Meet the Maya Forest Gardeners
We have developed friendships with many forest gardeners local to the Belize and Guatemala area. All the featured farmers maintain a deep connection with the environment, with a lifelong commitment to sharing and preserving generational knowledge and practices of traditional forest gardening. With their unique specialties and expertise, every one of them is a treasure of our world who understands the value of the soil and the importance of water, enjoys the beauty of their plants, and recognizes the importance of sustainable agriculture.
“My own experiences with plants have helped me understand my love for nature. I am only here to see this resource thrive and prosper, not perish. Trees and herbs are very sophisticated and the extent of their usefulness is limitless. We need to leave places for the animals. We must continue to learn more about them.”
– Narciso Torres
Alfonso is a retired agricultural extension officer and advocates for the Mayan language and the importance of plants
Marcelo enjoys learning more about farming and is keeping up with the growing produce industry to stay competitive.
Narcisso learned the traditions of his Yucatec Maya ancestors from his father and teaches the next generation of forest gardeners
Lucas is the owner of Lucas Organic Farms in Bullet Tree Falls. As an avid painter, he depicts aspirations for his reforestation projects.
Marylyn has pursued a career in nursing. Her home garden and forest gardens are supporting her endeavors as she incorporated medicinal practices and plants from her mother, Beatrice.
Efrain works along with his father, Raymundo, in the forest gardens. He has learned the traditional skills and practices walking with his father.
As Vice Principal in 2008, Rodulfo arranged to create the Känan K’aax Primary School model garden that has developed over the years. His forest garden is specialized in timber like mahogany and cedar trees and includes many orchids.
Jorge’s green thumb turns every seed into wonderful plants. He avidly advocates for the medicinal herb called episote.
Orlando farms both plants and animals. He raises pigs and feeds them from his forest garden. This supports his family and their education.
Russel notes that plowing kills the worms as he recognized the fertility of the soil depended on worms. Earthworms are important to his horticultural plantings. He also sells his green corn locally.
Isidoro works with his brother, Russel, in field cropping and horticultural plantings. He notes that many villagers have rented their lands to Mennonites who plow and plant mono crops of maize and beans that damage the soil quality. He agrees with Russel that the smallholder builds soil fertility and likes the worms.
Known as Amor, he’s encouraged by the teaching of his Abuela who looked to nature to save his life as a child. He maintains his forest garden with a deep understanding of the soil, the essence of all plantings. He is excited about the school garden.
Raymundo and his wife have lived with forest gardens all their lives. They walk and harvest their milpa all year round.
Israeli brings his logical thinking from his mechanical expertise to the school garden, where he hopes his grandchildren will gain new insights.
Raymundo’s cousin, Carlos has a home garden for his family’s needs and a more distant land he propagates trees for lumber.
With home gardens and regenerating fields, Ivan has trees and cattle that he supports in a traditional way.
Estela’s home garden has many fruit trees including Ciricote. She propagates mahogany and cedar in her backyard. Her support of forest gardens extends from the school garden to the El Pilar site. When a fiesta at El Pilar celebrated the Katun, the Maya 20-year cycle, she got there by tractor and announced that to all!
Estela’s daughter, Samantha, is a student of agriculture at the University of Belize. Her interest in land use and her background growing up in a traditional village gives her a vision that draws from the past to the future.
In Appreciation of
“I saw the need for someone to go ahead and teach the traditions that Mr. Elijio Panti (a renowned Maya medicinal and spiritual healer) left.”
– Heriberto Cocom
Always full of life, Heriberto enjoyed providing information about traditional healing practices to all who will listen.
Guadalupe nurtured 22 acres of land with 42 different species of trees, perennial flowers, and other crops like okra.
Leonardo was a farmer since eight years old. He was dedicated to planting a diversity of trees that flower for his honey bees.
Beatrice is remembered for her work in her healers hut. Her knowledge of healing plants gained her much respect and fame.
Alcario was a village leader and assembled a group of Maya forest gardeners to create the school garden project called Kanan Kaax.
Carmen and his wife, Betty, had lived at El Pilar before the reserve was established. He planted fruit trees around his house including kinep, mamay, coconut, etc. He nourished the forest as a garden and was a great collaborator at El Pilar. He could make seats from vines, recognized the damselfly as a sign of water, and was a great collaborator at El Pilar.
Known as Chaco, he was a teacher at his property showing the milpa cycle in action: from newly burned fields to perennials and ultimately with 12-year-old cedar trees, orchards, and chicken and turkeys. He knew his market and always had Moxan for tamales.
Raymundo’s little brother grew up in the traditional way with forests and gardens, milpas, and pastures.
Enthusiastic about teaching youth about forest gardens, he had hope for future generations. He helped at the Känan K’aax with the group.
Felipe joined the Tikal project in the late 1950s, working with others on the Tikal map. After working for the University of Pennslyvania project through the 1960s, he became the head of Rangers, Vigilancia. He created a map of Parque Nacional Tikal to protect the nearly 600 sq km park. His wealth of knowledge of plants and the terrain of Tikal clearly made him a Master Forest Gardener. His musing on
El Petén de Ayer is a resource on Maya forest.