Part One: The Origins of Project Milpa

Food access is a cornerstone social justice issue of our lifetime. In 2020 IORC organizers Irene Ruiz and Samantha Guerrero helped create The Idaho Immigrant Resource Alliance to bring emergency aid to the Idaho Farmworker and immigrant community. These communities were left without access to resources like funds, social services, and information due to lack of translated materials when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Idaho. Many living in food apartheids couldn’t access nutritious food despite being a critical member of the food production system. Under IIRA, Project Milpa was created to source & grow non genetically modified, organic, and culturally relevant food to feed Idaho’s Latinx community, most of whom are of Mexican descent and have been significantly impacted by the pandemic.

Many living in food apartheids couldn’t access nutritious food despite being a critical member of the food production system.

The name for the project was inspired by the sustainable agricultural practice also known as “The Three Sisters”. This practice involves planting corn, beans, and squash together, providing both nutrition and a cultural livelihood for rural communities. Corn was domesticated from maize by the Mesoamericans in what is now considered Mexico. Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere continue to care for it and steward the land. Yet when we look at who is profiting from Idaho corn production, Indigenous/Mexican growers are systematically excluded. 

Magic Mana Corn ready to be shelled, or removed from the cob Photo: Arlie Sommer

Throughout the pandemic the farmworkers in our community have been keeping conventional agriculture working and our communities fed at the expense of their health and well being. A way to honor their sacrifices and to provide aid we wanted to provide nutritious food that would not further harm them and their families or contribute to the same companies exploiting them. Sticking to the IORC Food Purchasing Policy we looked for corn to purchase with money we received from Justice for Migrant Womxn. We purchased Magic Mana with the intention to provide a nutritious culturally relevant food source for families. 

On a chilly November afternoon in 2020, the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils Agriculture & Food Team received 3,640 pounds of organically grown Magic Mana corn from Brad McIntyre in Caldwell. That first afternoon we sat shelling corn together, sharing stories. It took about an hour for two of us to shell about 50lbs of corn. We continued to meet regularly to brainstorm ways to share the corn, and to do more, even when we felt overwhelmed by all we were trying to accomplish. We bagged the shelled corn in hopes people would be able to make traditional foods like pozole, masa for tortillas, and tamales. We included it in mutual food aid boxes, shared it with community leaders, friends and families across Idaho and Oregon. 

Planting Oaxacan Green Dent Corn & Sunflowers
Photo: Megan Carter

In spring 2021 a supporter of Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides donated land where we could grow corn, this offered us a chance to connect in a different way. The Idaho Organization of Resource Councils Agriculture and Food Team gathered to plant the field using seed gifted by Lacey Michelle. Lacey’s garden in Ontario, Oregon is tended to by her and her children and contributes to her seed-saving work.

We gathered again in the fall to harvest and plan to make beautiful white and green fresh masa that was available for sale in time for the 2021 Holidays. In the coming year we hope to continue conversations and community involvement in food sovereignty initiatives. To connect with more Indigenous/Latine people interested in growing culturally relevant plants, including corn, other vegetables, herbs, flowers, etc. We are pursuing opportunities for land, collaborating with other Latine lead organizations to address other issues including Driver Permits for undocumented Idahoans, and continuing to call out the injustices domestic, migrant, and contracted H2A agricultural workers are exposed to. We take heart in the recent announcements that the Mexican government is taking steps to phase out GMO corn and glyphosate

Gathering in community to harvest and sort the corn
Photo: Megan Carter

Many families who migrated to Idaho from Mexico have been disconnected from the food ways and were able to remember the significance of the process. From harvesting, to processing, and making food, colonial violence and forced assimilation has caused many people with mixed heritage to be separated from their traditional foods and connection to the land. Project Milpa is making our way back to the land. We are proud to be a small piece of the movement in this country to resist and repair the colonization of land, culture, and corn. To protect corn is to protect people. How can Black, Indigenous, and People of Color grow food when we don’t have access to the land? For now, by growing on our neighbors land and in community.

To support the work and get involved with initiatives such as Project Milpa and the IORC Agriculture & Food Team, join as an IORC Member today!

Watch the field grow!