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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

May-June, 2016

Life in an indigenous community has been an experience full of challenges, which include new ways of understanding life, and after nine years of being part of San Isidro Yucuyoco and the greater pueblo of Tilantongo, we  continue to be amazed at some of the aspects of life that are so basically different from the culture we grew up in. This year we had a chance to experience more aspects of this culture, as we were offered the opportunity to host the main meal of the first day of our village fiesta. When a family hosts the meals for the entire fiesta, they are the“mayordomos”. We were not really mayordomos, since it was only for one day, but it seems our village is really too small for a mayordomo, as there has never been one since we’ve been here. In all the various indigenous groups across southern Mexico (17 different language groups in the state of Oaxaca), the annual fiesta is an intrinsic part of the way of life of the pueblos. People work hard and make what would be considered up north a very meager living. 

But the annual fiesta continues to remain an essential part of life here. Every village has a saint’s name and an indigenous name, and the fiesta is celebrated annually on the day of the patron saint. It’s the time for an all-out celebration; fun and entertainment go hand in hand with a sacred duty to give thanks, offer boundless hospitality, and to recommit ourselves to being community for another year. The rather elaborate preparations are a time when all participate in whateverways they can, each trying to offer what they are able. There are also
formalities and honors. 

So on the opening evening of the fiesta —our day to host the dinner — the formal procession began, announced by initial fireworks, led by a band playing, a decorated float with little Uriel, our neighbor boy dressed up as San Isidro,
the “madrinas”, who are the women and girls dressed in colorful full skirts and embroidered blouses with baskets of flowers on their heads - dancing, followed by the
elected village officials, along with invited officials from other villages, and then by all the rest of the villagers, with visitors from Mexico City, (extended family members who have migrated out but always return for the fiesta weekend). Many other visitors from various villages had come from miles away, knowing that all are welcome. The procession arrived at our house, led by Juvenal, one of the elders as spokesman for this event. We met them, according to plan, accompanied by our chosen “representative” who
spoke for us. Juvenal greeted us formally and thanked us for receiving them and all the people; Juan, our representative, greeted them and gave them a formal welcome in our name. The first round of guests were seated
at the prepared outdoor tables, while others waited their turn, as the band played on. We had lots of helpers, preparing the food - having started at 5:00 A.M., and serving. A whole crew of teenagers and young men came in
the morning to help with decorating. Then all the helpers had sat down for an almuerzo (brunch). We figure we served close to 400 people during the day. When it was all over, the leftover food was given away, and amazingly, we had NO TRASH remaining — only the food scraps, which were all composted. After the meal, the procession formed again to lead the calenda, a procession both solemn and joyous, which made its way up the mountain road through the village, with band playing, giant puppets dancing, fireworks shooting off, and periodic pauses for more dancing. The fireworks and dancing lasted long into the morning hours. Then preparations to serve all comers for breakfast began at 5 a.m. 

When we look back on the experience of this integral part of indigenous communal life called “fiesta”, we are forced to wonder at a couple of things:
…..at the unique confluence of the sacred and the celebratory. Before the preparation of the food began at 5 in the morning on Friday, the cooks, the cajero responsible for watching over all the supplies and handing them out as needed, and we, gathered around the uncooked “fixings” and asked a blessing on the food, on all who might come, and that the food might be sufficient for the unpredictable numbers of the crowd. Such ritual acts continued through the night of the fiesta, interspersed with dancing and shouts of “viva!” The following morning after breakfast was the outdoor Mass, then the basketball tournament all day, and the following evening a dance. 
…. at the inverted “economic” values in the community. After the two women in charge of the cooking, from a neighboring village, had spent some 36 hours straight preparing food, cooking, washing pots, and cleaning up, they resolutely refused our efforts to pay them for the great effort and delicious food! “People would say we just did it for the money,” they insisted. In other words, we were living in a community where mutual aid and giving to one another was the predominant value. Money was not. 

The other day at the conclusion of a visit here to indigenous communities where we discussed the Transpacific Partnership trade agreement, a Canadian student expressed his disillusionment. “This all makes it sound pretty
hopeless,” he said with discouragement. “On the contrary,” I needed to say. “What we learn here in the traditional communities of indigenous peoples is that it is not true that people are by nature egoistical, greedy, and violent. The indigenous peoples of the world are telling us of the western world that the human family long ago learned how to live in harmony with one another and with our Mother Earth, with mutual aid, communal
values, love of the earth, and fiesta. So when those in charge of the western world try to defend their violence and greed by saying, “It’s just human nature”, we can now respond, “That’s a lie! For we have seen our human family living differently. We liked it. And that’s the kind of future we want for all of us.”

 Our principle aim for these letters is to share our view from this little corner of the earth. 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.

Love and blessings,
Phil & Kathy (Mexico address: Apdo. 29, Nochixtlan, Oaxaca, 69600, Mexico,


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Our campesino neighbor mused about the weather as we talked in front of the church before Holy Thursday mass. Wind storms and hard rain in February and March, the dry season! Who knows what is next? Yet, with the optimism that farmers must have before the hard work of the planting season, he concluded, But its going to be a good year.

