Union Zapata Hosts Biodiversity Fair in Oaxaca, Mexico

Union Zapata is a small pueblo that is at off the Pan-American Highway Mexico 190, near San Pablo Villa de Mitla, about five miles from where I live. They grow organic corn, squash and beans just like many villages throughout the state of Oaxaca.

Native corn, indigenous to Oaxaca state, at the Feria Biodiversidad

Blue corn tortillas, one of my favorites

But, the native crops indigenous to Mexico are at risk as more farmers plant seeds that they can afford to buy, to sell produce in a competitive economy where retail price drives most decisions. Cheap corn introduced by commercialization is taking over Mexico.

Farming family from the Mixe region of Oaxaca

Farmers from all parts of Oaxaca state gathered in Union Zapata on Saturday, December 2 to promote their ancient crops. They came in vans, cars, trucks and buses from the mountains, coast and valleys, from remote communities that adhere to tradition. They are proud to show the produce that results from their labor.  The native species have provided for the complete nutritional needs of native people for 10,000 years.

Carbon dating sets Mexican squash at 10,000 years old

I went to the fair with Carina Santiago, noted Teotitlan del Valle chef and owner of Restaurante Tierra Antigua, and Kalisa Wells, professional cook and caterer from San Diego. I am fortunate to call them friends. I had no idea what to expect and what I saw was amazing.

Rafael Mier holds Jaguar Beans, a rare, ancient strain

Carina and Kali introduced me to Rafael Mier from Mexico City and his aunt Caterina. Rafa’s grandparents came to Mexico City from Northern Spain. They were farmers. In the middle of the city they raised animals and crops. They grew up with their hands in the soil.

Are Mexicans more concerned about conserving chile varieties?

Today, Rafa leads a conservation NGO called Tortilla de Maiz Mexicana to educate farmers and consumers about the importance of growing, buying and eating native corn. He tells me that throughout Mexico, it is now difficult to find the real food that provides the complex carbohydrates-protein exchange needed for a healthy diet.

Some of Mexico’s corn diversity. There are 59 landraces.

Even if we believe we are eating native, organic corn in Mexico, we are being deceived. Tortilla and tlayuda makers are using processed corn they buy in bulk, pre-soaked so that it can be prepared faster. And, that’s what’s being sold in most village markets and at the tortillerias where machines spit out white corn tortillas, hundreds to the minute.

In the United States, there is a similar story. We want bright yellow corn, big juicy kernels, uniform in size and texture, easy to peel and consume with butter — melt in your mouth. This is genetically modified to suit American taste.

I could not believe the color of these squashes. Eye popping.

This corn has little nutritional value and converts immediately to sugar.  Monsanto can export it to Mexico and sell it cheaper than the corn small scale farmers produce themselves.

Farmer-weaver from San Juan Colorado, Costa Chica

Corn is a staple in Mexico. When GMO corn converts to sugar as it metabolizes, indigenous people suffer from diabetes. This is a HUGE health issue here. I can tell you this from personal experience, since many of my local friends struggle with the disease, have amputations and die.

Organic coyuchi cotton from the coastal highlands of Oaxaca

San Juan Colorado and San Pedro Amuzgos handwoven huipiles at the fair

Some of us adhere to the Slow Food Movement. We want to know who makes our food and where it comes from. This is a way to eat what we believe, to ask questions about food sourcing from restaurants and cooks.

My late morning snack: organic blue corn stuffed with chicken and chilis

These are native hibiscus flowers used for drinks and stuffing enchiladas

I liken this to the #whomademyclothes movement started by the Fashion Revolution. I want to know where the cotton, silk and wool comes from. I want to know if plants and cochineal are the dye materials. I want to know if my clothes are mixed with polyester or rayon. I want to know who sewed them and were they paid fairly.

Order pumpkin pie from Jorge Daniel Bautista, Union Zapata, tel: 951-421-4697

Education requires commitment and social activism. Yes, it is difficult in our world to be a purist with so many hidden ingredients. But we can try! Isn’t that what counts most?

Teotzintle, the grain that corn was hybridized from in the Oaxaca valley

Teotzintle, a Nahuatl word, is the world’s original corn. It was discovered in the nearby Yagul caves and dated at 8,000 years old.

Pre-hispanic Amaranth is a great source of protein

The biodiversity of Mexican corn gives us 59 different varieties

After the fair, Rafael and Caterina joined us at Tierra Antigua Restaurant where Carina brought out her specialties of Mole Coloradito and Mole Negro for tastings. But first, we had her yellow organic corn tlayudas, followed by red corn mamelas.

Carina’s red corn mamelas, a delicious appetizer.

Carina’s husband, Pedro Montaño, has a milpa (field) where they grow only native corn and they use this exclusively for the tortillas and tlayudas they prepare in the restaurant.

Restaurante Tierra Antigua specialty of Mole Coloradito and Mole Negro

New and vintage masks from San Juan Colorado

The program receives limited funding from the government of Mexico, and this year, its 7th, the organizers sought donations from private individuals in order to hold the fair. It was only for ONE day. Transportation was provided for the participants who came long distances, but did not include overnight lodging.

Yira Vallejo from Pierde Almas mezcals was a lead organizer.

If I had known about this in advance, I would have alerted you in the days before to come out to the Tlacolula valley to enjoy the day. I hope to do this next year.

How you can get involved?  Contact

If you are a U.S. university professor who wants to learn more about Mexico’s native plants and food, please contact Norma Schafer. Oaxaca Cultural Navigator organizes study abroad short courses and educational programs for faculty and students for cultural exchange.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 Responses to Union Zapata Hosts Biodiversity Fair in Oaxaca, Mexico

  1. Norma–Thank you so much for this amazing article! A real eye-opener! Sounds similar to what happened to our wheat crops in the United States. I’m really enjoying my beautiful rebozo, by the way!

  2. Exciting to see, through your writings, a culture dedicated to preserving its traditions, to protect their way of life. It’s a holy struggle…great empathy and respect.

  3. How I would have loved to see those huipiles!
    Brown is my favorite color. They are beautiful.

  4. I’m not positive but the foto of the squash , it I believe is cacao. Plastic bag of cacao beans along with pods.

  5. Great article Norma! Would have loved to go…maybe next year. YOU cannot know everything in advance. Thanks for all the info.

  6. Norma, I’ll say it again. You are such a great writer. Always enjoy your blog!!

  7. Great post! Thank you, Norma.

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