The Odyssey
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Latin America Kavitha Dispatch

Do You Know Where Your Broccoli Comes From?
 
Some Todos Santos sheep grazing in the milpa (corn)
Caption
As the population of Todos Santos increases, the problem of how to grow enough food to feed everyone becomes more and more serious. Today, my Spanish teacher Faustino took me out for a walk around the village to show me how the locals crecen (grow) their frutas y verduras (fruits and vegetables). "Todos Santos used to be so fertile. We used to sell corn to other pueblos (villages), but now we don't even have enough corn to feed our own. We have to buy from other places."

Before the 1980's, the people of Todos Santos were for the most part Catholic, but also held on strongly to their ancient Mayan religious practices and beliefs. The Mayan religion infused all parts of their daily lives, including farming.

"Before the 1980's, our soil was rich. We didn't need to use any chemicals or pesticides. All of our wastes were organic wastes like fruit peels and seeds, so we layered it with animal manure, leaves, and earth. This would make a good fertilizer to lay on our fields."

"We also prayed to the four gods that live in the four protector mountains surrounding Todos Santos. We made large bonfires and sacrificed food like turkeys and roosters, to request that the gods watch over us and help us have a good harvest this year."

Chilacayote: a type of squash
Caption
On most of their fields, the locals grew milpa (corn), frijoles (beans), and chilacayote (a type of squash). These are the same three crops that were grown together by the indigenous peoples of what is now the United States. Just think of how far away the Iroquois in Northern New York were from the Maya of Todos Santos, up in the mountains of Guatemala--yet they grew the exact same crops in the same way!

Planting corn, beans, and squash together provided a full balanced diet from one small piece of land. Beans grew on vines that could wrap around the tall corn stalks while the squash spread out horizontally and covered the ground. The beans also provided nitrogen for the soil, so the soil didn't lose all its vital nutrients, which would be lost if only one crop were planted in the field. By taking care of their fields in this way and by praying to their gods, the people of Todos Santos grew more than enough food to feed themselves for hundreds of years.

By the mid-1980's, however, the road to Todos Santos brought in many more waste products like plastic bottles and bags. The waste was no longer composed of purely organic materials, so it merely polluted the fields instead of fertilizing them.

The civil war in Guatemala was also taking a large toll on Todos Santos. The army saw the priests and nuns of the Catholic Church as a threat since they were sympathetic to the oppressed indigenous peoples, and it began to shut down the Church. This led the way for a number of other Christian groups to enter upon the scene who were not as sypathetic to the mix of Mayan and Christian beliefs. They told the Maya they were foolish for believing in their terrestial dieties, and discouraged them from conducting sacrifices for good harvests. What do you think of these practices?

The mid 1980's was also when rich Guatemalan businessmen started to import chemical fertilizers and pesticides from the U.S. to Todos Santos. The businessmen convinced the locals that they could grow their vegetables bigger and faster if they bought these chemicals and spread them on the fields. They showed the people of Todos Santos how easy it was and told them they didn't need to go through all the work of composting their waste and manure for fertilizer.

My Spanish teacher, Faustino, with the fields of Todos Santos behind him
Caption

"The first year they tried it, everything grew big, so everyone bought more of the chemicals. But then they noticed, their soil was less fertile the next year."

"The businessmen told them that we just needed to use more chemicals. The more they used the more dependent the farmers became on it, and they started spending all their money to buy chemicals from the U.S. Now our fields are very poor, and there is trash everywhere because most people don't compost anymore. Some children have died by drinking from the river we have always used because it is now polluted with the strong chemicals that run off the fields when it rains."

Also, in the past five years, exporters have discovered that the climate in Todos Santos is perfect for growing broccoli; now much of the land here is used to grow broccoli for export. Trucks loaded with broccoli leave the village everyday, but it is almost impossible to find any broccoli in the local market. It is all sent to the cities and to the U.S.

"As exporters increase the demand for broccoli grown here in Todos Santos, they also bring in more chemical fertilizers and pesticides," Faustino explained, looking out over his beautiful mountain village with the fields in the background. "I'm scared that our land will soon become completely infertile. The exporters can just move and find somewhere new to grow broccoli, but what will we do to feed our children?"

Kavitha  
 

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Jamila - Rainforest Treasures
Abeja - A Day in Quiche
Abeja - Making History
Abeja - Guatemala: Never Again
 
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