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Wonders of the land: Organic food production in Yucatán

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Veronica Garibayhttp://yucatanmagazine.com
Verónica Garibay Saldaña is a Mexican columnist, communications major, and poetry enthusiast. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Ximena Poblano and Lucía Gutiérrez are partners of the land. For more than 10 years they have been harvesting organic vegetables in different areas of Yucatán. Their main huerto is in the municipality of Hoctún, 40 minutes from the capital. 

Horso’s main “Huerto” has been in operations for over 10 years. It belongs to Lucía, Ximena’s mother, and is now their joint agricultural venture. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Upon arrival, we are greeted by a hectare of cultivation beds.

“Just last week we finished collecting herbs like lettuces and arugula,” says Ximena. “Some of these beds will rest for a couple of months until we can use them again. But in the meantime, we’ve got plenty to go around.”

Horso’s team searching for sweet potatoes in their harvesting beds. Photo: Verónica Garibay

The Horso Organics orchard produces all sorts of greens without pesticides or chemicals. As their philosophy respects planting cycles, their soil is allowed to recover its nurturing properties to be used in several crops a year. 

The team sells sweet potato as one of their more common ingredients. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Organic food production is a somewhat newer trend in agricultural ventures, as it promotes a friendlier environmental process, and is overall said to be healthier for consumers. 

Baby carrots harvested by Lucía. The stems are also often consumed because of their health properties. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Ximena comments that, although the acceptance and popularity of this type of production has increased, it still presents many challenges that not everyone is willing to face.

The cold weather enables the squash harvesting season. Many different species are grown in Horso’s huerto, as well as the flowers which are often consumed in Mexican dishes like quesadillas. Photo: Verónica Garibay

“We are much more exposed to the natural elements,” says Ximena. “This year we struggled quite a bit with the rains, which at times drowned many of our crops. The pandemic has been a second challenge because it limits our staff. And because of the way we grow, we need to plant and harvest by hand. But it’s a learning exercise, we have to figure out how to work with our conditions. The most natural way to grow.”

In Yucatán Magazine: Jardín Baldío: Yucatán is growing wonderful food. Here’s where to enjoy it

Cucumber was a very successful crop this time around. Everything is planted and harvested by hand, in order to avoid chemical substances. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Lucia, Ximena’s mother, comments that the recent “cold” weather on the Peninsula makes for a good harvest season. In the orchard, the harvesting of cucumber and squash is close to finished.

White squash is a commonly harvested vegetable around the peninsula and is often used in traditional dishes either boiled or fried. Photo: Verónica Garibay

In another area of the huerto — the Chinese cabbage section — the napa cabbage and Bok choi are a few days away from being ready.

Napa cabbages grow to an important size, and as they become ready to consume the leaves curl up into a ball. Photo: Verónica Garibay

“We just have to wait for the cabbage to close,” says Lucía. “These are huge species, very popular for dishes like kimchi. Now it is more common to find these products with local producers, but we were pioneers introducing them to the Yucatecan market. Chinese cabbages are some of our star products.”

Bok choi ready to be sold, a product often sought out by Asian restaurants and many foreign cooks in the state. Photo: Verónica Garibay

The family’s second garden, in Teya, produces other ingredients such as herbs and cherry tomatoes. These products, destined for restaurants and end consumers, are also used in Ximena’s sister venture, Jardín Baldío

Cherry tomatoes are grown in long vertical vines, suspended by threads and weights. Photo: Verónica Garibay

In their different business ventures, the Poblano Gutiérrez family conveys the value of respectful harvesting, which considers the needs of their consumers, but also of their producers.

Horso is currently working on growing purple sweet potatoes. Although they are currently harvested for their personal consumption, they expect to list them to the public soon. Photo: Verónica Garibay

“Now we are focused on strengthening our individual sales precisely because we want people to learn to enjoy the wide variety of foods that are harvested on the peninsula,” says Ximena. “The Yucatecan soil is hard, but when treated with attention and care, it allows us to enjoy all the wonders of the land.”

In Yucatán Magazine: More of Mérida’s obscurities: 5 food finds and handicraft discoveries

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