genetically modified crops now include sweet corn, peppers, squash and zucchini, potatoes, rice, sugar cane, sugar beets, rapeseed (for canola oil), flax, chicory, peas and papaya. About 25% of the milk in the United States comes from cows injected with a GM hormone, honey comes from bees buzzing in GM fields. The Department of Agriculture says that in 2010, as much as 86 percent of corn, up to 90 percent of all soybeans and nearly 93 percent of cotton were GM varieties!!! Which means that most of our store-bought tortillas are riddled with it…. (GM pigs and salmon are next, folks……no joke.)

What to do? Experts agree that about our only power at this point against this giant corporation (that also brought us Agent Orange, DDT, PCB’s and dioxins) is to force the labeling of GMO foods, and then to not purchase them. We need to support our local growers who refuse to use genetically modified seeds and GM drugs on their livestock.  We need to ban Roundup, NOT use it to clean our precious acequias. We can help support California (and Connecticut) organizers who are gathering signatures for the historic 2012 California Right2Know/Label GMOs ballot initiative for voter approval this fall. As goes California, so goes the nation.  If GMOs ultimately fail, shareholders in Monsanto, (and other biotech companies such as Bayer and Syngenta) will see their investments drop like a lead balloon. So plan ahead -- pull out of funds which invest in Monsanto. If you are a gardener, save your seeds. Do our own research. Oh yeah, and write op-ed pieces to your local paper….and hope they get published.

If all the countries in the world, our own included, slam the door shut on GMO’s before it’s too late, we might have a chance of gaining back control of the future of our seeds, our food, our health and our planet.   Wake up, people!

© Judith Cooper Haden
Santa Fe, NM
All Photos © Judith Haden Photography.com

Monday, April 30, 2012



April  2012
Dear Friends and Family,

The early “cajete” (ca-háy-tay) corn, planted when the soil is still dry here in the Mixteca Alta, has sprouted in the field below the house along with the beans and squash that accompany it in the milpa. The technique of planting these and other companion plants together to make up the “milpa” forms an ingeniously productive and sustainable complex botanical community. Mutual aid, harmony, and equilibrium hold this community of plants together and make the whole more productive than when planted separately. And together they form a rich, shady environment in which dozens of varieties of wild edible and medicinal plants find the unique conditions for their own growth.

In spite of the prejudices of the occidental worldview which proposes that without competition there is no production, in the milpa we see that the strategy of trying to make one species compete to eliminate all potential competitors (what is called a monoculture in modern agriculture) is not more productive.
Today it is becoming evident that in human communities as well the fierce competitiveness of the occidental vision is, in the end, much more destructive than productive.

Last week 300 campesino men and women from across Oaxaca met in the beautiful ethno-botanical gardens of Oaxaca City to strategize about promoting and defending the incredibly rich biodiversity of native corn varieties in this, the center or origin of corn. More than 36 of the original 56-60 land races of native corn are still planted here in the mountains of Oaxaca, along with hundreds of varieties of each race, each adapted to the challenges of the growing conditions of its specific region. With this incredible biodiversity and these rich genetic resistances we hold the future of corn on the planet in our hands.

Yet, in addition to developing plans to promote the planting and improvement of native seeds and to strengthen the custom of planting in milpa in Oaxacan communities, these 300 farmers needed also a defense plan. Under the “influence” of large international corporations such as Monsanto, the Mexican government has authorized the very risky business of planting genetically modified corn in this world center of origin. The vision of competitiveness that reigns in the dominant cultures today threatens to destroy access to the world’s sources of corn genetic diversity through contamination and patenting of native varieties for profit. Three hundred campesinos this day decided they will fight!

But it is dangerous to fight. Three weeks ago Bernardo Vasquez, who worked with us on strategies for nonviolent social change, was killed for his opposition to a Canadian gold mining operation that is polluting the waters of his community. Two weeks before that Betina, with whom we have also worked to develop effective strategies to protect indigenous communal lands, was arrested on trumped up charges.  Her opposition to massive private wind farms that are taking over productive campesino lands on false pretenses, with the cooperation of the federal government, threatened “progress”.  After all, the project is hailed by foreign environmental groups and receives UN carbon credit payments.

Privately controlled hydroelectric projects in Oaxaca are inundating thousands of acres of indigenous lands and of native biodiversity, against international laws that protect indigenous territories. Indigenous communities are fighting back, while the projects primarily designed to export electricity for private profit, ironically, receive carbon sequestration credits.

In a recent interview well known scientist Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute suggested that the energy needs of the Global North can easily be met by new technological efficiencies and cheap, clean renewables in a process of conversion from fossil fuel use led by business for profit. Neither here nor elsewhere in the Global South do we have the luxury of such faith in the private corporation and the innocuous character of competitive greed and business for profit.

It no doubt took many years of careful observation and experimentation for the great, great grandparents of the Mixtec people to understand and construct the harmonious and productive community of the milpa. It also seems they carefully studied how to create harmonious and productive human communities where men and women complemented one another in producing the material, social and spiritual necessities of everyone. Some of their wisdom has survived today in our villages’ communitarian organization, which help us produce for the common good: the tequio, gueza, cargos, and community assemblies.

Like these indigenous ancestors, the human family of today will have to learn how to form the complex communities of complementarity, harmony and balanced production that we will need to overcome the crises we face today. Neither business for profit nor governments beholden to big money will do it.

