Farming in Mexico – what it means in Northern Nevada
Special to the Nevada Appeal
I spent the last two weeks in Mexico studying small agriculture operations. Fifty percent of the overall population of Mexico is poor and one-third lives in rural areas. Those in rural areas seem a little better off than their urban counterparts as they at least can grow some of their own food.
This trip was a phenomenal experience, for people there often farm as we did in the early 1900’s. I saw oxen pulling old-fashioned hand plows, donkeys laden with firewood and goats grazing in fallow fields. On the other hand, progress has reached some of these small villages through grants and university participation. I saw greenhouses for tomato and pepper production that were simple in construction yet quite effective. These greenhouses have improved the quality of life for their owners, allowing them to raise large crops for profit at a fairly low cost.
Many of the villagers we visited were subsistence farmers with very small acreages and little more than a one-room building to live in. To them, “a rich home is one with a lot of grain, rather than a lot of money.” In many cases, they aren’t allowed to sell what little land they have due to a governmental distribution of properties that occurred in years past. This usually works for them as they revere their land, saying, “the mothers (the lands) aren’t sold.”
I brought back some interesting lessons we can apply to our home gardens since the areas I toured were as arid as northern Nevada. For example, intercropping works. There, the crops planted together were cacti, squash and traditional medicinal plants. They also plant corn, beans and squash in the same fields. When you plan your garden this year, pick crops that will work well as companion plants. The symbiotic relationship of companion plants helps each thrive. A good resource for this information is a book “Carrots Love Tomatoes” by Louise Riotte.
Another lesson is that almost every plant that grows in their environment has a medicinal use. They pass this information down generation to generation. I’m not suggesting we use plants for medicinal purposes, but perhaps we could plant more edible plants in our landscapes.
At the sustainable water-use museum, we learned about composting toilets, worm composting to improve the soil, solar-operated pumps and man-driven pumps to move water through irrigation systems in areas without electricity.
Mexico farming reaffirmed for me that good gardens could be simple ones.
Carson City community garden plots available now for $10 for the season, April 1 through Oct. 1. Call JoAnne Skelly at 887-2252 for more information.
– JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City / Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.