SDSU awarded grant for indigenous farming research

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State University Monday announced a $250,000 federal grant that will allow students to research and promote indigenous Mexican agriculture techniques and sustainability.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funding will send eight university students to Oaxaca, Mexico, to learn “milpa,” a cultivation system used to grow the “three sisters” of Native American agriculture: corn, beans and squash.

“It’s going to be two weeks of really intense immersion, showing them how farmers think, act and live,” said anthropology professor Ramona Perez, who directs SDSU’s Center for Latin American Studies and will lead the group in June.

The USDA grant is intended to expose Latino and Latina students to agricultural sciences.

Students will live with host families and learn traditional recipes, cooking techniques and nutritional philosophy.

They’ll work alongside Mixtec farmers and compare their system to modern agriculture techniques, which differ in the types of crops grown together and how crops are rotated over time. Students will also learn about farmers’ experiences with agricultural chemicals and pesticides, as well as how such materials have impacted soil productivity and health.

After returning to San Diego, the group, alongside dozens of other students, will plant corn, beans and squash in the College Area Community Garden adjoining SDSU’s main campus. Students will use modern farming practices and milpa techniques to ascertain the advantages and disadvantages of each method for growing food in the San Diego region.

“It’s an opportunity to promote cross-cultural knowledge and encourage agriculture science as a career choice for Latino and Latina students,” Perez said. “And it promotes sustainable farming in San Diego communities.”

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