Catching up with Felipe’s Projects

About a year ago, after six years of consecutive joint and individual failures to make a reasonable living Felipe and I made an agreement. I said,
“If you think you can make a living raising animals, I will stay out of your way with my anthropomorphizing, and devote myself to writing this book I am fantasizing will sell millions of copies.”
He said “Great!”
His enthusiasm was mostly due to the relief of not having me poking my nose into every aspect of his farming: crying when we sold animals, insisting on yards so large it made it difficult to fatten, speculating on his sows moods… Shortly after my pledge he came up with a business plan to keep eight sows for breeding, and consistently market ten pigs a month.
We introduced Empire in May of 2o12 and Don Juan in December, since then he has grown his brood to eight sows. Four have already birthed, and we have two more litters coming this month. Bringing us to a whopping fifty pigs at present.

The reaction of La Tigrains to his hoard has been consistent.
“You are crazy! Forty piglets and two litters yet to come! That’s too many, you will never sell them. Hogs are down, everybody knows that, you’ll never make money.”
We’re accustomed to such nay-saying . It is a part of the community’s character. Are we immune? It seems so, or we probably would have packed up long ago.
An interesting aspect of his system is; he utilizes native plants for protein supplements. Protein is the most expensive part of a pig’s diet and he has saved a lot of cash and increased his profit margin by using ground cubata pods as a protein source. He is also experimenting with parota seed which must be toasted and ground to be edible. The best part is that he hired local kids to the pods collect for him. It’s great to see them excited about doing something a little radical (no one else is interested in these campo food sources) for their own prosperity.
Felipe has been building rooms for his sows on Sundays after he puts in his 60 hour week. The sows seem very pleased with them (whoops– mood speculation). They weathered the first rains with ample dry space and they have a nice mud bath! Also, we have lost only one piglet to crushing as opposed to the three Empire smooshed last time due to insufficient space.
In the afternoons I give them their lunch and a shower. The piglets are already fighting each other and rolling around in the food. There is much squealing, mud digging and play; pig happiness. Imagine! Felipe managed to raise happy, healthy marketable pigs all by himself.

Happy Anniversary VSVEVG

My sincerest thanks to all of you who read VSVEVG. I look forward to another year of sharing stories with you.

Dinner and a Swat Team

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

Joan Didion, The White Album

On the other side of our small town in the foot hills of the Sierra Hualta, a four-year-old girl is having nightmares, she dreams of armed and masked men. She has begun to wet the bed. Even daylight she is afraid of shadows. She is afraid to be alone.

The child’s father stands on the path behind my house. Seeking healing for his daughter, he beckons to our houseguest, a practitioner of Santeria. Our guest visits the girl in the mornings before he and Felipe go off to work; he leaves before daylight, before coffee. Three days into the girl’s treatment I am told her tale…

One week before a trip to the US to renew my Visa, Felipe and I were enjoying a special meal; we had wine, and were using the fancy glasses. Suddenly, so suddenly the dogs didn’t have a chance to erupt into their usual cacophony, our patio filled with armed men, soldiers, some of them wearing facemasks. Snipers. They wear masks because they executioners. Our reaction was –this the shocking part, casual .  We looked at each other, shook our heads and laughed at little. Continue reading

Beasts of Burden



The spontaneity that our life in Mexico calls for was difficult for me to understand and accept in my first few years here.  I’m a list person, I like setting goals, crossing things off… But somehow these practices are not applicable to my life now. And it is a good thing. I have tasks I try to accomplish daily and I still make lists, just for the fun of crossing things off, but they no longer have time frames, or carry the consequences of guilt and anxiety if left undone.

Living in Mexico, and keeping animals required me to relinquish the habit of plotting my day and after several years and a lot of “letting go” I have come to understand this as non-doing . More days than I can remember, orphaned ducks , a horse on the lamb, or a trip to the rio have taken precedence over my schedule. To my western amazement, I have found, that allowing my day to unfold of its’ own accord works. I feel more productive than I’ve ever felt in my life.  In part because my idea of accomplishment has changed, I now consider it a valuable activity to spend the afternoon watching ducks bathe, for example.  What did not surprise me was learning, early in our time here, that this way of life came more naturally for Felipe.

Christmas day was a perfect example of his ability to ebb and flow to suit the needs of the moment, and accomplish without striving. It was a day in which there was nothing to do, or a more accurately a miracle. Felipe’s work week is six days 8- 5, and Sundays work generally entails upkeep of the house and farm.

We drank our coffee under the penetrating sunrise; breath steaming from the morning’s chill. Felipe’s plan for the day after he fed the pigs was to relax, which for him usually means putter around in the garden. When he returned from feeding, he told me, disconsolately, our sow Mancha was in heat, which was a surprise because she had been bred the month before, supposedly. This news meant a trip to town.

An unusual aspect of Felipe’s pig project is his role as pimp. It is his job to find and hire services for his sows. The heat cycle of a pig is fleeting, there is a single day in which she is the most fertile, and so on that morning Felipe wrangles his pig and marches her into town in hopes of a hook-up.

Not many people maintain a boar, because few keep enough sows to warrant feeding one to wait around for the few days he would earn his keep, which can make it difficult to find a porcine suitor. This was Felipe’ position until Christmas day when he woke to Mancha’s unexpected demands and realized he would have six sows in need of companionship within the next two weeks.  He had 3000(250$US) pesos saved to build a new room for them, but instead he headed into town with the money in hopes of finding them a mate.

