Real Guatemala: Working The Milpa

Rudy Giron: AntiguaDailyPhoto.com &emdash; Real Guatemala: Working The Milpa

Don Alejandro, 78, has four cuerdas [1/6 of block equals 1 cuerda] on communal or municipal land where he grows maize and beans. He works on his milpa or maizal field from April through October. Harvest time is November for the maize and December for the beans.

This photo was taken on the outskirts of Volcán de Agua in San Pedro Las Huertas where lots people have milpa and orchard fields, either private or communal lots. Besides the obvious corn plantations, the campesinos also grow rábano (radish), yuca (cassava), camote (sweet potato), hierbas (herbs) and flowers.

As explained before in the archives of AntiguaDailyPhoto, the term milpa refers normally to a maize field, but it is so much more. In a milpa field there a dozen crops at once: maize, avocados, multiple kinds of squash, chiles (hot pepper chilli), beans, tomatoes, tomatillos, camotes (sweet potatoes), jicama (a tuber also known as sengkwang, yam bean, singkamas, Mexican turnip), amaranth (also called pigweeds) and mucuma (a tropical legume). “Milpa crops are nutritionally and environmentally complementary.” said Charles C. Mann in his book 1491. H. Garrison Wilkes, a maize researcher at University of Massachusetts in Boston is quoted in the same book, “The milpa is one of the most successful human inventions ever created.”

© 2014, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • Eric

    This is a wonderful image of Don Alejandro, Rudy; one that I am sure he is proud of, as well as you. When i take fotos like these, inevitably I have a friend or two that will say,”See how happy he is; life is so simple there.”, and then I have to explain the difference between a simple life, and a content one. Thanks for the image; it is wonderful. And my congratulations to Don Alejandro. The milpa looks great, and is obviously attended by a knowledgeable caretaker !

    • You are so right about the differences between simple and content life. Don Alejandro did like the picture when I showe it to him.

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