The three kids in one of the houses that I visited were shocked and confused when I told them that when we think “chicken” where I live in the US we are usually thinking of meat wrapped in plastic with a Styrofoam backing. For the three of them, chicken means what they have in their backyard and even are learning how to kill for a special meal or to sell to a neighbor.
That is a tiny slice of what the past month and a half has looked like being a city girl from the US living in a rural agricultural community in Mexico.
I am suddenly aware of the prices of a number of goods, from corn to jícama to sorghum (and equally aware that I don’t even know the names in English – I had to look up sorghum in the dictionary). The fact that prices are low this year has affected all three of the towns and means that families are wondering where they will get money from to survive because families with their own lands rely on a large influx of money from the harvest to make it through the rest of the year. In years like these, many start considering going to el Norte (the US).
I have become conscious of the stark contrast between the rainy season and the dry season. The only people who can plant at this time of the year must have access to a well. In one of the communities there are no wells, in another two, and in the third most of the farmers can access well water. In the community with no wells, the fields lay fallow and the men are simply unemployed for half of the year. As one person explained, that is why so many men from this region migrate in the spring.
I am learning about the greenhouses in the region, which some view as a great source of steady employment and others see as sites of poor working conditions, exposure to chemicals, and low pay.
I hear about the markets where goods are given for exchange and not just for money. Where people can bring a sack of peanuts and exchange it for squash or change a sack of beans for eggs.
I could spend hours listing what I have learned from a few short weeks here. But the core is an awareness of where my food comes from. Not just in the sense of slow food, organic, community-supported agriculture, local, or any other number of movements in the US. Rather, I am growing to understand what farming means to a community and how the ups and downs of food prices and weather affect the very core of people’s well-being.
Since I intend on eating food for the rest of my life, I hope that as I eat I can remain conscious of the communities from which my food comes. Perhaps that could be the challenge for all of us who live in the city where chicken really does come wrapped in plastic.