A Conversation with Corn
Without corn, North America—and most partic-
ularly modern, technological North America—
Much Depends on Dinner
This mountainous region in southern Mexico is a rich mosaic of oak and pine forests and indigenous farming communities. It's also the cradle of corn. Small Zapotec Indian villages lie scattered along narrow mountain roads and in secluded valleys. Chickens bustle and peck while small dogs sleep in sunlit town squares. Clear water from the mountains flows through the towns, into household gardens and public fountains, then on to the milpas, where corn, beans, and squash are grown. On the outskirts of town, larger fields are farmed collectively and the surrounding forest is managed communally. The Zapotec have lived here for thousands of years, and they have developed ways of governing and sustaining themselves that maintain an intricate balance between their needs, the demands of the plants and animals they live with, and the particularity of this land. They are the descendants of the farmers who, living here and elsewhere in southern Mexico, first domesticated corn over 7,000 years ago.
This is also the area where, as we have seen, genetically mod-