Ever since I can remember, my cousins and me spent our summers on the farm, “La Loma” where my father was born and raised and “San Nicolas” where my mom was born. These two rural areas were four hours away from home on Mexico City at the time. As kids we always waited impatiently for the last day of school, so my dad could take us to spend our two months summer break around the rural areas.
Fig.- La Loma, Acambay. My father’s home town.
Fig. 2.- San Nicolas, Solis. Edo de Mexico. Where my mother was born.
Every year we watched the corn stalks grow in the “milpas”. The maize was small when we arrived at the beginning of the summer. and ready to harvest when we left. The soil at the milpas is great for growing corn, it is light, moist, fertile and well drained and summer is the perfect season for rain. The milpas were the perfect place to play hide and seek and pick up fresh flowers. My grandma had a large variety of corn seeds, red, black, yellow, white. The black kind have been always my favorite. She pulled out the sack and started measuring the corn into a large wooden container and dumped it into a large pot. It needed to be cooked with lime (calcium hydroxide) and water to remove the seed’s skin until it was ready for tortilla dough the next day.
Fig 3.- Nixtamal bucket. Fig 4.- Women walking to the mill.
I always enjoyed the long walks to the “molino,” a place where you pay to get your corn grind. It was far away from the house. To be first in line, we had to leave the house very early. After the long line at the molino it was her turn, she got on her knees and start rolling the dough that was falling down in little balls, over and over again like snowflakes until her bucket was full. She never let me do it because “con la masa no se juega” she said, in fact, you don’t ever play with the dough. I knew that later on, she always would give me a little piece to make my little tortillas. As soon as we got home, the wood stove was already burning. The “comal” this special smooth, flat griddle was getting ready for hundreds of handmade tortillas that day. I would never forget the taste of fresh, hot and fluffy 10” tortillas that were going out of the comal. She had to do a couple of runs until she could stack some. The little hungry kids were watching everything and waiting on every tortilla to eat it right away.
Fig 5.- Blue corn tortillas Fig 6.- Recently made corn tortillas in hot griddle
We are in the middle of the summer. Corn is medium size. The spike and tassels started to show in the plant, in the next couple of weeks the large ears start to fill up! We were impatiently waiting for fresh corn in the next couple of weeks. I heard my grandpa right after dinner when corn was ready. “Corta unos doce” get twelve ears, he used to yell. The fresh, crunchy and juice taste of grilled corn satisfied our tummies every day. But it was not just the fresh cut corn we were waiting on, also the “caña”, this flavorful stick that looks like bamboo stick with very sweet juices. After we ate the corn caña was dessert.
Fig 7.- Corn fields
Maize is ready to be harvested. The tassels are dry, and cobs are getting hard. Grandpa needed a lot of help to pick it up. He had many “peones” people who he hires to help him harvest. They brought sacks of dry cobs from his other milpas. We sat down in the patio and watched him making piles: one here, one there, that one over there. One by one the corn cobs got their place. I could see pride in his eyes. These were his own seeds. I never understood what he was doing, but this activity that has occurred for centuries is call domestication. He always saved the pile with his better seeds for next year’s crop, and if someone in the community was in need of seeds, he will reach from this pile to share. The second pile was for sell, and the third one to feed the animals.
Summer after summer, things were changing. No fees or tariffs were applied to agriculture products to exports and imports when NAFTA began. Something that looked like an advantage was a big disadvantage for farmers. Some activists were fighting for the farmer’s rights in some areas before NAFTA started, but in “La Loma” they didn’t know about it. New seeds from the USA and Canada are invading the market. The Mexican farmers don’t have a chance to compete with North American farmers. Their subsidies are 20 times less, doesn’t have machinery, irrigation systems or other resources to have a successful production constantly.
Corn seeds imported to the USA and Canada are having a great impact in the economy and social well being in rural areas. The poor are now poorest and the rich are now richer. But this is only the social and economic problem. which all together is a complicated but is the ecological part. Agriculture in Mexico is changing, specially corn production. GMO’s are endangering the biodiversity and centuries of domestication of our creole varieties. These seeds are being used without any strict regulation to protect them from contamination with transgenic genes. Areas where creole varieties are cultivated need to be protected. Farmers need to have an opinion and need to be part in decision taking on their land. Experiments in open fields in areas where only creole varieties are cultivated, are threatening centuries of hard work and challenging nature because we don’t know the consequences yet. We are giving power to the big biotechnological companies the rights over our seeds. The DNA is being transmitted from one plant to another, and the consequences for the environment, the farmers and the economy impact in Mexican farms is not yet safe.
Grandpa does not have as many milpas as he used to. He still plants his house milpa with his white big seeds, just for his family. He watches it grow every summer as we used to. But there is not more help, not kids that are excited for the cobs or the “cañas”. Everyone went North. They consider is not worth it to cultivate their lands since there is not profit. My grandpa’s seeds are still productive, but he is afraid that some day they will disappear because nobody else will plant them. My voice is his voice, the voice of thousands of farmers that live in Mexico in their small farms, still clinging with nails and teeth of those valuable seeds that are not just a crop but also their cultural heritage. I say no to the privatization of seeds, no to the experimental use of transgenic corn seeds and yes to the recovery the food sovereignty of Mexico.