Organic food in San Miguel de Allende: Who, what and where?
By Gabriela Villarino and Mike Lambert
Following the premise “you are what you eat,” more and more people all over the world are now concerned about the quality of the food they eat and purchase every day, whether bought in supermarkets, street markets, or local producers’ stores. “Organic” is now a term many use whether you live in a big city or a small town. Thus, nobody would be surprised to learn that San Miguel de Allende has nested one of the most important organic movements in Mexico.
The organic food movement in San Miguel is proudly sprouting! Over the last several years, there has been constant growth in all phases of the organic food movement, from organic crop production to consumption. Organic ‘foodies’ and health-conscious consumers have expressed delight that there are now many places to purchase fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as prepackaged organic products.
The Ancha de San Antonio is home to one of San Miguel’s organic movement leaders, Natura, and its owner, Jorge Catalán. Starting in the early 1990s when he was delivering organic vegetables in Mexico City, Jorge taught organic agriculture in Campeche and obtained certification in permaculture. It was the permaculture movement that brought him to San Miguel in 2004. Jorge now prefers to label his beliefs and practices as biodynamic – responding to things as nature intended – holistically.
“We must not only consider what we eat, but also our health, the air we breathe and the water we drink,” he says. Natura gives weekly courses in “real nutrition” to its entire staff and will soon make these classes available to the public. Learn more at www.NaturaSMA.org and, while in Guanajuato, be certain to check out their new store downtown.
Most readers are familiar with the very popular Saturday organic market held on an edge of the Rosewood property on Ancha de San Antonio. Here, consumers have an opportunity to buy a wide variety of organic and locally grown and produced products. Most stalls are tended by local producers and farmers, and craftspeople or members of their families. Luis Suarez, co-founder of TOSMA (Tianguis Orgánico San Miguel de Allende), has seen its transformation from its early days at Parque Juárez to its current venue.
“It’s been a long struggle to keep the market as it was envisioned. We have gone through several phases but I’m sure the market will continue growing now that it has found constant producers and buyers. My goal as a co-founder is to keep the mission of the market clear to everyone: organic, local, ethical and healthy.” Gorka Meneses, in charge of Los Surcos’ stall (an association of small organic producers and consumers which offers organic basket delivery), depicts the efforts of organizers and organic farmers coming every Saturday to sell their produce as “an honest attempt to offer good quality food, good for the soil and good for the people.” Several TOSMA produce members have recently opened a store, La Bodega Orgánica, on Calzada de la Estación, just a few yards across from the Estación de Autobuses. It will function as an extension of the Saturday market to give local farmers and producers another opportunity to market their goods during the week. Los Surcos is also joining forces with local farmers, chefs, hoteliers and organic enthusiasts to promote and spread the organic movement out of the walls of the market with monthly events, such as “Grow Yourself” (hosted at Hotel Matilda), featuring films at El Sindicato every two weeks, and organizing tours to farmers’ greenhouses nearby.
Residents from towns nearby can still benefit from local organic produce any day of the week without getting to tourist-frenzy San Miguel’s central area on a Saturday morning. “I really care about fresh, wonderful produce for an amazing price” is the reason why Karen Gans drives once every week to San Miguel from Guanajuato to shop at the well- known local farm, La Trinidad just before the Otomí housing development. As a cancer survivor and an avid gardener, she is keenly aware of food that is “alive, nutritious and safe.” She says, “I’m a firm believer that the broad use of pesticides is poisoning the food we eat, so I believe in organically grown food.” And while at La Trinidad, enjoy one of the most raved-about restaurants in San Miguel’s surroundings, La Temporada Farm Restaurant.
It is clear that anyone in San Miguel can enjoy the gastronomical delights and health benefits of organic fruits and vegetables by visiting any of the projects, organizations and businesses in town. Yet, for those who would like to get more involved in the organic movement — to augment their organic food options by growing their own, be that in a large garden, rooftop or patio, there are courses on how to keep backyard gardens and grow fruit and vegetables. Learning how to do so year-round is the goal of a small group of San Miguel residents involved in the Organic Gardening Coop. In less than a year, the OGC has already tilled by triple-digging over a quarter acre, enriched the soil, built shade tunnels to protect plants from the sun and winter winds, and constructed an adobe-walled greenhouse and tool room. All its members, along with a handful of young workers on scholarship learning organic gardening techniques, have accomplished building nearly all the infrastructure that will be required to provide an estimated 15 to 20 families with fresh food year-round. As one member who has a rooftop garden and is a member of the Organic Gardening Coop has said, “I learn all I need to know to maintain my small home garden and enjoy the benefits of a much larger garden … truly, many hands make the work light.”
