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Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

Who knew that there was an amazing garden, built on a former garbage dump, and open to the public in Xoxocotlán? Not me, until a friend mentioned it and invited me on a field trip to visit.

Thus, a few days ago, I found myself at Vives Verdes — a delightful labor of love — a marriage of plants, recycling, art, education, and the environment.

Nine years ago architect, Francisco Martínez began a project of landscaping a healing, artistic, and environmental garden — not only utilizing plants, but also converting found objects into planters and whimsical art.

Vives Verdes incorporates more than 200 species and 2000 plants — mostly from Oaxaca, but also from other arid climates throughout the world.

A water catchment system utilizing paths, beds, and ponds irrigate the garden and no chemicals are used.

Vives Verde is open to the public and school groups. It is located in the Las Culturas neighborhood of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, Oaxaca.

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Sunday, I headed up into the clouds for the 19th Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres (Regional Wild Mushroom Fair) in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. Friends had hired a van and driver to take us on the steep winding climb into the Sierra Norte. An hour and a half after we left the city, we arrived at our destination, 10,433 feet above sea level. Cuajimoloyas has an ethereal feel and seems like a world apart from the valley below.
       
Baskets of fresh mushrooms with shiny orange caps and mushrooms resembling coral, trumpets, cauliflower, and flower petals beckoned. And the aroma of grilled mushrooms, mushroom tamales, mushroom empanadas, and chile relleno stuffed with mushrooms stimulated the appetite.
There were dried mushrooms in bulk and in little cellophane baggies for purchase.
Mushrooms aren’t the only produce the region is known for — delicious apples and new potatoes are grown in these chilly mountains.
And, there there were local crafts for sale and a couple of kinds of mezcal to taste (and buy).
I came home with apples, potatoes, a bottle of the lovely A Medios Chiles mezcal made from the wild Jabalí agave, and 30 grams of dried mushrooms. While the mushrooms weren’t of the “magic” variety, the experience certainly was!
“Mushrooms were the roses in the garden of that unseen world, because the real mushroom plant was underground. The parts you could see – what most people called a mushroom – was just a brief apparition. A cloud flower.” ― Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

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Yesterday, friends from California invited me to accompany them on one of their favorite pastimes — going to the source for artisanal mezcal. At our first stop, the palenque of Félix Ángeles Arellanes, Mezcal El Minerito, we were just in time to watch the beginning of the process of cooking the agave piñas.

The art of making mezcal at the palenque, Mezcal El Minerito.

Piling river rocks onto the red and white hot coals in the earthen pit that functions as the horno (oven).

Covering the rocks with bagaso (recycled crushed agave fibers).

Putting the long tobasiche agave piñas into the oven.

Adding the more rounded jabalí and tobalá piñas.

Topping it off with more tobasiche piñas.

Covering the piñas with more bagaso.

Félix’s sons worked nonstop — an hour and fifteen minutes from the time of the first photo, they covered the mound with tarps to enclose the oven. Though we didn’t see it, I suspect this was then sealed with soil.

Félix pours the “Nectar of the Gods” — a multilayered and complex artisanal mezcal.

Nothing like being at the right place at the right time. And, yes, we not only watched, we tasted and we bought!

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Let us all raise a glass to the hummingbirds and bats of Oaxaca.

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Without the work they do pollinating the flowers on the quiotes (stalks) that shoot up from the agave,

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there would be no maguey piñas to harvest and cook…

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and no mezcal to drink!

*Mural by Lapiztola on the side of the Palenque Mal de Amor (makers of Ilegal mezcal) 2+ miles north of Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca.  Check out their other mural at the palenque HERE.

 

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Today, at 3:00 PM in Teotitlán del Valle, as leaves in the mountains and fields rustled, the arrival of the difuntos (departed) was announced with the sound of cohetes (rockets) and church bells.  Incense burners were lit and placed in front of ofrendas in each home’s altar room — the smoke and scent of copal helping to guide the spirits home for their yearly twenty-four hour visit.

Tonight they will feast on tamales amarillos — special tamales that are traditionally served three times a year in Teotitlán — in July for the Fiesta de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, in October for the Fiesta de la Virgen del Rosario, and today, November first, in honor of the returning difuntos.

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As we have done for many years, blogger buddy Chris and I came to the home of Zacarías Ruiz and Emilia Gonzalez with our offering of pan de muertos and a bottle of mezcal to place on their altar — paying our respects to their difuntos.  In turn, we were offered mezcal and cervesas (beer), followed by the aforementioned tamales amarillos.

