We didn’t realize the counter-cultural nature of the visit we made to Espacio Kruz. Because we didn’t know the history of the uprising in the state of Oaxaca that created the Holy Virgin of the Barricades.
What RomaÌn Kruz and his family are doing on their small piece of property looks like homesteading and simple living. But it is so much more than that. It is validating the worth of the people of Oaxaca, the campesino. In Oaxaca, to call oneself a campesino, or peasant, is not to denigrate oneself. It is to name oneself as a person of worth and heredity tied to the land and the ways of living off the land.
Kruz has built a small compound from locally sourced bamboo, adobe and plastic soda bottles filled with dirt. His family has a two-bedroom house with an eating/sewing porch, a two-room dry toilet outhouse, an eco-kitchen, water collection station, and enclosures for the animals and storage.
Surrounding their buildings are four hectares of land on which they use the Milpa system, and grow herbs, flowers and fruit. All with the purpose of nourishing and sustaining the family.
This was the first time we were introduced to Milpa. But the story of planting Milpa became the backbone of sustainable agriculture in the Oaxaca region.
Milpa is the ancient art of planting all that is necessary for a balanced, plant-based diet without the use of artificial fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides. As a matter of fact, herbicides are anathema, for part of the beauty of Milpa is the weeds that grow among the plantings.
As RomaÌn told us about planting Milpa, his wife and daughter began bringing purslane and other “weeds” to the table. These are an important part of the diet and nutrition of families in Mexico.
Milpa is a type of rotational planting method that takes advantage of a small plot of land. First corn is planted in hills 50 centimeters apart by hand and feet. The seeds have been saved from the harvest the previous year. Later, squash is added between the corn. All sorts of squash. Big and little, green and yellow, winter and summer squash to be harvested throughout the growing season as the farmers thinned and managed the growth of them throughout the season.
Next, when the rains and warmth are just right, beans are planted among the corn stalks. The native corn stalks are much stronger than the hybrid corn planted in a typical field. These stalks are perfect for supporting the climbing beans until they are ready for harvest and drying.
Interestingly, as we talked about the use of the ENTIRE squash plant as food, our breakfast cooks were already planning to feed us squash stems, blossoms and fruit as a braised dish the next day.
RomaÌn and his family have not lived without controversy. A large corporation would like to build a road through his property so that a local mine can be better accessed. The road has potential to harm the family’s water supply; not to mention the entire ecology of the region. These mining companies are not Mexican and are not too concerned about the damage they leave behind. Very little of the benefit from the mines, or any other corporate enterprise, finds its way into the economy of Oaxaca. While Oaxaca is rich in natural resources and ecologically more diverse than most places, protecting the land is not high on the priority list of anyone who can use the North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA to exploit these resources.
RomaÌns family stands on the land as guardians for the way of life that will bring healing and hope to Oaxaca. I hope they will prevail and will be raising Milpa for generations.
Land Stewardship Project member Debra Jene Collum lives in Chatfield in southeastern Minnesota. More of Collum’s reflections from the LSP-Witness for Peace Mexico trip are available on her Perennial Hope blog.