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, October 16, 2014

Energy Reforms and Effects on Indigenous Lands in Mexico

         September 15 was independence day for our adopted country. In the tiny plaza above our house the music and fireworks continued until midnight that night as our poor dog, Ita, cowered under the kitchen table. The independence Mexico achieved in 1810, though, did not benefit the indigenous people so much as those of the class of Spanish and mixed descent. These last, following a European mindset, ushered in a liberal attack on indigenous lands, culture, and languages in the name of progress and nation-building. 

          “Independence has become a chimera for us all in our days as the new liberalism (neoliberalism) has  chained us to binding free trade and austerity policies that have set us on the freeway to planetary and societal catastrophe with no exit signs in sight. Modern globalization has meant commitment to an impossible growth in consumption and contamination, while austerity policies enforce our domination by the super wealthy. 

And here in the indigenous communities of Oaxaca, the assault by these forces has become critical. As Naomi  Klein points out in her newly published book, This Changes Everything, “ many of the biggest pools of untapped carbon are on lands controlled by some of the poorest people on the planet, i.e. indigenous peoples. And so the newly liberal Mexican government has found a way to open those lands to the international petroleum cabal.  Under pressure from its previous commitments with NAFTA, (and no doubt from Barak Obama who has convinced Mexican private and public leaders to warmly embrace fracking, the conservative Mexican president and congress have ramrodded through Energy Reforms written in the U.S. under the Alliance for Prosperity and Security. The reforms proclaim that the priority use of any Mexican lands is the extraction of petroleum and natural gas. Applicable to previously protected indigenous communal and ejido farmlands, these unconstitutional  laws give national and international petroleum and gas conglomerates the right to require indigenous communities to negotiate terms for the use of any land where petroleum or gas are likely to be found.  If the communities decide not to accept the terms of negotiation, the reforms give the federal government the right to expropriate those lands in the name of the private industries.

              The fight has begun, and it is the same fight as the tar sands in Canada and the XL pipeline and anti-fracking fight in the U.S. And as Naomi  Klein points out, this gives us the opportunity to unite the struggle for a sustainable planet with the fight for a democracy that is more inclusive of the poor and open to alternative indigenous  visions for our future world.

              Our years in this small indigenous village have taught us a great deal. We have begun to feel at home in a different culture, a different civilization. And we have come to enjoy and value a different sense of what life is about.  Life here is a convivio, a living together while striving for harmony with the life-forms that surround us. We are learning how to live in community in a new way, and we hope to share what we learn and defend the culture that we are learning, in the small ways that are possible for us. But because of this, defending this civilization from  the violent attacks of an international financial and business community bent on extracting wealth at whatever cost, has become personal for us.

            It may well turn out to be that it is the vision of civilization of this small, indigenous community and the indigenous communities around the world, striking in their similarities,that will save the human family from the deviate civilization of greed and growth.

             Our new book, Milpa! From Seed to Salsa: Ancient Ingredients for a Sustainable Future from the Center for Integral Campesino Development of the Mixteca (CEDICAM) with whom we work tries to tell a bit of this civilizational story from within. It represents one of the very little things we can do to defend what we have come to love.

  If you would like to reserve a copy for when it comes out in December or January, send us a note and a check for $30.00 to cover the book and shipping (Instituto Paz, 2645 Mountain View Rd., Silver City, NM, 88061). Many thanks to those of you who donated toward the printing of the book! Of course well send your free copy as soon as it comes out. 

© Phil and Kathy Dahl-Bredine 2014
Photography © Judith Cooper Haden 

Saturday, August 23, 2014


July-August 2014

We often talk about what living here in the ancient indigenous village of Yucuyoco has taught us about the good life.  Recently we have discovered that the pre-hispanic codices tell the fascinating story of Yucuyoco back to the 2nd century A.D.  The ancient symbol for Yucuyoco clearly indicates the Hill of the Wasp. But another ancient symbol for Yucuyoco found in the codices is puzzling. It seems to indicate the hill or plain that opens. To date we have found no one who has an explanation for this symbol.

But though Yucuyoco was a prominent village some 1800 years ago, today like many indigenous villages, it struggles economically for a number of historical and current reasons. So the projects that many of you have helped to fund are a welcome addition to village life. Now instead of hauling drinking water from the springs by burro, spring water arrives at each home twice a week through our new water system. The cisterns, pump, and transformers were paid for by your donations! This year we had to replace a transformer and import a new one from the U.S. to keep the system running. This, too, was due to your generosity. We will continue a small nursery project to increase cash income to participating families again this year. Next week we will be ordering the cuttings of Nochebuenas  (poinsettias) to begin preparing for sale during the Christmas season.

Our young neighbor, Daniel, one of the youth Phil has trained, has persevered with the carpentry work and has become quite good at windows, doors, tables, and beehives, and supplies the people in surrounding villages. Since he has no mode of transportation except a burro, Phil buys supplies and transports lumber from the nearest large town to help Daniel with the work. Tomorrow he will finish installing a new pair of windows in T
ía Nachas small adobe house down the hill.  Until Daniel can afford another form of transportation, your donations help him get his supplies.

