Our Farming Approach

Different From Western Crops

Maya Forest Gardeners use a different style of a crop than Westerners. Instead of large fields growing only one item like corn, a milpa is a smaller plot of land with a large variety of crops. 

Plowed Field (left) vs Milpa (right)

What is the Milpa Cycle?

Milpa Cycle in action

The Maya use a sustainable method of farming and managing the Maya forest called the milpa cycle. The cycle spans approximately 20 years and involves the skilled selection of plant species to sustain the Maya Forest as one of the most biodiverse places in the world.

The milpa cycle transforms in stages, and grows back into a closed canopy forest at the end. At least two-thirds of the milpa is part of the forest at any point of the Milpa cycle to conserve the Maya Forest. Maya forest gardeners traditionally have more than one milpa each at different stages cycling at the same time to maximize the multifunctionality of the landscape and crop rotation that ensures diversity in product yields. 

Dominant Plants Shaping the Forest

After millennia of Maya occupying the Maya forest, there are 20 trees that economic botanists recognize as dominating the well-drained uplands. These plants often cover more than three-quarters of the area! These dominant plants occurred where the ancient Maya lived and are all useful because the Maya selected plants they needed while creating the Maya forest garden.

Since these trees, palms, and shrubs greatly differ in appearances, we included the flower portion along with their Maya and English Names for easy comparison.

Illustrations by Julia Beery


Pollinated by Insects
Used for Construction

Wild Mamey

Pollinated by Moths
Used for Food

Tourist Tree

Pollinated by Bees
Used for Medicine

Box Ya
Black Zapote

Pollinated by Insects
Used for Latex

Forest Gardens as a Climate Solution

Maya forest gardeners use agricultural practices that increase yields while maximizing environmental benefits. Although these methods center around mimicking the structure of the Maya forest, their principles can be applied to different habitats.

Lowers Temperature

Reduces Erosion

Builds Soil Fertility

Conserves Water

Increases Biodiversity

To Care for Our People & Planet

Forest Gardens Builds Food Sovereignty

Milpa fields and home gardens can be a vital source of nutrition, medicine, and food security in times of food scarcity or other economic troubles. They provide a degree of self-sufficiency that reduces vulnerability to economic pitfalls like supply chain interruptions from COVID-19 and low yields from sudden market demand changes.

A home garden has more perennials than milpas and are less tall. This garden is growing bananas, flowers, and coconuts.

Controversy about the Milpa Cycle

Common myths about the milpa cycle discredit it with little evidence such as:

“Slash-and-burn destroys the habitat

“Rocky soil is undesirable”

“Milpa is just a cornfield