Many of you may have heard this word, ‘Milpa’ It is the Mexican model for agriculture that is reflected in our cuisine, habits, festivities and culture in general. The other day I attended a conference chaired by MaS. Cristina Barros about this important part of our lives as Mexicans and how this model is currently threatened by massive monocropping agricultural models. When I was a child, I used to go to the Anthropology Museum in which they had an exhibition of the evolution of corn in Mexico and how our ancestors with their local knowledge of biotechnology, managed to create different kinds of corn that would satisfy their needs. This created a revolution in how we understand the world and how we interact with it.
The Milpa not only grows corn, but also many other products like beans, pumpkin, chili and herbs like epazote among more than sixty five other crops that form the basis of our daily intake. The crop medley allows the earth to keep its nutrients and for crops to help each other’s growth. It also allows farmers to have access to food during the whole agricultural cycle and eventually use the remainder as fertiliser. This makes it one of the most sustainable agricultural models on earth. But this model is not just good for the environment. Socially speaking, it grants farmers autonomy and self-sufficiency, allowing them to maintain their traditions and culture by staying in the country instead of needing to find jobs in our neighbouring countries. Farmers also continue the ancestral tradition of biotechnology, by changing and adapting the plants to climate change. This is done by constant observation and experimentation with their Milpas and through knowledge exchange with other farmers. MaS. Barros also explained how important the Milpa is to the preservation of our great Mexican cuisine, as it sprouts the products that we mostly use and experiment with. The variety of corns, beans, pumpkins, herbs and even some insects, allow for a richer combination of tastes and textures. Some books establish more than 600 different dishes based on corn and another few about beans, pumpkin, and chili. Barros also stated,
the Milpa is science, culture and ceremony, adapting the pre-Hispanic calendar to the Catholic festivities.
A Cultural Heritage that’s Alive!
This cultural heritage is alive and feeds us every day and it is important to preserve it from major threats like transgenic crops. It is essential to safeguard the autonomy of small farmers by adopting social programs. And for you my dear readers, all you need to do is to keep enjoying this fabulous food, whether in Australia or by travelling to Mexico. This week I will post the recipe for refried black beans. Yours in cooking Andrea.