As you have gathered from previous letters, in spite of the poverty of the villages of the Mixteca where we live and work, they have much to teach us and share with us about ways of living in community. They also share a rich heritage of seeds and agricultural knowledge, as well as great ancient wisdom about a healthy diet. But contact with the TV culture sometime sows doubts, and CEDICAM is now publishing the beautiful book you have heard about, Milpa: From Seed to Salsa to reinforce the culture locally and share it with the English-speaking world. Thanks in part to your contributions, we are only a few thousand dollars short of printing costs for this beautiful book of gorgeous photos and recipes. The book on the future of an ancient culture, agriculture, and cuisine should come out later this fall.

Of course, the great seed heritage that the indigenous villages of Oaxaca share and serve as guardians for is threatened by new seed laws and genetically modified crops. So we also work with the Collective for the Defense of the Territories of Indigenous Pueblos of Oaxaca, who are organizing to promote and defend native corn varieties in this center of origin of corn. Your generosity has helped sponsor international events of campesinos (the Permanent Peoples Tribunal), as well as fliers and visits to rural campesino communities to meet with communal authorities about these  threats to indigenous culture and biodiversity.  Recently we participated in a local radio program to spread needed information on the dangers of genetically modified seeds.

This past year CEDICAM has begun a process to establish farmers market type centers in the villages of Tilantongo and Nochixtlán.  A generous foundation grant helped stimulate production and set-up of market sites. We still struggle to match supply to the potential demand in the local market  in Tilantongo. Your donations have supplemented the foundation grant and will help us stimulate more vegetable production for marketing to increase village family income.

Recently the new conservative president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, has been pushing through a momentous group of reforms, many clearly contradicting the Mexican constitution of 1917. One of the most potentially devastating is a provision in a new energy law which gives the government the right to expropriate indigenous communal lands if transnational corporations find evidence of gas or petroleum deposits there.  With the help of your donations, we are bringing in legal and political experts to help inform ourselves and the Oaxacan people about the details, limitations and potential reach of this battery of new laws.

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 planet. But if you wish to contribute to this work, you can send a much-appreciated 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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What Is To Be Done?

What a complicated and fascinating world we live in today! Here, as our neighbors struggle to rescue crops and seeds from two consecutive years of excessive rains and early frosts, the issue of seeds has become symbolic of the national and international fight to block the efforts of business and governmental elites to control the world’s commons to feed their collective greed. From Wall Street to Yucuyoco normal people who have a more realistic understanding of our place on the planet and among the community of living things are standing up against blind avarice.

Of course one of the most ingenious tools of avarice ever developed is the genetically modified seed whose genes float silently on the wind making corporate property of every plant with which they interbreed. Recently, a number of efforts to protect the rich wealth of native corn seeds from this tool of greed in this center of origin of the world´s most important grain have resulted in proposed and actual state laws declaring transgenic free zones. But indigenous groups who have analyzed the laws conclude that, in the context of Mexican federal laws and the national economic and political climate, such laws will only serve the interest of the corporate and political conglomerates and validate their  right to decide the future of the indigenous seeds that our communities consider a patrimony of humanity. Indigenous communities here, since the Zapatista uprising of 1994, have realized what angry protesters from Greece to Wall Street have also understood, that supposed democratic laws and legal and economic  structures cease to serve the common good when controlled by political and corporate money, by political and corporate greed. A democracy controlled by professional politicians beholden to unlimited corporate money is no longer a democracy.

 Leo Tolstoy once wrote a revealing and entertaining short treatise on poverty entitled “What is to be Done?”.  Today, faced with a greed that is not only undermining the common good but the sustainability of life on the planet, that is our question, too. Here CEDICAM, the Mixtec organization with which we work, is developing strategies to turn to the local democratic structures that still exist in the indigenous communal villages to protect it´s native seed heritage.  Here, where the exaggerated greed of the western political and economic reality is less dominant, we are working to develop legal processes that can exclude GMO´s from indigenous territories. These processes can find legal support in the international treaties to which Mexico is bound and which dictate indigenous rights over resources found in indigenous territories. If no where else, here in democratic indigenous communities Monsanto can be stopped!

Fortunately, there are other places in the world, primarily in Latin America, where today indigenous majorities are making democracy work for the common good.  Newly freed from control by international financial institutions that promote the agenda of avarice that has increased the wealth of the 1% by 275% in the past 30 years, countries like Bolivia, and Ecuador are once again prioritizing the common good and  national visions based on an indigenous understanding of the world.

What is to be done? Surely the creativity that the anger of the world is generating in indigenous communities and in urban streets across the globe will yield strategies. Study how Argentina has created a healthy economy by refusing to pay international loans and escaping from the straitjacket of trade and financial liberalization. Try to understand why Bolivian indigenous scholars think that the principles of the indigenous Vivir Bien, living well, provide answers to the crises of our times. Meditate on the vital importance of the indigenous  understanding that the Mother Earth is a living being, generous but demanding respect.  Question “development”, financialization of the economy, patents, and privatization of what we hold in common and of our common needs, the Market!

There are growing cracks in the edifice of avarice to take advantage of.