Summer 2018 Ethnographic Field Study in Oaxaca, Mexico

In summer 2018, seven SDSU undergraduate students majored in Foods and Nutrition (3), Sustainability (2), Environmental Science (1), and Chemistry (1) completed a two-week ethnographic field study in Oaxaca Mexico.

June 22

We crossed the US-Mexico border and took off from the Tijuana International Airport for Oaxaca.

Crossing the border

June 23

The SOULA group landed in Oaxaca City and visited Monte Albán, one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica. The students explored the magnificent ruins and learned about the history of this ancient socio-political and economic center of the Zapotec civilization.

Monte Albán archeological site

June 24

We visited the Tlacolula Sunday market to document the local produce and food products and observe how the vendors interact with customers.

Tortillas on a comal

Local fruits

Students buying chapulines

Following the Tlacolula market safari, students visited Mitla, the Zapotec religious center. We admired the unique, intricate mosaic designs of the buildings and learned about the rise and fall of this ancient city.

Palace at Mitla

June 25

The group traveled to the Ixpantepec Nieves, an indigenous Mixtec community, where the students lived and worked alongside farmers and their families for four days. On June 25 evening, two farmers gave a lecture on corn seeds and soils.

Maestra Angelina (left) giving the group a tour of the community

The soil lesson

June 26

Students learned how to identify, collect, and cook wild greens in the morning. In the afternoon, they worked with a farmer in a milpa field. The farmer taught the students the technique of tilling the soil with an oxen-driven plow and the Mixtec method of planting the corn, bean, and squash seeds.

Collecting wild greens

Cooking lesson

Students driving yunta and planting seeds

June 27

The SOULA group was introduced to the nixtamalization of corn and its nutritional significance. Students practiced grinding with a metate to make salsa and masa and enjoyed the delicious tortillas.

Cooking corn seeds in limewater

Grinding the nixtamalized corn seeds into masa

Making tortillas

Students enjoying tortillas made by themselves

In the afternoon, students hiked to the foothill of the community and investigated the use of irrigation by farmers who have access to the water source. They also visited a water reservoir established in the community for rainwater collection.

Left: Dr. Larom and students checking a water sprinkler in the milpa field; Right: Dr. Larom and Trevor hiking to the water reservoir

Water reservoir for rainwater collection

June 28 – June 29

The group traveled back to Oaxaca City on June 28 and took a chocolate tasting and learning tour of Oaxaca’s various markets and chocolatiers on June 29.

Chocolate atole, a traditional Mesoamerican hot chocolate drink with red (left) and white(right) cacao in the background

Tejate, a traditional Oaxacan cold chocolate drink

Students enjoying tejate in the Benito Juárez Market

June 30

Students took a cooking class, in which they shopped for local food ingredients and learned how to cook in the Oaxacan way.

Shopping in the market

Genesis making chocolate

Jesus cooking beef “tripe”

Aubrey and Yazley decorating tortilla

Shruti toasting chapulines and chicatanas

July 1

Students explored the beautiful city of Oaxaca.

Oaxaca city sign in front of the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán

Inside of the church

Fountain in the Cultural Centre of Oaxaca

July 2

The SOULA group returned to the Ixpantepec Nieves and stayed for three days. On July 2 evening, two farmers gave a lecture on fertilizers.

The fertilizer lesson

July 3

Don Juan gave a horticulture lesson to the SOULA group. The students toured his garden full of apple, avocado, banana, fig, papaya, peach, pomegranate, and plum trees.

Students in Don Juan’s garden

In the afternoon, students weeded in Don Juan’s milpa field.

Students weeding in the milpa field

Students learned how to cook with the seeds of huaje, the tree Oaxaca derives its name from.

Splitting the huaje pod

July 4

In the morning, students learned how to cook pozole.

Pozole soup

In the afternoon, students prepared a milpa field for the second tillage. We investigated the erosion problem in the community. Don Juan explained his erosion management experiments.

Students working in the milpa field

The community suffers from erosion

July 5 – July 6

The group traveled back to Oaxaca City on July 5 and took a mezcal tour on July 6.

Various agave hearts for mezcal production

The SOULA group in front of a pit oven

July 7

The group took a ceramics class on July 7.

Ceramics class

July 8

The Summer Field School was concluded. We left the beautiful Oaxaca City and returned to San Diego.