Organic Food in Mexico
By Lisa Sheppard Photos by Ian Gordon Sheppard

French Breakfast Radishes and Giant Red Mustard Greens Ian Gordon Sheppard
Organic food is not for the rich or ultra hip foodie.
It has broken out from its place among mung beans, goat milk yogurt, and ultra bran granola on the shelves of left-wing alternative markets. Some organic buyers wear Manolos while they drink lattes in trendy coffee bars or gaze at artfully arranged salads in posh restaurants. But mostly organic food is available at non-designer prices to all of us and plays a significant part in our daily pleasures, health, the environment, and our economic and social futures.

Why buy organic when it has a reputation for costing more, doesn’t look as shiny or evenly colored, and is generally smaller? First, because organically grown produce has more flavor, more vitamins and minerals, is generally in season, promotes heirloom varieties capable of reproducing without the aid of science, (remember the large white turkeys they breed for immense breast meat that can no longer walk or reproduce and develop large sores on their skin?) helps prevent the patenting and control of our food sources by huge conglomerates, and in the case of Fair Trade organizations directly benefit the grower and their community.

Why should you care about these things? We will assume that you would like to buy the best tasting, ripe, nutritional food with your hard-earned money. After all, based on the U.S. minimum wage an apple costs you 14 minutes of your working day. If you, like most North Americans, take a vitamin supplement you do so because you are afraid of not consuming them in your food. Eating healthier food means you don’t have to pay for dietary supplements. Personally I do not like eating a green hard peach or a plastic bag of two week-old preserved lettuce. Vitamins are like sand in an hour glass, the top half full of sand is lettuce freshly picked. As time ticks on the grains of sand leave the upper half of the glass much the same way vitamins diminish with time in your food, until there is very little left. I like my produce ripe especially fruit, as smell makes up half of your sense of taste. When was the last time you actually ate a ripe sweet tomato that smelled tomato-ey? I despair at commercial strawberries sold in plastic punnets. They are large, huge in fact, hollow, bright red, and have little flavor. I found this out when I tasted my first organic strawberry; it was almost purple in color, small firmly fleshed but tender, intensely flavored with the sweetest juice balanced by a slight acidity. I couldn’t believe how I had been duped into believing that big red balloon of a fruit had any resemblance to a real berry! We now grow beds of our own and if it is possible they are even sweeter than my first taste.

Chemical fertilizers and insecticides cost big money, the kind of money a small farmer doesn’t have. The state of Michoacan has its own fair trade organization, Fair Trade South America, based in Uruapan. FTSA ships organic, blackberries, mangos, coconuts, avocados, papayas, grapefruits, limes and more all over the world for Michoacan’s organic farmers. A percentage of the profits are given back to the grower’s pueblos helping fund socially valuable projects, creating a direct impact. The potential money involved in organic food has recently made the biggest chain store in the United States come searching here in Mexico for sources of organic produce. They know that when the general public wakes up there is gold in going organic. You want to buy organic produce? Look for the organic label now appearing more frequently in supermarkets. Visit local farmers and ask them what they grow and if they would like to sell some. Stop at small roadside stands or at the wheelbarrows under umbrellas on the side of the road and buy fresh, organic, mature produce directly from the people who grow it. Here in Mexico organic food is easier to find than you think: it is in your neighbor’s back yard.

Lisa Mower Sheppard was born and raised in Berkeley, California with its multi-cultural food community and “Gourmet Ghetto.” Lisa and Ian, a photographer from London, own a small, organic, bio-diverse farm near Lake Zirahuen, Michoacan that produces a wide variety of heirloom vegetables, herbs, and fruit.


Watch a video about Traditional Mexican dish Pozole

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