©Phil and Kathy Dahl-Bredine, Judith Cooper Haden Photography

Monday, April 9, 2012

"CAJETE," The Milpa's Ancient Ecological Native Wonder

 In the villages of the Mixteca Alta there is a special kind of native corn that should give pause to the sometimes overweening pride of our modern scientific era and to its scorn for the ignorance of previous “less scientific” ages. It is commonly called “cajete” from the form in which it is planted in small indentations or “cajetes” in the dry fields. It is a very ancient corn in a land whose indigenous scientists invented corn from a parent plant called “teocintle” around 10,000 years ago. That feat alone, which accomplished an unequaled botanical leap from a wild plant with no cob or husk to “modern” corn with no apparent intermediary species, should humble our scientific hubris.

 But the corn called cajete in addition does things that the most technically sophisticated hybrid or GM corn cannot repeat. Planted in the long dry season in the Mixteca Alta by digging with a traditional tool called a coa until residual moisture from the previous year’s rainy season is uncovered it germinates and grows up to 4 months without rain. Some of the cajete varieties have long above ground roots that have a kind of mucus on them that, university investigators here believe has the capacity to fix atmospheric nitrogen into soils and sustain yearly crops of cajete without diminishing soil fertility. Only leguminous plants are supposed to possess such capabilities.

 The cajete system is a sophisticated ecological and socio-economic invention as well. The checkerboard field of small, box-like indentations in which the corn is planted serves to collect scarce rainfall and helps prevent soil erosion. Since planting cajete is more labor intensive than traditional planting systems it is supported by and in turn supports a community socio-economic system based on mutual aid called gueza. I help my neighbors plant and they help me. And so on an early February morning one can see a line of 6 to 8 people with tall coas moving across a field in a synchronized planting dance.

In each indentation planters drop 3 to 4 seeds of corn, a native bean seed and the seed for native squash. By June the cajete Milpa is complete with its complementary planted varieties and the spontaneous edible plants called quelites that will grow between the rows. A full food system for both Mixtec families and native soils.

© Phil Dahl-Bredine
© Photographs Judith Cooper Haden

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Francisca's Traditional Mixtec Kitchen in Hidalgo Jaltepec

Traditional kitchens in the Mixteca are seductive. They have no relationship with what we are used to in the United States.  Inside, they are smoky, dark and wonderful. Cleanly dampened and swept dirt floors. No windows but light manages to creep in between the bamboo-like stick walls, and in the small space between the tin or thatched ceiling and the walls.  If outside, they are usually covered and open to the air.  The smells of freshly made masa from corn grown just outside the door being toasted into a tortilla on a huge clay comal is an unforgettable aroma.  And once you taste a real tortilla...well, it's hard to see the relationship between that, and what we are served here at home.

Francisca Garcia Ferrer
Francisca, her daughter Sylvia and her husband Apolonio have become great friends during our project. They have shared much of their time and knowledge with us, and we are most grateful. Francisca knows all her traditional recipes by touch and smell, and stopping her in mid-recipe to measure how much onion, now many grams of masa dough -- how big was that handfull of oregano? -- interrupted her stride. The daughters and daughters-in-law are all present to help cook for festivals or large family gatherings -- they prepared 150 tamales for the Dia de la Candelaria/Candlemas Celebration -- and I was very aware of watching the unwritten passing of the recipes down through the generations. Francisca would gently chide if the appropriate method or quantity wasn't quite right. All with good cheer, laughter and an excellent repast at the end.

The ceramic pitchers are hung on the walls for safe keeping, ready to serve atole (a hot, thick sweetened corn or wheat drink) or the famous regional hot chocolate.
The huge clay comal is the heart of the kitchen, and rightly so, as corn has been their sustenance for thousands of years....it's earthy, round seasoned presence is like a beloved  member of the family. The corn grinder in this kitchen is a manual one; some more 'modern' kitchens have a new electric or propane operated free standing machine that is very noisy, but very efficient for feeding large numbers of people.  Some of the women in these small towns make 5-6 dozen tortillas (corn, wheat, and a mixture of each)  to sell at their local markets to earn an extra $25-35 dollars a week, and the new device is much appreciate

Manual corn grinder
Most houses we visited had the traditional kitchens with wood-burning stoves for  tortillas, tamales, and larger quantity preparations. Some can afford a newer more modern kitchen, usually built in stifling  hot little concrete block additions with a propane stove for small family breakfasts, reheating tortillas and tamales, and easily ready to offer guests a quick cup of coffee. Some have refrigerators, like Francisca and Apolonio. Even though at times the smoke kitchens are difficult to spend time in, that's our preference. There is ventilation on most kitchens, but it is usually insufficient for the amount of smoke produced, and the older women are start to develop eye disease from constant and lengthy daily exposure.

Many times dogs are only fed tortillas, and they learn to wait patiently outside the kitchen door for their portion. Dogs are not pets the way they are for us, nor cats; they have practical jobs assigned to them -- night watchman,
rodent police, garbage collector -- and are actually bought and sold, cats fetch 30-40 pesos -- $2.50-4$!  They are not attributed with feelings or needs; it takes a while to get used to the treatment of these domestic creatures. (I remember receiving a letter from  home while while in the Peace Corps in El Salvador; my Dad knew our beloved beagle was really sick when he refused a large portion of roast beef....I read this after coming back from the wake of a baby who died in essence from dehydration and starvation..... we don't know how lucky we have it.)

This was the first picture I took at the very beginning of this project, over a year ago. We all felt it had special significance.....and still do!

©Photographs Judith Cooper Haden