Local Nebraska Organizations Celebrate with Maya Forest Gardener Receiving University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) Chancellor’s Medal in Support of Ancient Indigenous Farming Lessons for Agriculture
Omaha, Nebraska, February 7, 2023 – An Omaha Delegation made up of Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim (CMPI) and RegeNErate Nebraska, traveled last month to University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) in support of Maya Regeneration Project partner, Maya Master Forest Gardener Narciso Torres of Belize who received the Chancellor’s Medal, the university’s top medal that has not been awarded in over thirty years, on January 12, 2023. While academic research often relies on community participation, it is rare that individuals and communities are recognized by academia for their contributions, especially contributions of Indigenous communities. Mr. Torres is the first Indigenous “citizen scientist” to receive this award by UCSB.
“It is an honor and pleasure to bestow the Chancellor’s Medal of the University of California, Santa Barbara, on Master Forest Gardener Narciso Torres,” said Dr. Henry T Yang, UCSB Chancellor . “For four decades, he has collaborated with Dr. Anabel Ford and the research team at El Pilar to help us understand the nature of ancient Maya settlement patterns and land use, the rich cultural and ecological heritage of the El Pilar site, and its lessons for sustainability and conservation today.”
Mr. Torres was accompanied by a delegation from Maya Territory Belize including Spiritual Authority Felicita Cantu. Other dignitaries accompanying Mr. Torres at this historic event included the President of the Garifuna Nation and the Ambassador at Large of the Garifuna Nation.
Maya Forest Gardening refers to the practice of cultivating food, medicine, and materials within the existing ecosystem of the rainforest, which increased its resilience to historical changes in climate while providing all household necessities for ancient populations. A key element of the Maya Forest Gardening system is the Milpa Cycle, a complex sequence that alternates between cultivated fields and forest gardens that builds a useful cropscape that can sustain human life and maintain the biodiversity of the forest. For more than 8,000 years Maya agronomists created plant varieties of unequaled quality by combining science with selective plant breeding within this Forest Gardening context. These millenia of care and cultivation gave humanity dozens of transformative food sources such as corn, beans, squash tomatoes, cacao (chocolate) and even peanuts, that eventually spread across the globe.
Continuing the traditions passed down from his ancestors, Torres and other Maya Forest Gardeners’ practice builds fertility, reduces erosion, lowers temperatures, conserves water and increases biodiversity. Based on Dr. Ford’s research, she believes we can learn from the Maya Forest Gardners to confront our current environmental and agricultural issues.
“We are losing so much,” said Torres of the plant species he cultivates, which are often depleted by industrial agriculture operations. “We are destroying them with chemicals. We are using things that are not Mother Nature.” Yet he remains jovial and hopeful, explaining, “We want to see a better life for our future generations.”
Local Maya Leader and Co-Executive Director of CMPI, Luis Marcos shares that, “There are common challenges that Maya farmers in Central America and all young and new farmers have with gaining stable access to land. The Maya community in Nebraska is eager to grow permanent roots in Nebraska and the Maya Regeneration Project represents our Maya vision of food sovereignty for our community and practicing regenerative agriculture to ensure soil, water, and human health are protected.”
The public is invited to learn more about the Maya Regeneration Project and local collaborative efforts to uplift Indigenous-led agriculture and regenerative practices in Nebraska at a public event featuring two films about the local Q’anjob’al Maya, tribal communities in the U.S., and non-Indigenous farmers implementing regenerative agriculture to improve soil, water, and human health, “Maya Regeneration Project: Healing Water, Soil, and Humanity” Co-Directed by Katie Schuler and “Farm Free or Die” Directed by Roger Sorkin on Tuesday, March 21, 6pm-7:30pm, Film Streams' Ruth Sokolof Theater, 1340 Mike Fahey St, Omaha, NE 68102. Reserve your ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/premiere-screening-maya-regeneration-project-tickets-533780721507
About the Maya Regeneration Project
We are the land, the land is us. The mission of this project is to anchor the Q’anjob’al community’s ancient relationship with the land, create employment, build collective wealth, ensure access to healthy food, restore traditions and culture, and support holistic physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
In order to achieve this mission we hope to establish a profitable regenerative poultry, agroforestry, and value-added farm operation on 400-600 acres of land within 60 miles of Omaha. The Maya Q’anjob’al people possess profound wisdom and agricultural knowledge and have forged meaningful connections with other Indigenous groups in Nebraska. But we are also a displaced Indigenous people, and many of us live in economic poverty. We propose combining this Indigenous wisdom and knowledge with recent advancements in regenerative agriculture to create a food production system that will provide healthy, local food, lift Maya people out of poverty in Nebraska in our traditional homeland, and contribute to broad economic development.
About Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim
Founded in 2006 by Q’anjoba’l Maya in Omaha, Nebraska, Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of Mayan people through community development strategies in Omaha, Nebraska, the United States, and Q’anjob’al Maya territory consistent with the Q’anjob’al Maya system of social organization, in honorable relationships with U.S. sovereign tribal nations, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP).
About RegeNErate Nebraska
RegeNErate Nebraska is a hub designed to collaborate and build a unified and intersectional regenerative movement. RegeNErate Nebraska’s mission is to regenerate our communities from the soil up by ensuring more Nebraskans have access to the networks, tools, and technical assistance to implement and advance an ethical, equitable, economical, and ecological agricultural system that is built by and serves all Nebraskans. The RegeNErate Nebraska network includes farmers and ranchers, Tribes, urban farmers, regenerative supply chain businesses, small processors and meatpackers, young people and prospective farmers, food consumers, community leaders and organizations, policy leaders, and allied organizations.