The tamales were days in the making.  Several of the family’s organic free range chickens were sacrificed; corn from their milpa was nixtamalized to make a silky smooth masa; and the ingredients for mole amarillo were toasted, chopped, blended, and boiled.  The final preparation began at 3:30 this morning — 250 tamales were assembled, filled, and wrapped in fresh green leaves from their milpa and placed in the steaming pots.  The results were to die for!

For me, more than painted faces and parades, this is what makes experiencing Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca so special.

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Not all cotton bolls are white…

Roberta French, who built my apartment complex in Oaxaca many decades ago, established a textile weaving business and planted coyuche (koyuchi), a natural brown cotton.  She is no longer with us, but her plant survives and grows up onto my balcony.  This time of year, the yellow, pink, and rose flowers bloom, die, form pods, and brown cotton fluff results.

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And the results?  Here, at my apartment complex, the plant is solely decorative.  However, the traditional way of growing, spinning, and weaving brown cotton is still practiced in some communities in coastal Oaxaca, Mexico.  And, I have been lucky enough to have been gifted an old huipil woven of coyuche and acquired a new one at an expo-venta here in Oaxaca city.  If you would like more information on coyuche and its cultivation and weaving, I recommend checking out the Katyi Ya’a collective.

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Cooking with Juana…  Mangos ripening just out of reach.

Sunlight filtering through the leaves of the granada (pomegranate) tree.

A pomelo (grapefruit) waiting to drop.

There is something to be said for outdoor kitchens.

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It’s good to be back in Oaxaca — land of mezcal.  Even the walls sing its praises.

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And, they are not alone — so does National Geographic, with their article, A Mezcal Boom Spurs Creativity.

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Remember the pineapple growing in my rooftop container garden?  Upon returning from a week-long magical mystery trip (more about that to come) last night, I discovered mi piña was more than ready to harvest.

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The fragrance beckons… breakfast tomorrow!!!

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A year and a half ago, I cut off the top of a pineapple (piña, en español), stuck it in a ten inch pot in full sun, watered it very occasionally during the dry season, and it actually began to grow.  This member of the Bromeliaceae family is thought to have originated in the area between southern Brazil and Paraguay and spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.  Reaching Mexico, it was cultivated by the Mayas and Aztecs.  Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese conquerors took it across the pond, and the rest is history.  No surprise, as the fruit (which resembles a pine cone — hence the name) is sweet, succulent, and ridiculously easy to grow!

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A symbol of home: warmth, welcome, friendship and hospitality.  The Welcoming Pineapple

Grown in the Papaloapan region of Oaxaca, the pineapple has inspired elaborate embroidery designs and the crowd-pleasing Flor de Piña dance.   What’s not to love?!

 

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Before a “suspendida” order is slapped on this stunning piece by the Lapiztola collective celebrating the human face of agave cultivation, here is another moving work of art for the people, seen on Tinoco y Palacio on the wall of Piedra Lumbre, near the Sanchez Pascuas mercado.  It tells a story…

P1140381The wisdom of cultivation handed down from generation to generation.

P1140382From the agave comes mezcal.

P1140382lgThere are 199 “recognized” species of agave.  How many can be used to make mezcal?  The Mezcal PhD explores the answer.  And, for an illustrated guide to many of the more popular varietals, click The Many Varieties of Mezcal.

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This morning’s sunshine (after days of gray) brought a visitor to my door…

Green grasshopper on screendoor

A Sphenarium purpurascens, also known as Chapulín de la milpa.  No cornfield nearby.  Hmmm… perhaps the recent storms blew it off course?

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Several mornings ago, after a day and night of rain, I went out on the terrace to check on the garden and found…

Pitaya flower with rain drops

Yikes, one of my Pitahaya (Hylocereus undatus – aka, Dragon fruit) had bloomed overnight!  Must be a relative of my other Night Blooming Cereus.

Two years ago, the original cuttings had been laying in the campo of a friend in San Martín Tilcajete.  When Chris (Oaxaca-The Year After) asked if we could have some, the answer was, “¡Por supuesto!”  Loving the wall of Pitahaya at Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo, six months later, with the original five cuttings becoming fifteen, I could use them to begin to screen the chain link fence at the new Casita Colibrí.  I kept pruning and sticking them in the planter boxes.

Pitahaya climbing chain link fence

June 2, 2014, 8:40 AM

And now, they have begun blooming.  Having missed the “night-blooming” of my first flower, I was determined not to miss the unfolding of the second blossom, seen above near the top of the pole, providing the weather cooperated.  It did!

