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, 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