By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Although maize has been the basic food staple in Mexico since pre-Columbian times, nearly 55 percent of the 43 million tons of corn consumed nationally each year are, in fact, imported.
Much of the corn comes from the United States, but Brazil and Argentina are also contributors, and there is a lot of concern nationally as to the quality and genetic nature of imported maize.
And while Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to increase the country’s current corn production of 23 million tons per year by an additional 15 million tons annually by the end of his six-year term, most agricultural analysts warn that Mexico simply lacks sufficient land and water resources to comply with that goal.
But while the debate over imported corn and genetically modified (GMO) corn continues to rage in Mexico — where, in pre-Hispanic mythology, maize was elevated to the status of a gift from the gods and often used in sacrifices to the deities, especially the rain and sun gods — one Mexican company is doing its level best to provide pure, nationally produced, genetically unaltered, organic corn products to the Mexican public.
Campo Vivo, which was first established in 2007 as a small fresh food distributor selling organic fruits and vegetables produced in Cuernavaca, and which has since grown its portfolio to more than 150 fresh and processed food products from 18 states nationwide, has just introduced the country’s first-ever organic tostadas (baked tortillas) and totopos (corn chips).
Made from corn produced by indigenous small-lot farmers in the central Mexican state of Michoacán, and processed into tortillas and tortilla products in a modern plant in the nearby state of Querétaro (using environmentally friendly equipment that recycles nearly 90 percent of the water used in production), the tostadas and totopos – both basic dried goods used in Mexican cuisine – is grown in a carefully supervised 2,500-hectare area using neither chemical pesticides or artificial fertilizers.
According to agronomist Mateo Dornier, founder and owner of Campo Vivo, the 100-plus Purépecha families that produce the corn are paid fair trade wages for their crops.
“While most local farmers receive just 3 pesos per kilo for their corn, we are paying our growers 9 pesos per kilo,” Dornier explained during a press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 2, to introduce the new tostadas and totopos.
“We have to pass that added cost and the cost of maintaining our products 100 percent organic on to the consumer, but the price increase is not very much. Our tostadas and totopos are about 20 percent higher in cost than their regular non-organic counterparts.”
Currently, Dornier said that the Campo Vivo corn products will be available in most major self-service supermarkets across the country in the organic aisles, as are the brand’s other products.
“We are hoping to increase our production as we add new indigenous farming communities, but it is a bit of a slow process,” he said.
“Just to get these first 2,500 hectares into production has taken us three years.”
Notwithstanding, Campo Vivo registered a dramatic 70 percent growth in sales in 2017 as compared to the previous year.
“More and more Mexicans are demanding organic, genetically unaltered food, and our goal is to supply it to them,” Dornier said.
“For now, we only sell in Mexico, but if there is enough demand, we will consider going international.”
Campo Vivo also offers a weekly fresh seasonal produce basket delivery service in select parts of Mexico City.