Maize: Biodiversity and Culture in Everyday Consumption

During the first semester of 2019, Casa Gallina’s programming focused on the theme of maize. Different activities took place shaping a platform of critical reflection in regards to the importance of this grain as a fundamental element for both culture and nutrition in Mexico, as well as its significance for pre-Colombian cosmogonies.

The activities included a critical reflection on the importance of the biodiversity that exists in Mexico and its sixty-four different species of maize, most of which are native. It also included discussion of the implications of the implementation of genetically modified seeds, the nutritional impact of the consumption of industrialized maize flours derived from the recent elimination of nixtamalization processes, as well as cultural meanings associated with the food’s consumption, and the nutritional values of a diet based on maize and other crops from the milpa.

 

The strategy included alliances with different specialists in the issue, such as Rafael Mier, an activist focused on defending native maizes and quality tortillas throughout the Mexican territory, as well as Valeria Ramírez, a specialist in children’s environmental education and the creation of urban gardens; Carlota Pacheco, a chef from Xochimilco; Calpuli Tecalco, a civil society association focused on restoring the cultivation of terrace milpas, along with several other professionals who shared their knowledge about maize and related topics with neighborhood residents.

 

This platform, focused on critical reflection related to maize and its consumption, made it possible to build an informed consciousness among neighborhood residents of Santa María la Ribera – as well as in other territories where the contents generated by Casa Gallina circulate. This, in turn, has enabled peopled to make decisions about responsible consumption and encouraged more direct citizen involvement in issues of nutrition, diversity, conservation of the environment, and better development policies in tune with nature and health.

Strategy implementation programs:

Exhibition: Maizes, Biodiversity and Culture. An Approach Based on Everyday Consumption.

Dates: April – August, 2019

Location: Geology Museum

Research: Rafael Mier

Artist: Demián Flores

Educational Program: Cecilia Pompa

Attendees: Students and teachers from neighborhood basic, secondary, and preparatory schools, as well as other groups of neighbors

 

The exhibition enables critical reflection about maize and its diversity as a fundamental element of Mexican culture and diet. The exhibition includes research by Rafael Mier, a specialist and activist who has worked to defend native maizes and quality tortillas throughout the Mexican territory, as well as an aesthetic proposal by the artist Demián Flores, who approaches the issue through graphics, mixing a contemporary urban perspective with pre-hispanic cosmogony.

The exhibition in the Geology Museum allowed school groups and neighborhood residents in general the opportunity to engage in didactic activities related to the issue. The didactic experiences made it possible to deepen the relationship with local schools and residents, as well as to construct a critical approach to issues related to the environment and everyday life.

 

7th Encounter with the Earth

Date: April 7th, 2019

Location: Public park of Santa María la Ribera

Participants: 500 neighbors


The Encounter with the Earth is an annual event organized by the Geology Museum of the UNAM and the  Cuauhtémoc townhall, which invites different university institutes, collectives, and institutions working on scientific education and the implementation of proposals for environmental regeneration. For the third year in a row, Casa Gallina was invited to participate with a stand called “Maize: Knowledge of the Earth.” The stand offered a space to disseminate information about the native species of maize in Mesoamerica, their evolution from the common ancestor teocintle, their varieties, and their contemporary uses in rural and urban communities.

Several rounds of a domino-style board game were played, in which participants linked images of maize consumption to ideas and concepts related to diversity. In another space in the stand, neighborhood residents contributed to a collaborative map in which they located their trusted tortillerías and other spaces where maize products are cooked in a traditional way. The space also offered traditional beverages made from maize: agua de pinole, tejuino, and tascalate. Participants were able to learn more about how each of those drinks is made and could take the recipes to reproduce them at home. Through these playful strategies, the activity created a bond between participating neighbors and maize, understood as a fundamental element of everyday culture and as a primary source of nutrition.

 

Milpa Workshop for Children

Dates: April – May, 2019

Facilitator: Valeria Ramírez

Participants: 15 residents of Santa María la Ribera

 

Over the course of five sessions, children, accompanied by their families, carried out the necessary actions to start a traditional milpa as part of Casa Gallina’s vegetable garden. In this way, they learned how the interaction between a large number of species turns the milpa into an ecosystem, in which the system’s different resources (water, light, soil) are used in a complementary way, providing different benefits not only to the species that co-exist in it, but also to the human communities that manage them.

