MESTIZA DE INDIAS, SAVING HEIRLOOM SEEDS FROM EXTINCTION
We recently visited Mestiza de Indias, an essential agriculture project rescuing native farming traditions and heirloom seeds in the Yucatan. Through a strong sense of community created on the farm, they are combating harmful agricultural practices in Mexico. During our trip founder Gonzalo Samaranch Granados took the time to show us around his gorgeous project, and even slow roasted eggplants and made some incredible eggplant tacos with handmade tortillas made by the women that work on the farm.
How did you get inspired to start Mestiza de Indias?
” 25 years ago I had the opportunity to live for a long period in an indigenous community in the middle of the Amazon jungle in Brazil where I discovered another type of life was possible. I witnessed lives based on cooperation, solidarity, self-sufficiency and absolute respect for nature and all forms of life.
Years later, when I arrived in Yucatan I realized that the indigenous Mayan communities, who in the past created one of the most innovative and sustainable food production systems In human history, in present day live surrounded by garbage and waste, suffer from serious food-related illnesses and processed beverages that they buy in stores; and young people have to leave their communities and travel to the cities to earn a living.
This is the impact of modernization on indigenous communities: the loss of ancestral knowledge and traditions, and turning their backs on nature.”
Can you tell us about the essential concepts behind your project in regards to protecting the culture of the Yucatan?
“Mestiza de Indias, a farm located in the middle of the jungle where we produce fruits and vegetables free of agrochemicals, but above all a space for environmental and social regeneration, is a project that was born to try to respond to this problem by offering decent wages and healthy food for team members, close to their homes, medical benefits and, above all, promoting values and respect for nature.
Another effect of modernization and industrialization is that we have left food production in the hands of a few transnational corporations that control all the processes of production and marketing and whose criteria are strictly economics. Therefore, many varieties of fruits, vegetables and legumes which are ancestral, and much healthier and nutritious, but that do not meet the “criteria” Or standards created by commercial circuits are not accepted, and thus run the risk of disappearing as they are not profitable.
A clear example of this is in Mexico, the birthplace of the tomato! Today We basically consume two varieties of tomato that have been designed by the industry with the hard skin to support the weight in the boxes and of slow maturing to withstand long trailer rides, when there are more than 800 ancestral varieties that survive thanks to the work of small indigenous producers and international seed banks.
The same happens with corn, vegetables, legumes and tropical fruits of the region that are not considered “profitable”, are no longer planted and are in danger of disappearing. Therefore, one of the work of Mestiza de Indias has been the rescue of many of these species, promoting their planting and spreading their benefits among chefs from Tulum.”
How many different varieties of fruits and veggies are you currently growing and what are some of the more exotic ones, for example wich is the species you are saving from extinction?
“To date, we have approximately 20 varieties of fruits planted on the farm and 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. The most fruits are different varieties of bananas, zapotáceas and native anonaceae that we have tracked and located in various communities of the peninsula and later planted on the farm.”
What has been challenging about being one of the only organically certified farms in the area?
“Today there is scientific evidence that most diseases that we suffer are linked to food and the use of chemicals in Agriculture. For too long we have assumed the Food that made it onto our plates was healthy. Nowadays we know this is not the case. There are sectors that cannot be governed exclusively by economic criteria because health is a fundamental right and should not be in the hands of companies whose sole objective is economic profit!
Certifications, official or not, whether we like it or not, are the only way to protect the consumer from bad practices or lack of rigor. If we require our physician to be licensed to practice, we should demand the same from our food providers.
In Mestiza de Indias we are working in collaboration with other producers and civil associations to create our own local certification, which responds to the needs of small producers and assures buyers that what they are purchasing really is healthy.”
What would you like tourists visiting Tulum to understand about the importance of supporting projects like yours?
” In Tulum and, not only in Tulum, there are too many well-known restaurants claiming that their menus source local and organic fruits and vegetables, and those of us who are dedicated to production know that this is not true.
The majority of restaurants source products that travel from far away in trailers from the center and north of the country and are not organic. Therefore, tourists and consumers should be truthfully informed of the origin of what they are consuming They also have a moral obligation to demand that information and to support those businesses that have good practices and make an effort to acquire quality products, even if much more expensive than conventional ones, for ethical reasons. In mestiza de Indias we are visited weekly by tourists staying in hotels and dining in the restaurants of Tulum that we provide to.
Most of our team are young men and women, Mayan speakers from the indigenous community of San Pedro Chenchelá, located a few km from the farm. Reyes, an 18-year-old, the youngest, is in charge to produce the organic fertilizers and insecticides in the biofactory and Don Domingo, the patriarch, who overcame his alcoholism years ago, possesses ancestral wisdom of the land, the use of native plants and traditional Mayan medicine.
Soon, the construction of a “kindergarten” on the farm is planned so that those women with children who want to join the team Can have their children nearby!”