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Unearthing Gardening Traditions in Minneapolis

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ImageA “glyph” of the Mexica concept of Zenteotl– Nahuatl for “First Energy:”  the energy from the universe that materialized upon earth and made the creation of corn possible.

“We have been able to unearth our traditions,” said Deborah Ramos about the Zenteotl project that she started in Minnesota in 2006. The Zenteotl Project, which in Nahuatl means, “first energy,” is meant to unite the Latino community of Central and South Minneapolis through art, traditional Mexica dance, and the traditional cultivation of corn. The project started as a multi-media performance created by Deborah, a visual artist, after traveling to Mexico and learning from traditional teachers about the origins of corn. She learned that corn is not like any other plant, it needs to grow within a community of other corn, and it needs a direct relationship with humans. Humans, and the Mexica people of Mexico in particular, grow with corn; it is a mutual relationship.

She was so intrigued by what she had learned about corn, that she began working on a narrative and a script for the performance that incorporated movements inspired by Aztec dance. But she knew that the only way to fully understand corn was to grow it. So that is what she did–hence, the Zenteotl Project. On a small plot in another community garden in Minneapolis, Deborah and members of the Latino community began experimenting with different traditional methods of cultivating a sweet blue corn that adapts well to a short growing season and has very unique nutritional elements.  Over the years, more and more families joined the group through their outreach efforts that have a very specific experience with corn, allowing the group to experiment with even more traditional gardening methods. These methods honor the feminine energy of the earth, the sacredness of the seed, and the elements of the earth. They have experimented with different planting designs made up of rows, arcs, spirals, and many others. Their goal is to find the best traditional method that preserve and contain water.

Along with traditional ways of planting, they have also incorporated the corresponding ceremonies and traditional Mexica dance performed during the growth process of corn, taught to them by an elder of the community from Mexico. And, they use an ancestral method to make adobe homes to build an organic sculpture that represents a stage of the corn. The goal was to help participants understand that  they could gain the basic knowledge to make their own home through this creative experience. They have even used recycled corn from prior seasons to make paper. “We take advantage of corn in the most respectful way and try to be as creative as possible,” said Deborah. In this way, this group attempts to recover their relationship with the earth and with each other. “We couldn’t learn this from a book, it had to happen through this collective process,” said Deborah.

In a time when climate change is becoming more and more visible in our everyday lives, Deborah wanted to offer her community more options for growing food. “We didn’t just haphazardly decide to grow corn, to garden, or to dance, it has all been very intentional from the inception,” she said. This unique Zenteotl project is on their fourth growing season, and Deborah feels that they are really onto something very powerful–they are empowering themselves. They hope to gain access to land outside of the city in order to grow more food, and they continue their work in the performing arts with indigenous artists in Mexico and the United States.

If you would like to learn more or get involved, look for “Zenteotl Project/Proyecto Zenteotl” on Facebook for more information.


Written by Yvette Cabrera

July 30, 2012 at 1:12 am

Posted in Agriculture, Corn, Minneapolis

Tagged with ,

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