A Model Farm in the Yucatán: Q&A with Gonzalo Samaranch

A Mannequin Farm within the Yucatán: Q&A with Gonzalo Samaranch

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Mestiza de Indias is an progressive, Maya-inspired regenerative farm in the midst of a area threatened by mass tourism and overdevelopment. Its founder has loads to say about why meals issues.

Halfway between Merida and the coast within the Yucatán Peninsula, on the finish of a winding grime street by means of the jungle, a farm referred to as Mestiza de Indias is attempting to handle some very massive challenges with some seemingly small first steps. The purpose: apply natural, regenerative agriculture that mixes historic Mayan information and fashionable methods.

The farm, which our League of Vacationers journey can be visiting this December, is the pure brainchild of this couple: a world-wandering Catalan named Gonzalo Samaranch Granados, and his Mayan spouse Martha Elena Chan Tuz. Alongside a bunch of collaborators from their native communities, they’re utilizing their small farm outdoors of the city of Espita to not solely develop scrumptious issues but in addition to supply options to indigenous financial migration and a regional economic system marked by large-scale tourism fiascos and overdevelopment of the close by Mayan Riviera

Journalist María Elizondo spoke to Samaranch on the telephone to speak about his path from Barcelona to the Yucatán, what he has discovered from the Maya, and why farming their method is a political act.

 This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

Gonzalo Samaranch at his farm. All pictures courtesy of Mestiza de Indias

Roads & Kingdoms: How did you find yourself in Yucatán?

Gonzalo Samaranch: Nicely, it’s a protracted story however principally after having led a really comfy life in Barcelona and after having labored in journalism and the world of artwork, I felt just a little disconnected dwelling within the metropolis.

I all the time considered an expertise that I had had in my twenties once I had the chance of dwelling inside a neighborhood within the Amazon jungle. There, I found different methods of being on this world, in nature, in concord with the environment, and I all the time cherished these recollections.

Some 10 years in the past, I made a decision I not needed to consider it however as a substitute attempt to transfer ahead with some mission associated to nature that might even have some social transcendence. I made a decision to begin touring the world seeking farms.

I got here to Mexico a bit by probability – it wasn’t deliberate. I arrived in Valladolid in Yucatán one evening, and once I awoke, there was a parade at Calzada de los Frailes the place some youngsters have been dressed as Emiliano Zapata. I fell in love with the place immediately… It felt just a little bit like Sevilla, however right here there have been the Maya girls sporting huipiles (conventional embroidered Maya clothes). It was such a shock, I assumed it should be a sign.

R&Okay: Did you instantly discover the farm?

Samaranch: It wasn’t straight away. Ten years in the past, Valladolid was a small city, so I’d usually go to Tulum. In Tulum I bought supplied a job to handle a small lodge. I stayed there for a yr and a half. That gave me the chance to know the Riviera Maya, particularly Tulum, which was then very completely different. It didn’t have the massive company resorts and the event the remainder of the Riviera has. Folks have been wanting then into making Tulum a sustainable space, the lodge house owners have been current, the locations have been cared for, they usually had, let’s imagine, a soul.

I assumed there was a chance right here as a result of all of the resorts had to purchase produce from elsewhere since there have been no native merchandise right here. And I assumed Valladolid could be splendid, it’s an hour away from Tulum and the land is extra fertile than on the Riviera. So, each weekend I’d go looking for a spot to farm, I’d hire a automotive and after seeing tons of locations I discovered a person on a motorcycle who offered me his property.


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R&Okay: And why did you select this farm?

Samaranch: We did a variety of learning. We studied the underground water currents. The place needed to have very exact traits for us to have the ability to develop and produce organically. It shouldn’t be round different farms that used foul practices. It needed to be type of remoted.

I all the time needed it to be not only a house for rising natural produce, but in addition an area the place we may apply regenerative farming. And never solely farming however regeneration on different ranges, on a private degree, that individuals may come and probably expertise a sure change by means of the setting.

This place had a tiendita (small comfort retailer) in ruins, there was a cenote close by, that gave it the weather to create an area for agrotourism.

 R&Okay: Did you begin this mission by yourself?

Samaranch: I began alone. [Eventually] I married Mara (Martha Elena Chan Tuz), who’s from the area people, however that was someday later.

R&Okay: Why is the mission named Mestiza de Indias?

Samaranch: It’s an homage to the primary mestiza (daughter of oldsters of various ethnicity). There’s a good looking story about Gonzalo Guerrero, who is taken into account the daddy of mestizaje right here. He’s a Spaniard who drifted at sea and ended up within the coast of Quintana Roo, he was taken prisoner by the Maya folks. He discovered the language and instructed the Maya in ways to defend themselves. As a token of gratitude, he was given a Maya princess in marriage. And so the primary mestiza was born.

