Gran Luchito’s Maria tells us about her recent trip to Oaxaca where she paid a fascinating visit to the Mixes community which grows our Pasilla Oaxaca chillies.
Visiting farmers in Alotepec surrounded by the impressive scenery of the Mexes in Oaxaca, Mexico
The Gran Luchito team paid a visit to the rural region where Pasilla Oaxaca chillies are expertly grown by a farmer named Ricardo before ending up in our lovely little jars. Here’s what happened.
Last Wednesday we went to Alotepec to visit the farmers who grow the chillies for Gran Luchito. It is a small community in the middle of the Sierra Mixe. It took us more than 4 hours to arrive from the centre of Oaxaca. There were ten of us in total: 6 part of the Gran Luchito team and 4 tourists keen for an unusual adventure.
The road is tricky as it’s full of ups and downs through the hills. We were stopping at different points to admire and take photos of the amazing landscapes. The mountains are so high that you can see the clouds below you. The foreign travelers couldn’t believe that it was Mexico, they said it was more like the Alps!
Then we arrived in the small town of Alotepec. It’s a totally different lifestyle there, just a few houses in the middle of so much natural beauty. A charming church in the middle is surrounded by mountains and clouds and the whole scene looks as though it has been taken from a film. There were people walking, coffee beans on matts on the streets and roofs being dried in the sun, noises of birds and donkeys, and someone calling people on a loud speaker that everyone in the town can hear. They only have one telephone booth for the whole town, so when someone calls they announce out loud who it’s for…”Juan Perez tiene llamanda”
Each Mixe community has their own occupation. Some are really good at art & crafts; others are really good musicians. In Alotepec everyone lives off the land. They are very skilled at agriculture. Besides chillies, they also grow coffee, beans and corn.
Ricardo in the fields surrounded by mountains
Ricardo (30 years old), who is one of the chilli farmers, received us in a very friendly way! He invited us to his house. There we met his mother (who speaks only Mixe), his sister, his wife, his daughter Neli (8 years old) and his dog Coquis.
While the women were preparing the lunch they talked to some of the team about the food they were cooking. I went with Ricardo and other memebers of the team to a small field up on the hill behind his house where he was transplanting the last chilli plants. He explained the cultivation process to us. They initially sew the chilli seeds onto land that is lower with a more tropical climate. Once they are a bit bigger, they move them to higher land where they get the intense sun during the day. In this way, the farmers expose the seedlings to various micro-climates present in the mountains. It is this process that Ricardo was currently carrying out.
First he took a big stick and with his bowie knife he sharpened it. It looked like a big pencil. With the pointed end he made some holes in the ground, with a little distance between them. He then replanted the young plants into the holes. We talked to him about his lifestyle and the tradition of farming in Alotepec.
A Rich History Of Agriculture:
He explained to us that his family have been chilli farmers for many generations. Working on the fields from a very early age, they all know how to grow these crops. For example, during school holidays, Ricardo takes his daughter, Neli, to the fields. She has known how to plant chillies since she was 6 and she really enjoys it! Just as Neli does now with Ricardo, as did Ricardo with his father.
Ricardo tending to his crops in the steep fields
A Day In The Life:
On a normal day Ricardo wakes up at 6:30/7am, has breakfast at home and walks to the fields. Due to the need to rotate land for its continued fertility, they sometimes walk for up to an hour to reach the field. They are very used to it, but it is exhausting as the land is very steep and the sun can be very hot. Depending on the season, he works in the field clearing weeds, planting or transplanting. Whatever the time of year, there is always plenty to do. Although they occasionally work with others, more often than not the work is carried out individually.
The soil requires careful attention because they don’t like to use techniques which are not natural (no pesticides). The crop relies completely on the weather. They do not water the plants or anything. He said there is not a specific secret or tip to grow the chillies. It is just about hard work and good weather. Ricardo thinks that the sun is the most important element. He believes that because of the sun the chillies grow redder, hotter and healthier because they have more energy. The worst enemies for the plants are the heavy rains and the cold.
At around 12ish he eats his lunch in the fields. It is always tortillas, chilli paste and whatever they had at home that morning – beans, chicken stew, rice etc.
He arrives back home at around 6pm, showers and rests. He spends time with his family and then goes to bed early. They work most Saturdays and sometimes on Sundays and holidays too, depending on the season…the land can’t wait.
In my opinion, they have a very healthy and natural lifestyle. They do lots of physical activity and eat very natural food. Ricardo spends most of his free-time with his family. He sometimes meets his friends to chat and catch up and every 2 or 3 weeks they will indulge in some mescal, a drink quite similar to tequila.
Ricardo said they are happy to sell their precious chillies directly to the consumers to get fair payment, and he is really proud to know that his chillies are getting known in other remote parts of the world like the UK.
Caldo Mixe (chicken & vegetable soup) and bean tamales
After our chat with Ricardo we returned to his home to have lunch (he made an exception to his usual routine of eating on the job since he had visitors). We had a really nice Mixe meal. They prepared lemonade – their lemons look like small oranges. We also had caldo Mixe (soup with chicken and vegetables), bean tamales (which were delicious and beautiful looking made of layers of corn and beans). There were also tamales with mole amarillo (yellow mole) which were wrapped in leaves. This is how they transport it to the fields. However, my favourite dish was the maatsy, a corn dough in the shape of a little mountain with a delicious sauce on the top made with chillies and pine nuts.
During lunch we talked with the family about their celebrations, their relatives, their governors, their school and university. After lunch we said goodbye to the amazing Mixe family and we were given some really nice coffee by Ricardo before our 4 hours on the road.
To visit the Mixes and meet Ricardo was a great experience. What I found very fascinating, apart from their work in the fields, is that they preserve their indigenous language and manners, and are very proud and confident about them. They mix their indigenous beliefs with those acquired from the Spanish. Their religion is sort of Catholic, they believe in God and the virgin Mary, but they adore Mother Nature at the same time. For example, they sacrifice chickens in front of the church and they cook the maatsy for Mother Nature – it represents the land and its abundance, and is to thank her for what she provided and to ask her for good results in the coming season.
For more information, please read our article on the Pasilla Oaxaca chillies and how they are grown and used in the Gran Luchito range.