An Interview with Alejandro López
Somos el Maíz, We are corn—is a phrase that denotes a profound interdependence on, and identification with, this plant held in the highest esteem by many of the peoples of the Americas, including the Pueblos, the Mayas, the Navajo and the modern-day Mexicanos. There are innumerable stories of compassion toward people by protective beings who, usually in a moment of great need, sent the gift of corn to alleviate suffering. As a principal mother deity among many peoples and a constant source of nourishment, she sustains us physically, spiritually, socially and in every other way. As people gather to plant and cultivate maíz, as well as to use it as an essential ingredient in any number of dishes (piñole, atole, posole, tamales, chaquegue, tortillas, breads, etc.), they reaffirm the bonds of family, community and a common humanity in which we are here to respect and help one other.
Connected through corn as we are, we are able to witness a succession of astounding natural processes for which she depends on us, beginning with germination. We are therefore drawn into a common dance, not only with this tall and graceful plant pouring out her abundance, but also with the essence of seeds, earth, water, wind, rainfall and the sun. To this we add our effort and prayers and she gives us life—holy life.
Maíz, the cornerstone of the Meso-American diet (referring to the region extending from the American Southwest south into Guatemala), emerged from an intimate and mutually sustaining relationship between this plant, nature and human beings. It embodies the essence and energy of the deeply respectful, mutually interdependent relationship that human beings perhaps ought to cultivate once again with the earth and with each other during this age of unprecedented ecological and social changes. – Alejandro López
Located on a scenic ridgetop in the northern New Mexico village of Santa Cruz de la Cañada (24 miles north of Santa Fe), Somos el Maíz is a four-acre family farm owned for the past 70 years by the family of Alejandro López. It harbors an historic adobe house with a portal, a shade house, an horno, acequia, apple trees and a vast cornfield and vegetable garden. López and Guatemalan Edwin Lemus are involving the local community and the general public in workshops focused on Río Grande foodways, indigenous-style permaculture, holistic healing ceremonies, adobe construction, acequia education, Spanish language intensives, muralism and traditional relief carving in wood.
SG: Describe the core of your work.
Alejandro López: Somos el Maíz, as an agriculturally based field school, together with the Enseñanzas del Maíz (Teachings of the Corn) curriculum, serves as a kind of living museum or open-air school, La Universidad de la Vida, if you will. We merge traditional knowledge from northern New Mexico with Guatemalan agriculture. Learning occurs in a farm setting along the acequia de Santa Cruz, which allows for summer-long irrigation and intensive farming. The Teachings of The Corn employs the direct practice of small-scale intensive organic agriculture and permaculture, with emphasis on growing corn and related crops, particularly those thriving in the high-desert ecological niche of northern NM—tied not only to the history of the Americas, but also to the “Old World.” Permaculture focuses on the design of ecological human habitats and food production systems, with the intention of offering an achievable alternative to destructive living practices in the form of sustainable small-scale, local food production.
Here, people learn through the implementation of projects that have to do with survival and the enhancement of our lives. The identification of seeds, preparation of tools, preparation of soil, the planting seeds and seedlings, irrigating, weeding, thinning, insect control, harvesting, processing, seed selection, thanksgiving and reflection—are all central lessons that emerge from our doing. The greatest and best lessons, however, may actually arise organically from the intense interaction between the people involved in an activity that is deeply life-serving and which is carried out in an inspiring cultural and natural environment.
SG: How is Somos el Maíz approaching the restoration of values, community and the land?
Edwin Lemus: The starting place for restoring a mutually sustaining relationship with nature is the activation or reactivation of cultural values such as a reverence and awe for all life, generosity, devotion to family and friends, and the fostering of community, cooperation, caring and dialogue. The Teachings of the Corn comprise a body of knowledge and understandings related to the Earth as a living being and its cycles of gestation, birth, growth, decay and rebirth.
The teachings also address an analogous place that human beings occupy in the universe, the way in which we partake of similar cycles—and how we can draw our sustenance from pursuing a more gentle and harmonious relationship with Earth, as well as with one another. Agriculture, culture, the Spanish language, art, music, ritual, poetry and the communalizing of everyone’s stories are all tightly woven into single or multiple daylong workshops aimed at personal enrichment and a deeper understanding of our place in the web of life. Through the sharing of everyone’s stories, coupled with vigorous land-based activities, people grow strong and more deeply committed to act on behalf of the Earth and its well-being. Somos el Maíz aspires to be a place for the restoration of both the land and the self.
It strives to serve those who are dedicated to education, particularly around the areas of culture, ecology, language and history. Somos el Maíz is also concerned with service learning, youth leadership and mentorship in order to address the needs of those with the fewest opportunities in our society for personal development, career training and entrepreneurship. These include immigrants, dropouts and those in need of rehabilitation.
In the last year, Somos el Maíz has organized hands-on agriculturally and culturally based workshops for nonprofits with an interest in furthering an interest in farming and permaculture. It has also hosted Bolivian author and defender of indigenous water sources, Oscar Olivera, and socially conscious artist Lily Yeh from Philadelphia, who works with broken communities the world over.
Susan Guyette, Ph.D. is Métis (Micmac Indian/Acadian French) and a planner specializing in cultural tourism, cultural centers, museums and native foods. She is the author of Sustainable Cultural Tourism: Small-Scale Solutions; Planning for Balanced Development; and the co-author of Zen Birding: Connect in Nature.firstname.lastname@example.org
Somos el Maíz Workshops
Teachings of the Corn
July 11: Active honoring of the Earth
24: Active honoring of the self and the other
31: Active honoring of our partners and companions
Aug. 7: Active honoring of the food that we grow and eat
21: Developing a sense of the Divine
28: Finding our life’s purpose
Sept. 11: Learning to let go of emotional burdens
18: A feast of gratitude for all life
Creative Adobe Workshops
July 12: Making adobes
26-27: Wall building / horno construction
Aug. 2-3: Mud plastering
15-16: Relief sculpture
22-23: Relief sculpture
30-31: Sculpture in the round
Permaculture, Intensive Agriculture and Acequia Irrigation Systems
July 16: How acequias work / flood irrigation
30: The culture of corn / roasting corn
Aug. 6: The culture of chile / roasting chile
20: Preparing a feast from the fields
27: Preparing a feast from the fields
Sept. 10: The harvest