SAFN is happy to announce that the winner of the 2020 Christine Wilson Award for an Undergraduate Student is Adele Woodmansee of Harvard University for her paper “’It is Pure Criollo Maize’: Seeds, Chemicals, and Crop Classifications in San Miguel del Valle”. The judges were impressed by how ethnographic the paper was, and the insightful analysis developed through participant observation and interviews. Her language acquisition was particularly impressive, as was her ability to situate the local indigenous practices within the debates on globalization and climate change. Adele provides more details on her background, research, and paper below.
From Vermont to Oaxaca, Farming, Crop Diversity, and Food Security
I am a recent graduate of Harvard University, where I studied Social Anthropology and Integrative Biology. I grew up in an isolated, off-the-grid homestead in northern Vermont, where my family grew most of our own food. I believe in families’ and communities’ right to produce their own food, a conviction that is shaped by my own upbringing and was further shaped by my undergraduate thesis research about small-scale maize agriculture in southern Mexico. I am interested in collaborative, interdisciplinary research about small-scale farmers’ livelihoods and the social and scientific dynamics of the seeds that they plant and the land that they manage. My academic interests in smallholder agriculture, crop diversity, and food security reflect my desire to advocate for marginalized communities’ rights to land and resources. I am currently applying to graduate programs in Environmental Science and hope to begin graduate school next fall.
My paper, titled “It is Pure Criollo Maize”: Seeds, Chemicals, and Crop Classifications in San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, is adapted from a chapter of my senior thesis. San Miguel del Valle (San Miguel) is a Zapotec community in the Central Valleys region of Oaxaca, Mexico. My thesis research focused on the ways in which farmers in San Miguel classify and value locally produced crops, at the same time that agricultural production is limited by factors including neoliberal economic policies and climate change. I combined genetic investigation to test for transgenic contamination in locally grown, native maize varieties with ethnographic research. I spent ten months living in the community and conducted participant observation, interviews in Spanish and Zapotec, and linguistic analysis of Zapotec agricultural vocabulary. I presented my research at the conferences of the Society of Ethnobiology and the Society for Economic Botany in Summer 2019.
In this paper specifically, I consider San Miguel farmers’ valuation of locally produced crops and foods while describing the seeds and agricultural processes that they use. I discuss the term criollo, which is commonly used to refer to native crop varieties. This usage has been discussed little in existing literature, and its complex usage by San Miguel residents is informative and interesting. I also analyze how residents discuss chemical presence in their food and crops – a topic that I first found contradictory and confusing when speaking with farmers. In addition, I discuss some San Miguel Zapotec structures and expressions that reflect residents’ perceptions of locally produced foods in relation to human health.