This workshop allowed families to have direct contact with the traditional form of milpa cultivation and to learn about the processes of symbiosis and exchange that are present in this form of Mexican agriculture.

 

Conversation: The Diversity of Mexican Maizes

Date: June 8th, 2018

Coordinator: Rafael Mier

Participants: 30 residents of Santa María la Ribera

 

Activist Rafael Mier led a discussion with neighborhood residents about the importance of demanding high-quality nixtamalized tortillas made with good maize and encouraged the attendees to participate in collective initiatives in defense of food sovereignty in everyday life. To do so, he coordinated a tasting of tortillas made with different types of maize flours and dough, in order to distinguish between the different qualities.

This activity provided participants with the tools to identify different types of maize and how they are prepared, so that they can then apply them to identify what type of maize they are consuming in everyday products such as tortillas and tamales.

 

Salón Huev@: Milpa and Maize

Dates: June – September, 2019

 

The contents displayed in Salón Huev@ focused on critical reflections about maize and the milpa. They integrated information about the process of maize domestication, poems in native languages about that plant, the diverse types of milpa, the nutritional quality of maize and other products from the milpa (zucchini, beans, chilies, etc.). Additionally, the space also included a version of the Mayan board game Boolik and an intervention by neighborhood resident Mariana Aranda depicting a scene in the Popul Vuh.

The critical focus on maize made it possible to carry out several activities about the theme, geared towards different audiences, including the summer course, film projections, and talks, among others. 


Cycle of Films on Agricultural Life

Timeframe: July-August, 2019

Coordinator: Roberto Campos

Associates: Alberto Cortés and Teresa Camou

Participants: 71 neighbors


Projection of documentaries offering different perspectives on social phenomena such as environmental deterioration, labor exploitation, as well as the discrimination faced by rural communities in their daily efforts to preserve agricultural practices associated with food sovereignty or environmental and cultural diversity in Mexico. The following films were presented in this cycle: Friends from Australia (“Cuates de Australia”, Everardo González, 2011), The Heirs ("Los Herederos", Eugenio Polgovsky, 2008) and The Absent Stone ("La piedra ausente" Sandra Rozental, Jesse Lerner, 2013), chosen by the neighbor Roberto Campos. In addition to Maize in Times of War ("El maíz en tiempos de guerra" , 2016) and "Sunú" (2015), whose directors, Alberto Cortés and Teresa Camou respectively, spoke with the audience.

Over the course of 2019, a group emerged, comprised of neighbors who frequently attend film projections. Hence, the discussions held after each session have acquired consistency and continuity. During this cycle, the group coalesced and focused their debates on the connection between urban needs and the rural challenges addressed in each film. The guest directors provided insight into the process of making their films and shared with neighbors their concern that city dwellers should define ways to contribute to the defense of food sovereignty and self-determination for indigenous peoples. During the final session, the neighbors shared their experiences in writing, which served as a reference to plan new strategies that could convert some of their conclusions and questions into specific actions.


Cornfield Neighborhood: Growing at Different Rhythms, Doing Different Things

Timeframe: July, 2019

Led By: José Camargo and Jessica Gutiérrez León

Participants: 34 girls and boys aged between 6 and 10


In this workshop, boys and girls from the neighborhood participated in educational exercises on the ecosystemic vision of maize cultivation, where various species coexist, such as maize, pumpkin, beans and chili peppers. They approached the cultural, nutritional and biological importance of polyculture through playful resources and by conducting experiments.

The workshop allowed the children to experiment with various notions of agroecology present in traditional cornfields, such as biodiversity, polyculture, ecosystem and indigenous cosmovision related to maize and cornfields. In becoming acquainted with the milpa system, the children made associations with social relationships of collaboration that occur in their neighborhood, including: interdependence, diversity, exchange of knowledge and interculturality.


Holidays in the Cornfield. Workshop for Children on Traditional Mexican Agriculture

Timeframe: July - August, 2019

Design: Valeria Ramírez

Led By: Valeria Ramírez, Moisés Ledesma and Julia Rocha.

Participants: 62 children aged between 6 and 12.


