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.

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

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