This ancestral agricultural system is practiced throughout Mesoamerica (southern México and Central America), and it combines a great deal of knowledge and techniques rooted in Maya world view. When visiting a Milpa you’ll discover the natural and cultural wealth of Yucatán, and how these two concepts are intertwined.
The main crop of the Milpa is corn, which is combined with beans and squash – known collectively as “the triad.” These plants complement each other perfectly and, when grown together, each one provides benefits to the other. Although these are the main crops, up to 28 different products can be found in the Milpa, including varieties of chili peppers, beans, tubers, and more.
Who better to show you the Milpa than someone who has worked in one all their life? This is possible in the community of Ek Balam, where a cooperative formed by farmers saw tourism as an opportunity to reinforce their identity, and share their customs with visitors in order to improve their community’s quality of life.
This cooperative offers tours, lodging in cabins, camping, and traditional gastronomy, but today we’ll tell you about the bike tour of the Milpa. This expedition is best done in the morning when the sun is not so strong. Don Guty and Don Fede are some of the Milperos who are also local guides, and will take you on this two-wheeled adventure.
After riding your bike for a few kilometers on roads and trails around the village, you’ll arrive at the Milpa and enter the Ka’ax (the Monte, or jungle surrounding the fields). Here, you’ll learn all about traditional knowledge, the area’s legends, as well as different types of trees and their properties.
The landscape will vary according to the time of year when you visit. If you go during the hot, dry season, you’ll likely see the cornfields being cleared and prepared for a new cycle. If you plan your trip during the rainy season (from June onwards), you’ll arrive at the beginning of sowing. And between November and December, the corn cobs are ready to be harvested.
Upon arrival to Ek Balam, you’ll taste traditional Pozol, a beverage made from corn. After, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the Milpa, directly from the farmers who work the soil. They’ll go beyond the basics, and give you real insight into their beliefs and values. For example, did you know that when it’s time to sow, four corn seeds are placed? One for the ants, one for the birds, one in case the seed dies, and the last one is for the harvest.
It’s no surprise that Mexicans are said to be the children of the corn; the Milpa system has been the base of our food autonomy for hundreds of years. Visiting a cornfield will give you the chance to understand more about the Maya culture, gastronomy, and world view. This activity is a great way to complete your visit to Yucatán and support the local economy of our communities.
By Jan Martín Müller
Head of Communications at Co’ox Mayab
Photography by Co’ox Mayab for its use in Yucatán Today.
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