 R&Okay: How many individuals work on the farm proper now?

Samaranch: Proper now, we’re a staff of about 20 folks, as much as 30 throughout excessive season.

One of many issues that I’ve tried to do is for the individuals who collaborate at Mestiza de Indias to really feel that this mission can also be theirs. I all the time try to have as many ladies as males working on the farm. This has additionally been a part of the mission, to maneuver in direction of sure values like gender equality, for instance.

R&Okay: And Mara, in addition to being a accomplice within the mission, has she been a trainer as effectively?

Samaranch: Sure. We work alongside on this mission, and being married to her, she has helped me to know the Mayan cosmovision, which may be very particular. There’s a variety of ancestral information that the communities have, and it has been elementary in constructing this mission. As a result of I bought right here with very progressive concepts, however ultimately, the folks from the neighborhood are those who’ve given me the information of nature. And with out that information this mission would have been inconceivable.

 R&Okay: How did the neighborhood react to you at first?

Samaranch: Nicely I believe I should have appeared like an extraterrestrial to them as a result of I’m 6’ 2”. I felt that they had a sure distance towards me, however I wouldn’t say it was rejection. I recall some laughter as effectively. They might chortle a bit at my concepts, that somebody would need to plant something in the midst of the jungle. As a result of most individuals search for land close to the freeway. And folks have a sure respect, worry even, of the jungle. It’s a jungle that has its risks: there are pumas, there’s a number of venomous snakes. However little by little we have been capable of set up a more in-depth relationship.

 R&Okay: And what was the native response to the mission?

Samaranch: Lots of people informed me it was inconceivable. As a result of the thought was that the land isn’t fertile, and to a sure extent that was true. I’ve heard of a variety of agricultural initiatives which have failed right here, I believe as a result of folks would need to apply methods from different areas to this land. And we have now right here a really peculiar local weather. It’s a land that’s younger, with only a few minerals, and a variety of fauna. And a variety of humidity. It’s advanced.

However I additionally suppose folks hadn’t noticed nature. Ultimately what we attempt to do is reproduce that complexity that nature has, to use it in agriculture. That’s what regenerative agriculture is about. It’s not about planting a hectare of habaneros however about mixing and rotating crops.


R&Okay: How are you regenerating the soil there?

Samaranch: There are completely different strategies. One is agroforestry, the place tree planting is mixed with the vegetable planting. It’s the affiliation of crops and the rotation of crops. As a result of agriculture is an extracting exercise, you’re extracting vitamins from the soil. So regenerative agriculture is about returning these vitamins to the soil. In conventional agriculture they do this by means of chemical substances. We do it by means of biodiversity.

 R&Okay: What number of varieties have you ever bought planted proper now?

 Samaranch: At a sure level we’ve had greater than 100 varieties. We’ve got been doing testing, a type of curatorship of the land. Perhaps this time period is extra aligned with the artwork world, however we have now tried to avoid wasting these fruit and veggies that the business has discarded. The business chooses what it feeds us primarily based not on dietary requirements or environmental advantages, however on financial advantages. For instance, they select greens with robust skins as a result of they stand the boxing course of and endure the prolonged transportation course of. And for these forms of causes a variety of ancestral varieties have been discarded, tomatoes with skinny pores and skin and those who require quick consumption, for instance.


 R&Okay: Whenever you labored in Tulum, the place did the produce come from?

Samaranch: From shops or distributors in different states, primarily Puebla, Querétaro, and Guanajuato. Think about, between the vans and the distribution facilities to the resorts in Tulum we’re speaking a few 2-to-3-week journey.  Even when the need to make use of natural merchandise was there, the merchandise couldn’t be discovered close by.

 R&Okay: What number of eating places do you provide now?

 Samaranch: We began with loads. However Tulum has been altering and so we have now misplaced purchasers. Previously in Tulum the house owners have been very concerned within the restaurant and lodge operations, however these days a variety of the initiatives are very company. And there’s additionally competitors.

However I take into account myself a accomplice of my purchasers, greater than a purveyor. We search for an alliance with them in order that we will plan collectively, be a part of a staff. Some resorts have even invested within the farm in order that we may prolong our planting floor, so we have now a extra private and direct relationship with them than only a client-vendor one.  But it surely’s not the bulk.

We’ve had difficulties due to greenwashing within the space. There’s a variety of dangerous practices occurring, the place resorts are promoting merchandise as natural and that’s simply not true. They’re providing their prospects low cost merchandise and branding them as luxuries. 

 R&Okay: I assume folks simply received’t discover the large taste distinction between good produce and dangerous.