The organic movement in San Miguel cannot be fully understood or appreciated without the valuable efforts of Vía Orgánica, one of Mexico’s largest organic food stores, as well as a local leader in the organic movement. Via Organica’s broad mission includes networking to help preserve traditional farming practices while promoting organic food production and consumption. “The biggest threat to human health in Mexico is Monsanto and bio-tech companies moving into the country widely supported by multinational agro-business,” according to Rose Welch who, along with her partner Ronnie Cummins, and Rosana Jones, make up the board of Vía Orgánica, a project of the Organic Consumers Association. In addition to its popular market in colonia Guadalupe, the organization manages a farm school with a unique local government and civil society collaboration to promote organic agriculture.
At the Vía Orgánica demonstration garden at the municipal nursery, hundreds of visitors learn about small-scale organic production. The municipality provides the grounds and Vía Organica runs the garden and offers the educational programming. Vía Orgánica also offers weekly classes in organics, and is developing a ranch in Membrillo which will function as a learning ecovillage. To stay informed about GMO crops and law enforcements in Mexico’s agricultural scene, and to learn more about everything that Vía Orgánica does, go to www.viaorganica.org.
Despite the fact that GMO commercial crops are still banned in Mexico, and GMO corn is only grown on testsites, Monsanto already has a huge presence in the country and many think it is only a matter of time before the ban is lifted. Once Monsanto controls seed production in Mexico, crop production may initially show a higher yield, but there will be heavier use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, eventually leading to degraded soils, a negative effect on traditional planting techniques, seed production, long-term negative consequences on the economic wellbeing of Mexican farmers and eventually consumers’ health. This is why more nonprofit organizations are working along with the government and the society to find ways to promote better agricultural practices and healthier eating habits. With this in mind, Kura-té, a farmer’s co-operative, has been growing Moringa trees and stevia plants to produce different food products (healthy snacks, flour and beverages), promote healthier eating habits and help bring nutritious food to communities where food is scarce.
“To do this, Kura-té is working with different non-governmental organizations either to find economical resources and promote moringa and stevia consumption in Mexican diets,” as Luc Monzies points out. Moreover, “moringa trees can be grown in desert-like areas just like San Miguel and the nutrimental value of the plant (in 100 grams) has more proteins and vitamins than other foods (such as milk and vegetables).” Stevia is now broadly used as a sweetener and, as Luc comments; “it’s a fantastic and safe option for patients with diabetes. Both plants have proved to have adapted well to Guanajuato’s arid land and are expected to be grown in more regions of the country in the future to combat two problems: diabetes and malnutrition.” The co-operative organizes open-greenhouse days for those interested in learning more about these plants or would like to purchase plants for their personal consumption. For more information, you can contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Given the rapidly changing world of our food intake, more people are opting to stay away from GMO foods and preferring organic and locally grown. The place food plays in our life is by necessity receiving more attention by consumers who want to know more about what they put in their bodies and are willing to work to make things better for themselves and their families. The Organic Gardening Coop is bringing it all together. “We all meet every Monday and start the day with an excellent lecture given by Luc (Monzies) on all the elements of small-scale organic gardening and then we roll up our sleeves and get to work,” says member Bev Spiro. “It is a wonderful combination of learning new skills, socializing with others who share a common interest in organically-grown food, and great outdoor exercise!”
The OGC land is located near El Charco del Ingenio, and it has been lent to the group by one of its members, Collier Kear: “Ruth and I have belonged to CSA’s for years in the US and we’ve always loved the idea of a group of people coming together for a common purpose.” Anyone interested in joining the OGC or learning more about it may contact: email@example.com. As an organic grower and blog writer said when visiting the land, “If there is such a thing as becoming a master organic gardener, I know that is what is happening here.”
San Miguel de Allende has much more to offer for those lucky enough to live here, interested in health and wellbeing, organic food or gardening. There’s a myriad of choices depending on how green you’d like to be. It’s now up to you! Choosing organic is clearly not a fashion, it’s a way of living; supporting local producers and sustainable projects, promoting ethical farming practices and enhancing your health.