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.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Tradition of 'Gueza,' or Traditional Mutual Sharing; The Feria de la Milpa

        April, 2010

This morning some of the neighbors came down with their coas (see the picture) to help plant the early corn called cajete. It is planted in the dry season and can grow months without rain. Last year our cajete grew 14 feet tall!

The neighbors came as part of a traditional mutual sharing called gueza. “Planting cajete always used to be pure gueza. We would plant at one family’s house and then all go to another’s until everyone had planted”, Tio Juan explained. The morning started cool and pleasant, but as the clouds cleared the sun became hot. As I planted the sweat ran down my face, and I wondered to myself how I could explain why laboring this way with ancient seeds and planting techniques was not a romantic game, an escape from the complex issues that the world faces.

But as I straightened up and saw the others planting ahead of me in the furrows above, it struck me that this complex world faces two fundamental and critical challenges. One is to remold the lifestyle of the peoples of the global North to something that matches the ability of the planet to sustain us. The second is to work with the majority of humanity, which lives in the rural global South, to create economically healthy farming communities, where the world’s food needs can be met and where there is no longer the need to emigrate to unsustainable urban centers.

We were working on both of those challenges in the field this morning. Community cooperation must replace exaggerated egoism and individualism in the North while seeking ecologically sound ways of meeting basic needs. And farming communities in the South must find ways to use their ancestral knowledge and the great agricultural biodiversity that they have created and which they preserve for the human family, to build economically sound villages and feed surrounding populations.

It is because of this second challenge that over 350 indigenous campesino men, women and children gathered in our nearby district center last week to celebrate the first annual Indigenous Campesino Fair and the inauguration of the Casa de la Milpa Sostenible, House of the Sustainable Milpa, a small museum featuring indigenous knowledge and biodiversity as a basis for a sustainable future. 

Our Niño a Niño group, called Ñuú Xekuechi (“Community of Children” in the indigenous Mixtec language) from the village of La Providencia participated, with  20 children and teenagers attending the event, having obtained special permits to be absent from school.  The Campesino (family farmer) Fair was set up in the central square of the town of Nochixtlán, with tables and booths around the entire area, each displaying the myriad varieties and colors of native corns – in reds, blues, blacks and purples, various shades of yellow, and white ---- corn varieties deriving from ancestors going back to centuries before Christ: corns which carry in their genes the toughness of drought resistance, adaptability to high and low altitudes, those which survive extremes of temperature or rain fall… all of which have been carefully improved by indigenous farmers to adapt as needed to local conditions.  There were also beans in many colors and sizes, various types of squash seeds, local herbs, as well as local types of medicinal plants and seeds.

The House of the Milpa museum tells the story of the form of planting developed uniquely in Mesoamerica that one expert has called “perhaps one of the most successful inventions of humankind.” Planting corn, beans, squash, amaranth, tomatillo, together in the same plot and allowing the wild edible plants to grow among them yields high production of one of the healthiest diets on the planet and a soil treatment and weed and insect control which have made it sustainable for millennia. In some areas here the current version of the milpa has been improved with careful seed selection to the point that it has tripled production. The math is interesting: 60-70% of the world’s food is still produced by small farmers. Industrial agriculture, which accounts for the remaining production, can only expect a few percentage points of improvement in the future. Doubling or tripling the production of the 60-70% of small farmers has much greater potential for feeding the world than Archer Daniels Midland and its corporate cohorts.

All Photographs © Judith Cooper Haden

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