 Samaranch: Sure, it has to do with the standard of the soil. And industrial methodswhat they do is put into the vegetable the minimal required, simply sufficient in order that it grows. For instance, now there’s a pattern for hydroponic greens, however with that methodology they inject 4-5 vitamins into the water. It grows and appears fairly however the style can’t be in comparison with that of a vegetable grown in a wealthy soil. As a result of ultimately the flavour is a results of the range of minerals discovered within the soil. The business desires quantity. We’ve misplaced the artisanal character of agriculture.

Mestiza de Indias can also be for that. We wish folks to return and go to us, and to strive issues straight off the soil, carrots that style a bit just like the soil, tomatoes from the vine. As a result of it’s part of an expertise to create consciousness across the matter.

in case you’re going to eat the identical stuff you eat in New York or Paris, then why journey?


R&Okay: Can folks keep over at Mestiza de Indias?

Samaranch: Not presently, no. However that’s the path we’re headed at. We’re constructing what’s wanted to have the ability to host. As a result of we obtain a variety of calls from folks asking, not simply to go to and keep, however of people that need to keep and work, volunteer, however we’re nonetheless engaged on that.

We don’t have an investor group behind us, the whole lot has come from the sale of greens.  I arrived in Mexico with the cash to have the ability to purchase the land, however the whole lot else has all the time come from the sale of fruit and veggies. We’ve grown slowly, little by little.

R&Okay: I’ve heard that you’ve got a number of phases deliberate, with section 1 being what you already do, the farming. What are you able to inform us about section 2?

Samaranch: Right here it’s a little bit like within the Nordic international locations however the different method round. There, you could have 3-4 months agriculture after which it snows. Right here we have now the identical however with warmth and rain. We’ve got a number of months of manufacturing however then the situations are very harsh. So, section 2 is about preserving. In order that we will provide merchandise in the course of the season the place we will’t plant a lot.

In that section, we may additionally embrace extra folks from the neighborhood, particularly girls, as a result of that’s one other necessary difficulty round right here: communities are made up principally of ladies, as a result of the lads go to the Riviera to work, they usually typically don’t come again till after a few weeks. There’s a variety of girls alone, with youngsters, jobless, moneyless, in order that was additionally the thought. That they’d find a way to generate their very own earnings and have Mestiza de Indias act like a business accomplice. As a result of ultimately the issue that entrepreneurs have is that they don’t have entry to {the marketplace}. And so we may be that hyperlink, by means of honest commerce.

We’re planning on beginning that section this yr. I’ve discovered the folks that may lead the mission as a result of I need assistance. I used to do the whole lot with Mara, however now she’s turn out to be Espita’s Director of Tourism, so she’s been very busy. [Espita has been recently named a Pueblo Mágico—a denomination given by the Mexican government to towns that preserve cultural heritage].

R&Okay: And section 3 could be agrotourism?

Samaranch: Sure, and the thought of receiving individuals who need to come to be taught. As a result of that’s one other factor, the formative half. I believe we must also give attention to training. I can inform you that one among my largest satisfactions with this mission has been when the daughters of Doña Teresa or Doña Lourdes, ask: “are the eggplants prepared?” “Are the tomatoes prepared?” “Are the carrots prepared?” 

To have youngsters asking for a vegetable, that’s a feat.

Sadly, lots of people within the communities are sick. When the lads go to the Riviera to work, they don’t seem to be working the milpa (a house vegetable parcel that’s the conventional system of agriculture). And the milpa was the one method to receive recent, wholesome meals within the communities. Males convey cash, however with cash you’ll be able to’t purchase good meals. With cash you should buy meals that’s offered at tienditas: potato chips, some tinned meals, Coca-Cola. And individuals are sick. So, to have the ability to enhance diets, that’s what offers me probably the most satisfaction.

R&Okay: And I think about the lads, in the event that they’re working on the resorts, should be consuming the type of factor that the vacationers ask for, faraway from diet and custom?

Samaranch: That’s one thing I hear loads from cooks: “We’ve got to offer the shopper what they need”. I believe it’s an incredible error, as a result of we’re producing a sort of tourism that’s completely homogeneous. You realize, in case you’re going to eat the identical stuff you eat in New York or in Paris, effectively why journey?

To journey is exactly to have the ability to stay new experiences. And style and gastronomy are one among life’s biggest experiences. On this area there’s some wonderful fruit. And within the resorts, you find yourself consuming strawberry and kiwi. What’s the purpose of that?

And we’re speaking a few well being difficulty right here, too. The scientific proof is there that almost all sicknesses folks get are associated to meals.


However folks hold consuming as if it have been a part of a present enterprise. And the cooks outdoing themselves to see who’s extra inventive, we overlook that ultimately meals is nourishment, one of the vital necessary issues we do every day and that situations our life sooner or later.