Don Juan

As is often the case, and I think the result of his mastery of the moment, he succeeded almost instantaneously in a feat one might think would require a bit of preliminaries and returned an hour later with Don Juan(D.J.) on a leash. (He also acquired our car in this manner, with a 10,000 pesos (900$US) in hand and three hours later we had a stellar automobile.)  D.J. promptly bathed and got it on, not with Mancha, but another cachonda (amorous) lady pig, then had another bath. Felipe was not completely satisfied with this showing, but I suggested he give him a few days, perhaps he was having performance anxiety since Mancha is twice his size and very outgoing.

In addition to our new boar we have a new burrito. We named him Moses.  He is nine months old. Moses was promised to us in exchange for two piglets a couple of months ago, and then he and his mother disappeared in to the wild. After Elvis died  I asked Felipe if he thought we might be able to find them. I hoped having a baby around would distract me, I think baby burros are the most adorable creatures on earth, but we had no luck in our search.

After Felipe returned with Don Juan, we received a call the burros had been located and were waiting in La Tigra.  So we packed the piglets we promised for Moses into our all-purpose vehicle (it is also excellent off road and can haul 1/2 ton of animal food), and made our second unexpected visit of the day to La Tigra.

Moses had never been haltered, but Felipe, the lassodoro(good with a lasso), promptly curtailed him and we walked(in front)/ran(behind)/ and gently prodded him home. He he-hawed his way through the night at a remarkable volume for his size, but has begun to calm with the aid of corn and our quiet advances. Today he touched me with his nose.

I have assured Moses he has landed the best life for a burro in all of La Tigra. Felipe prefers burros to horses, for their strength, and dependable nature, and plans to incorporate him into his many ventures. But for now he is my companion and the felicitous wild card in my agenda.

Felipe and I wish you a very simple, very easy, and very good New Year!

What has Been Sown


nixtamal(corn prepared for masa)

As I walk through the fields bringing Felipe his almuerzo(lunch), a wry smile forms for the small triumph I hear around me. A combine buzzes like a chainsaw over the land next to this path, the mechanized clatter tears at the quiet that occurs at this hour; the heat of the day. But—louder than the racket, I hear hundreds of crack, crack, snap and rustles, thousands of ears of fat mazorka(ear of dry corn), and leaves for silage being harvested by hand.  If I were inclined to anthropomorphize, I would say I also hear the coy laughter of the earth as the sweat of men tamps down the dust.

bring Almorso

bringing Almuerzo

The manual harvesting occurs, even on much of the land that was planted by tractors, because many of the plots are small and the terrain too inhospitable for the combine owners to deign attend them.  This is how I see it; the earth does not allow all of its gifts to be torn from its flesh by iron claws. For some of the fruits, like the portion one measures to leave for the gods, the rows must still be trod, the plants caressed, the rewards cradled in the hands of their beneficiaries.

Large growers, those selling 150+ tons or more, dominate the flat accessible land. It is those of us that grow for ourselves and animals, and perhaps sell a few tons to get us through the especially lean dry season, that stay close to the ground and are willing to attend our crops on their own terms.

I wish it were true that most of us owned our own land, but sadly La Tigrians lost much of their ejido to corrupt comisariados (land commissioners). In the ejido system, a land reform of the 1910 revolution, the land is owned communally and controlled by those who work it. The comisariado is elected by the community every three years with the charge of protecting the land rights of the people. But the grandfathers of the men who must rent the land now, sold all of the valuable flatlands during their reign.

Why did La Tigra’s patriarchs sell what was meant for future generations?  Felipe’s conjectures, that because they were the founding fathers of La Tigra they believed they were entitled.  They enjoyed the feeling of power and wealth that controlling the land provided and they had no qualms about keeping all the profits for themselves.

For those of you interested in rural ways, some more farming lore. As with the planting practices there are several different methods of harvest.

Felipe (he is the only one that practices this) cuts only the grain, then chops down the plant and leaves it on the ground to nurture the soil. His silage chopping process is quite a performance; he looked like a lethal windmill in the midst of a storm cloud of sorghum, using two machetes with invincible rhythm to fell the plants for fodder.

Felipe harvesting

Felipe harvesting

Some cut the plant at ground level and leave it to dry in rows and then grind the entire plant for animal feed, leaving the ground completely bare and vulnerable to the spring rains onslaught. This is the most oft used method. Because so few are working their own land they don’t care about the field’s future productivity, only that they get the most from the rent they pay. Farming rented land precipitates excessive use of chemicals as well, to boost productivity of beleaguered soil, because there is no concern for further damage to the field. It seems the land owners only care about their rent.

the strip it bare method

the strip it bare method


The most traditional method is this; the top of the plant and all of the leaves are removed and stuck in between the remaining stalks on which the mazorka is left intact. All of which is left to dry in the field. The mazorka is then removed husked and ground, the husks kept for tamales and animal bedding, and the leaves tied up into trees to be used for animal food through the winter. The remaining stalks are left in the field and the gates opened for roaming herds to eat during the dry season.

the traditional method

the traditional method

Having returned home, I sit under my enramada of passion fruit vine listening to my neighbor Octavio sing his way through his work in the field behind our house.

His field is still owned by his family, though his father offered it to us once to buy a supply of mescal. It’s a miserable field; full of rocks much of it at a 60 degree angle. He and his family have been defleecing  it  of trees for the last three years; exposed, its’ thin skin of topsoil escapes into the path between our lands and comes to rest in our horse pasture during the spring rains.

As as I listen to the whisper of Octavio’s’ corn as he passes through its’ gauntlet, I can almost hear next month’s chainsaw attack. But today.  The wind through the corn is exactly the sound of rain on the water, and the slipping of Octavio’s tire soled huaraches on the marbled slope a murmured promise. Only hands will ever reap this stalwart bank.

Thus concludes the Present Witness series; the story of our growing season. By following the links you came read the rest of the series, The Present Witness, Sustain-able,  and The Radical Plate.

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer

Related Articles: Rubber Boots

What natural cycles do you honor?