San Miguel San Miguel de Allende is a picturesque 500 year old colonial town in the central highlands that played a major role in the Mexican Revolution against Spain and more recently is known as an artistic and ex-patriot center for North America. I first visited at the founding meeting of Enlace a dozen years ago and always enjoyed my time here. On our last visit in January 2010, close to 50 folks had packed the patio of the offices of the Center for Global Justice to hear about ACORN International’s work, so we were excited to be able to return to the Biblioteca, a nonprofit library touted as the largest such institution in Mexico and perhaps North America, where Judy Duncan of ACORN Canada and Dilcia Zavala of ACORN Honduras would join me in updating folks here on ACORN International’s progress.
After Cliff Durand of the Center introduced the discussion and our presentations the questions were interesting and focused on everything from what we had learned from the ACORN experience in the USA to Occupy San Miguel to whether or not it was practical to organize effectively around economic development in rural areas of the developing world. It was great to have some of our friends ask for updates on the Remittance Justice Campaign who had been with us in San Miguel in 2010. Before the end of May, we will post the session on ACORN International’s YouTube channel upon our return.
After a last look at the Biblioteca and a wave towards Juan of our favorite San Miguel coffeehouse, Juan’s Café, complete with a can of Café du Monde coffee & chicory commemorating his own visit to New Orleans, we joined Ronnie Cummins for a fantastic lunch and deeply educational tour of the Via Organico café and sundry operations. Ronnie is a fellow traveler on the activist path who originally hails from the homeland around Port Arthur, Texas, and after a stint at Rice in Houston jumped into the maelstrom as many of us did to oppose the Vietnam War and, as they say, the rest is history. He ended up making a career of advocating around food and other environmental issues and now heads a 850,000 strong Organic Consumers Association based in Minneapolis where he lives part of the year and Via Organico, the Mexican counterpart, where he is based in San Miguel. The Via Organico nonprofit is in many ways a demonstration project for an all-organic operation as well as a combination store, café, brewery, classroom, storage facility, and rooftop farm operation.
And, a heckuva operation at that! Lunch was fantastic and some of our number felt it their duty to try the beer brewed by Via Organico from cactus among other things while others had a dessert to die for that included homemade ice cream and later lime popsicles. Ronnie gave us a full tour of the entire operation along with the warehouse and brewery. He did such a great job, he made it feel like it might be possible to duplicate it, but as organizers, we all knew how difficult bringing projects like this to fruition really are.
Among the more interesting things Cummins showed us is was the rooftop growing area where the old ways that Mexican farmers used gourds were in use for growing produce in this dry, high, arid land by conserving the water they had collected. They would plant large gourds at intervals among the vegetables and refill the gourds with water through small caps on the gourd. Because the gourds were fired from the more porous clay, as the ground dried, the soil would literally suck the water out of the gourd and into the dirt nearby in order to water the plants to good health and yield. Amazing!
Anytime you can have a great dialogue with people, share what you’ve learned, join others successes and experiences, and learn something as well, it has to count as a great trip all around. As we hugged our old companera, Ercilia Sahores, who had organized all of these events for us, we said hasta luego, but in our hearts we could hardly wait to return for more.