When we say “Our Roots are in Corn”, we are talking about our ancestors. They developed for the first time in history the cultivation of maiz. It’s a very ancient history. A history of a lot of work, a history of love for the land.
It began thousands of years ago. In those times the first inhabitants lived in caves or in huts. They ate what they hunted and fished as well as the fruits (or wild foods) they found around them. One of those fruits was a kernel they called chilote.
Little by little they realized that chilote would grow when the rains began, and that it would grow into an ear of kernels. Then they began to observe nature very closely. They discovered that each gran would grow new grains. So they decided to not leave to the wind the task of spreading the grain on the earth. This is how the first cultivation began. They understood that they had to prepare the earth to sow the seed. That’s how the “cova” was invented.
From these discoveries came the first milpa*. It represented a great cultural advance. People stopped living in caves and towns were established. What’s most important, they understood that nature can be changed through work and they could improve their lives.
A milpa is a crop-growing system used throughout Mesoamerica. It has been most extensively described in the Yucatán peninsula area of Mexico. The word milpa is derived from the Nahuatl word phrase mil-pa, which translates into "maize field."
There are many conflicting views about the origins of agriculture, but most accounts suggest the domestication of plants began around 9,000 BC in the Middle East and corn was first cultivated in Mesoamerica around 2,700 BC. While others propose the domestication of corn from Teocintle developed in Mexico around 7,000 BC. There is evidence that Indigenous peoples grew corn in what is now southwestern U.S. by 100 BC while it is found in the Canadian shield by 700 AD.
An important distinguishing feature of corn is that it cannot reproduce on its own, so requires human intervention. The human-plant relationship has been central to peasant and Indigenous cultures through millennia. And this understanding of the interrelationships of all living things is now being promoted by environmental and food movements as critical to the survival of the planet. (see Michael Pollen’s The Botany of Desire).
Gustavo Esteva, Mexican defender of corn, describes the relationship like this:
“Corn is our invention. And corn, at the same time, invented us.”
Sin maíz no hay país (p. 11).