You realize you’re not going to die from consuming an agrochemical with dinner, however the colon cancers we see worldwide are simply that. I believe we’ve disconnected. To have industrialized meals, to have industrialized all sides of our life, has made us disconnect from what we eat.

Who’s giving meals to us? The place is it coming from? I all the time say meals is a political act. As a result of the choice to devour sure issues over others, effectively that’s extra necessary than voting each six years.

You may be part of an unjust system. Or you’ll be able to cease and say: no, I don’t need to be selling this technique, and you are able to do that by questioning and deciding what you eat and the place it comes from.

 One other factor we do on the farm entails cooking some rescued pre-Hispanic dishes. Recipes that individuals can not style in the event that they’re not invited to a standard Maya household dwelling. And vacationers right here, effectively, they don’t go to a standard dwelling to eat.

There’s a variety of recipes, a variety of them vegan, which are actually fascinating. We make them right here, we begin from scratch and present folks how they’re carried out. Like for instance Kots’ob, which is a typical dish from this area, it’s like a corn tamal with pumpkin seeds, hoja santa, chile, spring onions, it’s extremely popular, folks adore it.

R&Okay: Are these recipes written someplace?

Samaranch: No. They’re on the properties, within the households. That is what folks eat historically. 

However whoever has a milpa, they will nonetheless eat these meals. It’s not that widespread. However there are nonetheless households that stay in an ancestral vogue, they stay in a huano palm home, they work the milpa, they’ve a photo voltaic Maya of their patios.

This is likely one of the issues that fascinates me: Two of the world’s most progressive meals manufacturing methods have been invented in Mexico. 

The chinampas that have been capable of feed a metropolis, and the photo voltaic Maya, the place every household is accountable for feeding itself.

In a photo voltaic Maya, within the again patio there’s Ka’anche’, that are elevated platforms or beds through which to place the meals in order that the animals beneath can’t eat them. Then they’ve the fruit timber, after which the milpa, which is a really various factor.

In a photo voltaic Maya every household was accountable for feeding itself. These days these solares are filled with plastics and trash from the tienda. However all of a sudden you discover a household that’s nonetheless upkeeping their photo voltaic. To search out one thing so ancestral, it’s a treasure. 

You may be part of an unjust system, or you’ll be able to cease and say no.

R&Okay: And what about alcohol or spirits? What’s conventional right here?

Samaranch: Normally Xtabentún (comprised of honey) is the native spirit. However there’s a variety of good issues being made round right here, there’s some folks which are making good kombucha with tropical fruits which are unimaginable. And there’s good artisanal beer being made proper now in Yucatan.

And there’s additionally the prehispanic drinks that aren’t alcoholic, comprised of corn, like pozol, which is a typical drink made from corn in Yucatan. The farmers would take with them just a little ball of corn masa, and they’d combine it with water and a few honey.

And we additionally make a variety of juices and waters with fruit from the farm: guanabana, saramullo, anona, yaca, zapote negro, bonete.


R&Okay: Now that the League of Vacationers can be travelling to Yucatán, and spending an evening in Espita and time at Mestiza de Indias, what plans do you could have for them? Are you going to cook dinner?

Samaranch: Sure. We’re planning on displaying all of the processes that we do right here at Mestiza de Indias. Strolling the fields to have folks strive greens that you just simply pulled from the earth. There are some varieties that I don’t suppose many individuals have seen of their lives: African cucumbers, Japanese eggplants…

We need to present them that curatorship that we have now been making and we have now been speaking about. And folks actually are fascinated by these varieties as a result of they don’t find out about them. We’ve got so many sorts of tomato, we have now ones that weigh a kilo, they’re referred to as Tomate Piña – Pineapple Tomato, that are a sort of heirloom. We’ve got marbled tomatoes. We’ve got over 20 varieties. And after seeing the crops, it’s potential that we do a baño de monte which is impressed by Japanese walks in nature. It’s a really particular second as a result of the jungle may be very particular. It’s a sanctuary for wildlife the place we’re. We’ve got even seen monkeys.

After which as soon as we return, the ladies are going to tortear -hand make tortillas of ancestral corn. And we’ll make some vegetarian dishes, like eggplant tacos with garlic flower, one thing that may be very easy however scrumptious.

Samaranch: And for many who do eat meat, we make our personal model of Cochinita Pibil, which we make with a pineapple that we develop right here and is cooked slowly for twenty-four hours. You realize the Pib? You construct a hearth with stones that hold the warmth that stays at low temperature throughout a very long time. Every part seems scrumptious.



The League of Vacationers—Roads & Kingdoms’ new journey mission for readers and different likeminded wanderers—is returning to Mérida from December 2-December 6, 2023. See journey itinerary for extra particulars, together with be a part of.



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