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.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

CORN WALKING IN THE MIXTECA -- Let's Reconsider 'Doing Things Big!"

January, 2010
Dear friends and family,

Last night as we came home from Oaxaca we rounded a curve and saw in the semi-darkness a round hulk of corn stalks a good 10 feet wide moving down the opposite lane toward us. “Corn walking” we call this common phenomenon these days when all of our campesino neighbors are harvesting their crops. For the huge bundle of upright corn stalks usually hides all but the small hooves of the sturdy burro that is silently propelling the bundle toward home from under the stalks. It reminded us of what we have over and over again been forced by our neighbors to recognize in our time in the village of Yucuyoco: life here challenges all of our Northern preconceptions and preferred systems of providing the necessities of life. It especially challenges our myths about the efficiency of “doing things big”.

© Phil Dahl-Bredine
The burro carries as much corn as a well packed pick up truck. But you will all laugh at us if we suggest it is a more efficient way to transport farm produce. Yet U.S. farmers will not laugh so loud when they hear that investment in the burro was $50 and that our farmer friends here are not in debt to the banks, they are not threatened with losing their land to foreclosure, and there are no farmer suicides that so often follow these foreclosures in the U.S. And it may be cause for thought that recent studies have shown that, although farmers here have lower yields per acre when they mono crop corn, the total food produced on small parcels that combine the polycultures of the traditional milpa system and small livestock is often higher than on the “modern” agribusiness farms.

Ah, but the burro and other less mechanized methods of production are so slow! Yet, in this time in which we are bumping up against the ecological limits of the planet and the social limits of the increasing gap between rich and poor, it is time to begin to dispel the myths about the importance of speed and bigness.

Both speed and bigness cost! Both produce contamination, concentration of wealth, unemployment, unsustainable resource use, and ill health. All of these are costs we cannot afford at this our time to be here on planet Earth. The ever increasing number of enterprises that have come to be “too big to fail” want us to believe that speed and bigness are essential to competitiveness and cheaper consumer goods. But this is because they wish to continue to externalize the above mentioned costs in all of our production systems, from food production to manufacturing, onto government, service organizations, and the “modern” family.

Oh, they will accuse us of being Luddites, romantics, crackpots! But the basic systems on which we depend in the North no longer work. We must question them at the deepest level. Speed and large size are two of the first entities that we need to strip from the myths that surround them.

Of course what the people of Yucuyoco teach us doesn’t necessarily mean all of us should return to burros or other extremely simple technologies (although in the face of scarce petroleum caused by the U.S. blockade, Cuba has returned to animal traction in agriculture with significant success). But it does mean we should choose technologies consciously and intelligently and refuse to accept the myths promoted by our business and industrial leaders,  politicians, or even our scientists who are often caught in the private profit or the dominate nature mode.                                                                                            

For instance, the myth that large scale, speedy, mechanized monocultural agricultural is necessary to feed the world.

What we have learned about this here in Yucuyoco is:
1.  Small scale production works for providing food for families and neighbors. It also provides
     employment for family and neighbors.
  1. Food produced this way is energy cheap. Here, and 50 years ago in the U.S., one calorie of energy input yielded 7 calories of food on the table, where our modern food system needs 10 calories of energy to get one calorie on the table. (Uncertain Peril, Claire Hope Cumming)
  2. Local small scale production is environmentally cheap. Industrial agriculture creates almost 14% of the excess greenhouse gases that are affecting our climate, including nitrous oxides and CO2. In contrast, small sustainable farming that takes time to create soils rich in organic matter can sequester more excess CO2 than a forest. (“A Message for Climate Change Negotiators”, Annie Shattuck)
  3. Large commercial feed lots produce vast quantities of the greenhouse gas, methane, while incorporating animal manure into soils on small scale plots actually helps soils to sequester more CO2.
  4. In spite of the extreme efforts of agribusiness conglomerates to take control of the food systems of the world, small farmers still feed over 70% of the world’s people. (Who Will Feed Us?, ETC Group)
The people of Yucuyoco also challenge us to reconsider our myths about what is a good life, what is really poverty, and what place we have on this planet that they revere as the Mother Earth. What an opportunity we all have to share insights, resources, and visions across borders and across cultures to create together a sustainable planet!  

Peace and Blessings to you all,
Kathy and Phil

© Photographs Judith Cooper Haden unless otherwise noted

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