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June 2, 2014, 7:20 PM

Pitahaya flower

June 2, 2014, 8:40 PM

Pitahaya flower, side view

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By the next day, it had closed, never to reopen again.

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June 2, 2014, 2:54 PM

However, there will be fruit…

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According to the Indigenous Farmworker Study (IFS), there are approximately 165,000 indigenous Mexican farmworkers and their children living  in California — with a significant percentage coming from the state of Oaxaca.  Writer and photographer David Bacon has been photographing and interviewing indigenous Mexican migrants working in California’s agricultural fields for many years.  The following Truthout article is from his photo-documentary project, Living Under the Trees, sponsored by the California Council for the Humanities and California Rural Legal Assistance.

Young, at Work in the Fields

by David Bacon

(Photo: Bacon/After Image)

(Photo: Bacon/After Image)

Most young farm-workers in California are migrants from Mexico, especially the south of the country, where many people share an indigenous culture and language. Ricardo Lopez, living in a van with his grandfather in a store parking lot in Mecca, a tiny farmworker town in the Coachella Valley, says working as a migrant without a formal home was no surprise:

This is how I envisioned it would be working here with my grandpa and sleeping in the van. It’s hot at night, and hard to sleep well. There are a lot of mosquitoes, very few services, and the bathrooms are very dirty. At night there are a lot of people here coming and going. You never know what can happen; it’s a bit dangerous. But my grandfather has a lot of experience and knows how to handle himself. With the money I earn I’m going to help my mother and save the rest. I’ll be attending college in the fall at Arizona Western College—my first year. I want to have a good job, a career. I’m not thinking of working in the fields. Not at all. I look at how hard my grandfather has worked. I don’t want to do field work for the rest of my life because it’s so hard and the pay is so low.

Lopez describes the reality for farmworkers in California in a way that gives tangible meaning to the facts and numbers describing farmworker life. There are about 120,000 indigenous Mexican farmworkers in California. Counting the 45,000 children living with them, that is a total of 165,000 people. They are the most recent migrants from Mexico. They speak twenty-three languages, come from thirteen different Mexican states, and have rich cultures of language, music, dance, and food that bind their communities together.

<snip>  Click HERE to read full article.

This project is therefore a reality check. The idea is to give indigenous migrant communities a vehicle they can use to find support for dealing with the social problems they face, such as housing, low wages, and discrimination. This documentary work is not neutral. Its purpose is to help provide a means for people to organize and win support in a world that, at best, treats them as invisible, and at worst demonizes them. I used to be a union organizer, and this work is very similar. Social documentation not only has to have an engagement with reality, but should try to change it.

Click HERE to read full article.

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I went to Teotitlán del Valle yesterday for the annual Virgen de Guadalupe performance of the Danza de la Pluma.  As many of you know, I’ve seen it many times, BUT I’ve never stayed until the end, as the dance lasts for eight hours.  Yes, 8 hours!  It would mean returning to the city late at night — and driving at night is something most try to avoid.  Thus, I decided to spend the night at Las Granadas, one of the few B&Bs in town.  However, the thought of waking to the sounds of roosters crowing, burros braying, sheep bleating, AND going for a morning walk in the country sealed the deal.

And so, a little before 9 AM today, I headed up (down?) Calle 2 de abril toward El Picacho.  The work day had long since begun…

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Crossing the Arroyo Grande, I turned right to begin the trek up Revolución.  El Picacho kept a watchful eye as I kept pausing to snap photos and just take in the sights and sounds of being out in the country.

El Picacho

Black bull crossing dirt road

My destination was the presa (dam) and its precious reservoir.  Most of my life has been spent living five minutes from the San Francisco Bay and fifteen minutes from the Pacific Ocean — and now living in a landlocked city, I do miss bodies of water.

Dam, reservoir, and mountains

Reservoir

Crossing to the other side of the arroyo, I turned right on Avenida Benito Juárez for the return trip to the B&B.

Dirt crossroads

Houses on hillside

As I walked, the lyrics to Al Kooper’s, House in the Country kept playing in my mind.

No need to worry
Folks in a hurry
Leave them behind you
No one can find you
House in the country
House in the country

All the relaxin`
Will soon fill the cracks in
Good for your head too
If you are led to
House in the country
House in the country
Green surrounding
Love abounding
You won`t find a manhole there

A sublime morning in Teotitlán del Valle.  Ahhh…

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