Connect with us

Organic Sesame Seeds Are a Growing Industry in Oaxaca

CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAYS & SPECIAL OCCASIONS

Organic Sesame Seeds Are a Growing Industry in Oaxaca


Welcome to Out of the Kitchen, our ongoing exploration of the relationships that build and sustain the food industry. This year, we’re traveling the country to look at how sustainability has become a rapidly growing movement within the food world. Chefs at the forefront of this trend are introducing their patrons to local farms, fresh ingredients, and innovative dishes while farmers are educating chefs and consumers about where their food comes from and what it takes to grow the food served. Their practices and personal customer approaches provide a bigger impact to the community at large, hoping to create a better and more sustainable future for all.

Rosendo Matniel Perez begins each morning with a tablespoon of sesame seeds.

“My family takes one tablespoon each at the start of our day, and then another one at the end of each night,” he says in a cool room on a hot day in San José, Magdalena Tequisistlán, almost at the Pacific Ocean on the southern coast of Mexico. “And if we get constipation, we take two tablespoons at night, and then the next day we’re fine.”

Sesame seeds, naturally, are important to nearly all Oaxacans—it’s a signature ingredient in mole, for one thing—but for Perez and his colleagues, it’s a lot more than a garnish. It’s a way of life. He is, after all, the technical head for organic growing for Comunidades Campesinas en Camino. A cooperative organization that’s best known to customers for selling organic sesame seeds and sesame oil under the brand name Ecotierra, but is best known to its members for offering them a chance for justice and economic equality—true social sustainability for the native people of Mexico.

SESAMEbag-1400An open bag of Ecotierra organic sesame seeds awaits inspection in the group’s headquarters.

It began in church. “They got us together for a meeting about what was happening in the countryside,” Perez says. “The people who were pastoral had the animals and the farms, but we were reflecting on how they never had any money, which all seemed to be gained by the middlemen. So the people thought it was time to transform the situation, to sell directly to the consumer without the middlemen.”

That was 1995. The 45 farmers who started the group started with a crop of chile pasilla, using a local church’s pickup truck to deliver and sell the chiles at the market in Puebla, a drive of nearly eight hours away. They started growing and selling corn, tamarind, jamaica, sorghum, and peanuts, and the group began growing as well. But they wanted to do something more, something that would make them stand out and give their customers something they couldn’t easily find anywhere else. “The project we really wanted to do was healthy food, clean, organic,” Perez says. “We formed a group from the church that knew how to care for the earth and was learning techniques that were organic. But it was very difficult to apply them to the chiles.”

SESAMEcookiesbottles-1400Ecotierra doesn’t just sell raw and roasted sesame seeds—the local farmers cooperative also produces sesame cookies, snacks, and sesame oil.

In 1999, the group found the ideal crop to grow organically for Ecotierra: sesame seeds. “Sesame seeds are really easy to grow organically. There are no plagues or pests that attack the sesame—they’re like the plants of God,” Perez says. “Plus, a lot of the people growing the chiles were already growing sesame seeds, they just started to put more energy into the sesame seeds.”

Eventually, nearly all of the group’s crops were certified organic. But the first mission remained primary: Ensuring that the most disadvantaged of the indigenous peoples—Zapotecs, Chontal Maya, Mixtecos, Ikoots, Chinantecos, and Zoques—and the mestizos get a fair shake. “We were brought from a necessity to protect the poorest of the community,” says Martha Elvia Cisenernos Dristsa, head of the group’s administration of the community of farmers.

SESAMEflower-1400The farmers who grow Ecotierra’s sesame seeds rely on Earth-friendly techniques like crop rotation, terracing, and dam building to avoid soil erosion.

The farmers who grow Ecotierra’s sesame seeds rely on Earth-friendly techniques like crop rotation, terracing, and dam building to avoid soil erosion, using maguey cactus as a border crop, and natural insecticides like neem. Composting, naturally, plays a major role in fertilizing the plants, as does judicious use of copper, sulfates, and efficient microorganisms. “We’ve been experimenting with ‘good’ bacteria, and ‘good’ fungus.’ We make mulch out of leaves and fallen trees filed with the fungus that we let ferment to produce healthy microorganisms,” says Enrique Zarate Robles, who acts as Ecotierra’s legal representative. “Then we activate it and use it as a liquid spray that we apply to the plants. They combat the bad pathogens, and help our crops build up a resistance to disease.”

When it comes to the final product, “the difference is in the weight,” Perez says. “The organic weight is more robust, denser, nicely flavored. It’s like comparing wild catfish to farm-raised catfish—it tastes like itself, instead of like a bunch of watery tomatoes. When we were deciding what to grow, the first thing people said was, ‘What’s important for selling is the flavor, then the health.’”

SESAMEgrounds-1400The midday sun scorches the courtyard of the Ecotierra headquarters.

The sesame crop now makes up 90 percent of Ecotierra’s business, 2,500 metric tonnes (2,755 U.S. tons) a year, much of it going to South Korea. The business provides work for 527 families in 70 communities across southern Mexico, over 8,000 hectares, or nearly 20,000 acres. The tenth day of every month, a representative from every village comes to an assembly where they make the major decisions for the organization and the brand that allows them to meet consumer demand while protecting the Earth, Robles says. “That’s the most important part of the project, the Earth,” Perez says. “Because if we don’t protect the Earth, we won’t have any infrastructure, and if we protect the Earth, we also protect the people, and they’ll always have something to eat.”

SESAMEmuraldetail1-1400For Oaxacans, sesame isn’t just a critical ingredient with a long history–like being used in mole negro–it’s also a way of life.

Consumers come out ahead too, says Carlotta Basurto Alcaras, whose title is president of the processors of the eco-products—that is, the people who turn the sesame seeds into sesame oil. “If they’re eating organic, they’re going to have good health. It’s good for the Earth, it’s good for the people.”

“Our slogan is ‘Flavor that gives health,’” Perez says. “The idea is that a balanced life where you’re protecting yourself is one where you’re protecting your family. It’s not just for you, it’s for everybody, and our circle keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

The post Organic Sesame Seeds Are a Growing Industry in Oaxaca appeared first on Bon Appétit.



Source link

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAYS & SPECIAL OCCASIONS

To Top
Facebook Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com