The horticulturalist Valeria Ramírez developed an educational program for a group of 15 children, to experience over an entire week the various aspects of cultivating, preparing and consuming maize and other species present in the milpa (traditional Mexican cornfield). This program was carried out over a 4 week period with 4 different groups of children, divided according to their age. A workbook was produced as support material for the suggested experiments, games and exercises, featuring texts by Roxanna Erdman and illustrations by the artist Demián Flores. This educational material accompanied the children in their activities, which included an outing to the neighborhood: during the first two weeks, groups 1 and 2 visited the exhibition Maize, Biodiversity and Culture in the Museum of Geology, while groups 3 and 4 subsequently visited a traditional tortilla manufacturer that produces and sells nixtamalized dough.

This course raised awareness among the children on topics such as original Mesoamerican myths surrounding maize, the evolution of different Mexican species, the risks of GMOs, as well as the importance of traditional cultivation systems and the process of nixtamalization. At the end of the week, the children shared their knowledge with their families and neighbors: there was a discernible change of attitude regarding the value given to different Mexican maizes and the cornfield as a system of agriculture and biodiversity.


Projection: 68 Voices

Timeframe: 17th August, 2019

Led by: Gabriela Badillo and Enrique Sañudo

Participants: 28 neighbors

Associate: Hola Combo


Projection of an animated series of indigenous Mexican stories narrated in their original language—the 68 “voices”—produced by the Hola Combo animation studios. On the day they were projected, members of the collective spoke with those present about the importance of promoting respect for indigenous communities among girls and boys, as well as recognition for the social and ecological value of many of their original cultural practices.

Relevance – Due to this first encounter, new collaborations between Hola Combo and Casa Gallina are envisaged, geared at using animation as an educational resource to transmit and revalue indigenous knowledge in schools in Santa Maria la Ribera neighborhood.


Exhibition: Maizes, Biodiversity and Culture. An Approach Based on Everyday Consumption.

Dates: October, 2019 – March, 2020

Location: Cabañas Museum

Research: Rafael Mier

Artist: Demián Flores


The Maize: Biodiversity and Culture in Everyday Consumption exhibition traveled to the Cabañas Museum in Guadalajara, allowing a reflection of this grain in a different context: the city of Guadalajara being the capital of the state of Jalisco, the second-largest producer of maize in Mexico. The show included various educational activations organized by the Cabañas Museum’s educational team.


Book: We are maize

Texts: Roxanna Erdman

Illustration: Adriana Campos

Dates: October 2019 – February 2020

1000 copies in Spanish

500 copies in Maya

500 copies in Zapoteco

500 copies in Náhuatl

Associates: Asamblea Defensores del Territorio Maya Múuch’ Xíinbal

(Yucatán), Calpulli Tecalco A.C. (Milpa Alta), Kolijke Area Natural Protegida

(Sierra Norte de Puebla), Escuela Primaria Plan de San Luis de Tetelcingo

(Morelos), Cooperativa Tosepan (Sierra Nororiental de Puebla), Biblioteca

comunitaria de Juchitán (Oaxaca), Cine Too en Guelatao (Oaxaca),

among others.


We Are Maize is a book directed at younger readers, as much to the neighbors of Santa María la Ribera in Mexico City as to those belonging to Mayan, Zapotec and Nahua communities, towards celebrating, commemorating and nurture the consumption of maize. This grain has been a fundamental component in both the food and culture of our country, where sixty-four different species of it are grown, the majority of them being native to Mexico. This richness in biodiversity is closely related to a grand cultural complexity that has consolidated an essential part of local identities across the various regions where cosmogonies, rituals and culinary patrimony are associated with the consumption of this grain.


We Are Maize was published in four languages: the Spanish version was distributed among the neighbors of Santa María la Ribera, both individually and through community meeting places such as libraries, public schools and coffee shops, among others. The Náhuatl, Mayan and Zapotec versions were distributed through initiatives associated to Casa Gallina in territories inhabited by speakers of these languages.


Practical Nixtamalization Workshop

Date: August 31th, 2019

Facilitator: Santiago Muñoz

Participants: 18 neighbors

Partner: Maizajo


This activity was open to everyone who had an interest in learning about the process of nixtamalización: its origins, its cultural foundations and the nutritional value that this system provides to the preparation of maize. The activity had a conversational component where the domestication of maize; the danger of extinction of endemic varieties; and food security in terms of a product consumed daily as a vital part of the family diet were discussed. The participants engaged in the practice of dekerneling maize over a thresher and activating limestone in order to properly understand the cooking process.