By Julie Etra
The first Annual Festival of Maize Criollo took place in Santa Maria Tonameca on Sunday December 16th. This small community is located about 8-10 miles west and north of Pochutla in the municipality of Tututepec, Oaxaca. Maize Criollo, perhaps better understood by English speakers as Heirloom corn, consists of native and local varieties of corn that have been preserved and propagated for hundreds of generations. As per a series of articles previously published in the Eye, the ‘birthplace’ of corn has been confirmed to be the Balsas watershed on the border of the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, with plant breeding beginning about 10,000 years ago. The ancestor of the current modern corn is a grass-like plant known as Teosinte, which barely resembles what is consumed today.
Oaxaca has the most diversity of corn varieties, also called races, of any state in Mexico, in part due to its heritage and tradition of cultivation as well as diversity in climate and soils. The festival celebrates this diversity and offers the communities of the region an opportunity to present their products and exchange information. About two-dozen booths offered a variety of products, not just limited to corn, as well as services associated with agriculture including a tractor for sale. The prevailing theme of the festival expressed on banners hung among the booths is that corn is not grown in isolation or in monocultures, as is the model in the United States, but as part of an socio-agricultural system of companion planting called a milpa, meaning ‘to the field’ in Nahuatl. Charles C. Mann described milpa agriculture as follows, in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus , “A milpa is a field, usually but not always recently cleared, in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once including maize, avocados, multiple varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilies, sweet potato, jicama, amaranth……. Milpa crops are nutritionally and environmentally complementary”.
A large tent hosted several experts from the surrounding communities and government, as well as at least four school bands. Speakers emphasized the importance of caring for the land and water, flora and fauna, all the natural resources. Booths served and sold corn and corn products including lovely flowers made from plant parts, several natural beverages, natural bug repellents, Jamaica jam and wine (yum), sopes made from the most delicious green corn I have ever tasted, irrigation supplies and innovations, books, weavings, and jewelry. Two experts represented one booth from Nuvagro, a manufacturer of soil inoculants and organic amendments designed to increase yield without the use of commercial fertilizers (http://www.nuvagro.com/). The animal pens of adult and baby iguanas and several large and venomous black-beaded lizards or Mexican scorpions (Heloderma horridum, related to the gila monster of the southwest US), and rabbits, rounded out the event and complemented the social component of the milpa by providing a major living attraction for the children and curious adults.