MILPA: From Seed to Salsa/Ancient Ingredients for a Sustainable Future

Essays: Phil Dahl-Bredine, Jesús León Santos
Photography: Judith Cooper Haden
Recipes: Susana Trilling

Our bilingual book Milpa: From Seed to Salsa - Ancient Ingredients for a Sustainable Future, documents through a blend of essays, recipes and documentary photography how the ancient agricultural knowledge and the wealth of 1000 year-old seeds and planting practices still in use among the Mixtec peoples of southern Mexico can help us to meet the ecological and food crises of today.

The essays, written in conjunction with campesino farmers, serve as a warning about the complicated dangerous effects inherent in the rapidly expanding distribution of GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds in Mexico, the birthplace of corn. Using the example of the Milpa planting system in the Mixteca Alta region of Southern Mexico just north of Oazaxa City, the book supports recent studies by UN investigators that show that small plots of land, heritage seeds and sustainable practices can in fact feed the world while enriching the soils on which we all depend for life…….

Milpa contains the traditional recipes lovingly shared by the local indigenous Mixtec women, allowing readers to re-create the culinary magic that flows from this ancient agricultural system. Recipes are painstakingly tested and photographed in traditional indigenous kitchens as well as in a professional modern test kitchen.

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Deborah Madison, American Chef, Writer, Teacher, James Beard Award winner  Milpa: From Seed to Salsa is an extraordinary book in many ways. It is a hopeful book that shows in careful detail how extremely well the old ways of farming and living in community can not only feed rural populations but also provide them with medicine and fodder for animals.  This is a viable alternative to big agriculture and so-called improvements from elsewhere; this is a fine example. Milpa is also a remarkable book because, like the community of families that tends the milpa fields, this book is product of cooperation among some very extraordinary people—two activists, a chef, and a photographer, who all found a way to bring to light a story of hope with great wisdom and beauty, with the cooperation of the Mixtec community who live the life this book allows us to witness.  I am so grateful for this book. It is a treasure.

Lila Downs, Four-time Grammy Award-Winning Recording Artist, Oaxaca  This wonderful book is a delightful voyage for the eyes, the spirit, and the taste buds. Through amazing recipes, photos, and narrative it takes the reader on a journey in time and reveals the sacred Mixtec relationship with the Mother Earth, which has evolved over thousands of years. Using this wisdom, it points to a hopeful future rooted in diversity, balance and strength.

Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley   The Milpa campesina offers a promising ecological model as it promotes biodiversity, it prospers without agricultural chemicals while using little fossil fuel energy, and it sustains production throughout the year.

Iliana de la Vega, Executive Chef and Owner,  El Naranjo Restaurant (Austin, Texas and formerly Oaxaca, Mexico), Culinary Institute of America  The milpa is a complex network of cultural significance and ancient traditions, and its value lies in the completeness it represents: an agricultural method that provides a full, nutritionally balanced diet; a symbol of community and togetherness; and a sustainable answer to the modern day food crises we all face. In Milpa: From Seed to Salsa, the elements that comprise this indigenous Mesoamerican food practice come to life through beautiful photography and delicious recipes, and demonstrate that the milpa is so much more than just an agricultural system. 


  1. Phil Dahl-Bredine, activist and co-author of THE OTHER GAME: Lessons from How Life is Played in Mexican Villages2009, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York. Phil is a former Maryknoll lay missioner, who with his wife Kathy, has lived and worked in the tiny village of San Isidro Tilantongo in the Mixteca Alta of Oaxaca for five years and is a much-loved and elected town official there. He will examine firsthand how this 5,000 year-old culture and way of life presents concrete alternatives to the unsustainable aspects of life in Western culture that we must understand in order to move towards a sustainable future for ourselves, our human race and other dwellers on the planet. Co-founder and one of the directors of Instituto Paz en las Americas, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit
  2.  Judith Cooper Haden, Author: OAXACA: The Spirit Of Mexico, 2002, 152 pages, 200+ photos, Artisan Publishing, New York.  A former Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador, Judith has worked with and photographed indigenous populations for over 25 years, specializing in the world artisans, folk art, women's microcredit movement, and indigenous peoples of Latin America. The Chicago Sun Times said of Haden's previous pictorial love affair with Oaxaca: [it is] 'far more than a show-and tell in this endearing hardcover...[she]comprehended the soul of a people and brought it vividly to life...." Her images will document the traditional farming and cooking practices of the Mixteca. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.;,
  3. Jesus Leon Santos, activist, co-author, campesino leader and environmentalist from Tilantongo, Oaxaca. Jesus is a co-founder of CEDICAM, and winner of the GOLDMAN ENVIRONMENTAL PRIZE, 2008 in the name of CEDICAM.
  4. Susana Trilling, chef and author of the cookbook SEASONS OF MY HEART: A Culinary Journey through Oaxaca Mexico, 370 pages, Ballantine Books, New York, 1999. Susana has lived and taught in Oaxaca for over 20 years, and has mastered the nuances and art of Oaxacan and indigenous cuisine, bringing it to life in her classes, culinary tours, lectures and television shows which focus on pre-Hispanic foods, and traditional culinary, medicinal and spiritual herb usage. Susana will collect and codify these traditional Mixteca recipes and make them user-friendly for the home kitchen while also adding her own creative interpretations.