“We grew our food. We always had food to eat when times got difficult in Belize.”
– Estella, a Maya forest gardener
Reducing Vulnerability to Economic Pitfalls
Over time, the Maya people have left their fields for jobs in a capitalist economy that has the nature to exploit labor and income. Dependency on a capitalist system manipulates income since people are at the mercy of an unstable market as COVID-19 has displayed. The Maya detached from their land and the reciprocal relationship they had with the planet for unstable forms of income.
Maya forest gardeners enhance the health and quality of life in their communities. They increase local access to healthy, nutritious food options that build strong community food security and sovereignty.
Milpa fields and home gardens can be a vital source of nutrition, medicine, and food security in times of food scarcity or other unstable economic troubles. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic caused supply chain interruptions and lockdowns preventing people from securing food. Maya forest gardeners remained unaffected as their milpa fields provided a steady food supply.
Maya farming’s emphasis on polyculture acts as a safeguard against low yields and market demand changes. If one crop fails, another one can substitute. The same principle applies when factors like a surplus cause a sudden drop in one crop’s market value.
Home gardens are cost-effective and require relatively less labor, making them suitable for economically challenged households. Moreover, many grow medicinal plants to ensure medicine is readily available and accessible, and provide a degree of self-sufficiency.
Starting a Milpa or Home Garden
Maya farming maximizes the environmental benefits by using practices like cover cropping. You can increase the sustainability in your agricultural practices by learning and applying these principles to your own garden.
This is the practice of planting cover crops, which are plants that cover your soil in order to reduce soil erosion, increase water retention, improve soil health, increase biodiversity, and more. Cover crops can be planted around the time of harvesting cash crops or in between rows of permanent crops.