As a precaution, more people are planting the drought resistant cajete corn that can survive 3 to 4 months of drought. Tio Juan and I (Phil) planted this corn first in his fields and then in ours last week. CEDICAM is starting a project funded by the Goldman Foundation to confront climate change by promoting the planting of this ancient corn, developing family seed banks, and working with academic partners to do careful seed selection to increase yields. As Juan and I worked our way across the fields, digging and planting with the ancient coa, I mentioned I was going to Washington DC in mid-April (Ecumenical Advocacy Days) to lobby against the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), because of the negative effects of such trade agreements on our campesino communities.This made me remember.On January 1st, 1994 we awoke to the flashing red light of  our phone message machine. It was our son, Chris, who had been traveling in Central America. Im caught in a guerilla war in southern Mexico, he calmly announced, much to our astonishment. But Im fine. Happy New Year.” He had been there on the plaza of San Cristobal, Chiapas when the Zapatista Liberation Army of indigenous peoples had marched in that midnight. Local police and military personnel scattered in terror as the indigenous leaders announced that they were declaring war on the Mexican state on this, the day of the inauguration of NAFTA, because this trade agreement meant the death of indigenous peoples.

Their analysis was correct. Subsidized basic grains from the U.S imported at prices below the cost of production (its called dumping) destroyed livelihoods in the rural communities of indigenous peoples. Para-state industries and credit banks that supported small scale agriculture were closed, and agricultural assistance shifted primarily to the commercial agricultural sector. Indigenous communal lands protected since the 1917 Mexican constitution were opened to being bought, sold and used as collateral, initiating a return to concentration of lands in the hands of the few. Energy reforms demanded by the new international economy afforded government the right to expropriate indigenous lands in the name of foreign and domestic firms for mining and gas extraction.

As a result, six million campesinos were forced to leave their indigenous villages of Mexico and migrated to the U.S. between 1994 and 2010.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days will bring together some 1000 activists in DC from April 15-18 2016 to lobby against a trade agreement that would intensify these pressures on indigenous Mexican campesino communities, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If approved, the TPP would eliminate all remaining tariff and non-tariff barriers to all agricultural products that Mexico produces and might import. The resulting price competition would virtually guarantee another migration crisis in the U.S., as more millions would be forced out of indigenous campesino communities of Mexico.

In addition, the TPP, which is really an agreement to protect corporate rights to their profits, would give corporations the right to sue governments over any attempts to give preference to local workers or businesses, or to legislate environmental protections, if these interfere with potential corporate profits. It will strengthen the hand of those that want to impose genetically modified crops on farmers and lengthen patent rights on such crops. The Institute for Trade and Agricultural Policy warns that the TPP tries to return to the 1991 International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants which increases plant patent rights, from now, at 5-10 years, to 20-25 years, and would prohibit the interchange of seeds by farmers.

While here in Mexico Pope Frances spoke with great urgency about our need to find a different way to live on this planet. What could he mean? Clearly, the agendas of the powerful, with their wars and trade agreements represent instead business as usual.

How about living an economy that is instead based on the values of our indigenous communities here? Here in Yukuyoko our economy is based on a low input agriculture using native seeds, ancient planting models, and locally produced fertilizer and equipment. (Produce local, use local inputs, and rediscover local talents and abilities, the great reskilling*, the Transition Town movement calls it). A commons is also an integral part of our economy. The forests are free for wood gathering and the communal hillsides for grazing sheep and goats. (Surely we can do more than have common parks and highways: cooperative gardens on public lands, cooperative businesses, community loan funds, and what else?)

Through a system of mutual aid (gueza) we plant our corn together, going from one house to another saving having to pay laborers, and we pay no taxes for the upkeep of the village since we do this through community work projects called tequios. Fiestas are an essential part of our economy and it is an honor to sponsor the music or food so that everyone, no matter how poor, can join in. (Perhaps fiesta is the way to get us away from the computer and the TV so we can think about these things together).

Wisely, our economy not only takes into consideration actual needs of our villagers and our community. At its base, it has a profound respect for what forms the basis of all economy, our Mother Earth, and for what this Mother means for generations to come. (How to recognize our Mother in the world around us and eschew the myth of the machine?)

Part of the great reskilling" could be learning to use the sun.  I (Kathy) gave a solar cooking workshop last week for a group of women, men, and children from Vicente Guerrero, which is a partly shanty-town community located at the city dump outside Oaxaca.  This enthusiastic group, working through their progressive Catholic parish, has been studying holistic health, natural foods, use of medicinal herbs, ways to conserve water and energy and protect the environment.  They are highly motivated to learn solar cooking as a way to reduce wood smoke, help the environment through the use of clean energy, and save scant family resources.  There were exclamations of delight as we sampled steaming pots of rice, vegetables, eggs, potatoes, and pans of oatmeal cookies!  They were much interested also to learn an easy solar method to purify drinking water. The remarks showed an almost too good to be true response.  Yes, it really can be done!

We thank you so much for your messages, your prayers, and your donations, which help to keep making these projects possible.  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.
We thank you very much, and we always love hearing from you.                                                         

Phil and Kathy
Oaxaca mailing address: Kathy and Phil Dahl-Bredine, Apdo 29, Nochixtlan, Oaxaca 69600, Mexico,