Casa Huichol Kitchen Garden
Project Status: Completed
Location: Zapopan, Mexico
STAGE 1 - INTRODUCTION
Project Leader Dr. Jillian de Gezelle was instrumental in bringing this garden together. Through her contacts in Mexico the team were introduced to the Huichol community and specifically María del Rocío Echevarria Ortiz (Rocío), the director of Casa de Salud Huichol (Casa Huichol). This organization operates the local healing centre in Zapopan where Huichol stay when seeking medical treatment in the city. Rocío asked the team to help reinvigorate their kitchen garden in a culturally appropriate way.
STAGE 2 - engagement
Once the team arrived in Mexico they started with the integral part of each project, community engagement. They worked with Huichol that were at the centre as well as with Rocío and the cook to make a list of foods that Huichol traditionally eat. Once that list was made they met with other stakeholders to begin a dialogue regarding the history of the garden and why different versions of it hadn’t worked in the past.
STAGE 3 - design
The design was headed by permaculturalist David Rodriguez and with his guidance the team made note of the light levels, soil composition, as well as the slope to identify the best orientation for the beds to capture water in the rainy season. Permacultural practices were utilized to ensure the garden was in harmony with the surrounding area and each plant benefited the other without competing for resources. Plants were chosen that would deter pests and others to add nutrients back into the soil over time lessening the need to put non-natural additives into the garden space.
STAGE 4 - construction
The construction of the garden was slow to start due to a number of the realities of working in the field but once those initial hurdles were overcome the team set off at a feverish pace for the week that they had to complete it all. The site was cleared and the the swales and trenches were dug to create the beds. After tracking down a nursery that carried the plants the team chose the van was packed to the brim with every single leaf that could fit in it. Over 100 plants, including trees, were placed in the minivan and made it back safely to the garden where irrigation and water tanks were already being installed. There were many things the team were unsure they would logistically be able to complete in their short time but whenever doubt set in there would be a generous local that would offer to come in on their day off or source equipment for us from friends and colleagues. There was a sacred circle within the garden that was used by the Huichol to make offerings during their stays at the centre. It was in need of repairs and that task fell to cultural anthropologist Bryce Mathew Watts. He surveyed and reset the brickwork to make the circle level and added a pathway for the Huichol to use so the circle remained a focal point of the garden.
STAGE 5 - completion
The completion of the project came in the form of a huge celebration with community members, volunteers, and stakeholders. The celebration began with a traditional fire being lit in the sacred circle representing "Grandfather Fire" whom the Huichol believe to have given them life. Everyone was instructed to pick up a stick and walk to the circle with it where they would ritually cleanse their whole bodies and throw the stick into the fire as an offering. By taking part in this activity and involving the community in the final planting the team were able to give a sense of ownership to the Huichol and ensure that the garden would be seen as a resource for them.
The Huichol or Wixáritari “the people” as they refer to themselves are an Indigenous ethnic group living in the Mexican states of Durango, Jalisco, Nayarit, and Zacatecas. They have a strong cultural tradition linking back thousands of years and are thought to be the closest living descendants of the Aztecs.
Dr. Jillian De Gezelle
Bryce Mathew Watts