The house of Jose, Maria Suzanna, and their large family stands out from the landscape. In vivid blue, green and red. The forest stands intact behind the house. As a green wall of bird calls. This mornings downpour has left the ground covered in flowers and I think to myself: somehow there are always flowers in the Selva Zoque. Blazing red flowers, like the traditional dress of the indigenous people of this region. We walk across a small bridge and underneath us water is pouring down from the forest-clad hills. We hear laughter from the house and I recognize the voice of Jose. There is a faint scent of chicken broth in the air as we come up to the house.
We are welcomed with generosity and laughter.
Don Jose and his sons have just returned from this morning’s work in the maize fields – the traditional milpa – and they are now hammocking. Bright, wild colours everywhere! There is a sombrero next to each hammock that protects the farmers from the beating sun when they work in the milpa. They have been working in the milpa since dawn. Actually, they have always been working in the milpa, just like their ancestors, the ancient Maya, who believed that the gods had created mankind out of maize.
I first met Jose and his wife Maria Suzanna, their many sons and daughters, and their grandchildren Montzerrath, Yureli, Alfonso, Minerva and Octavio in the spring of 2014. I was traveling through the Selva Zoque region – in the foothills of the mountainous Sierra Madre de Chiapas – with my good friend Hugo, a cacao farmer and visionary agronomist from Tabasco in Southern Mexico. Beaten from weeks in the jungle and with a soul that was drumming to the sounds of the forest and the everyday rhythm of its people – days of working the land and evenings of hammocking – it was a blessing to be welcomed by the generosity and culinary traditions of this family. A homecoming for the soul – and I still feel so today.
Jose and his family live in one of the indigenous communities in the Selva Zoque that Original Beans has been working with since 2014. Together with our local partner, Agrofloresta, we have build a direct-trade cacao supply chain that guarantees high, stable cacao prices for the farmers and a forest conservation project through which we support the local families to raise the most flavourful and vigorous among their Tabasqueño cacaos in nurseries and thereafter plant them in cacao-forests that function as buffer zones and wildlife corridors on the border of the Selva Zoque rainforest and that further supply the families with a great diversity of traditional crops that they use in their kitchens.