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  • Rick Burnette

Tortillas for the Glory of God

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)

When poverty, unrest, climate change and other factors lead to migration, the displaced not only lose their homes and local support systems, but they also become detached from their unique cultures. Culturally disconnected households may struggle with the erosion of various aspects of personal and collective cultural identity, including language and traditional livelihood skills.


There is also the risk of losing one’s own food heritage.


Cultivate Abundance addresses food insecurity in the Immokalee, Florida farmworker community and beyond. Despite supplying the U.S. with much of its wintertime tomatoes and other crops, this farm town is also a food desert where quality food of choice can be expensive and difficult to access.


Cultivate Abundance, in partnership with the Misión Peniel food pantry and dozens of partner gardens (e.g., churches, institutions, small farms, households) grows, collects, and shares food; over 25 tons since late 2018 which amounts to more than 150,000 food servings.


Our alliance of southwest Florida gardeners is growing various types of food that appeal to the tastes of migrants from Haiti, Guatemala, and southern Mexico. Instead of being limited to standard food bank fare such as peanut butter and pasta or a few types of produce – i.e., zucchini and salad mix nearing expiration dates - we’re able to provide fresh mangoes, papayas, sweet potatoes, collard greens, okra, lettuce, cilantro, coconuts and much more.


In practice, our combined efforts are in recognition of food sovereignty, which is “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems” (Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on food sovereignty, Mali, 2007 – U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance).


We believe that to truly “honor the hands of those who harvest your crops (Dolores Huerta)” that we must listen to the recommendations of our farmworker neighbors. These conversations not only lead us to nourishing food, but also interesting participatory activities.


For the past three years we have been growing and multiplying seed from a variety of Guatemalan corn shared by Maria, a Mayan who migrated to the U.S. decades ago. Her urban garden offers a fascinating glimpse into her own Akateko culture.


This past December we planted a small patch of this Guatemalan maize at NOFO Groves, a partner farm in North Ft. Myers. By April, this area of 950 square feet produced 102 pounds of shelled corn with 31 lbs. dedicated for seed use. The other 70 lbs. of grain were divided among three Immokalee households for evaluation as masa, with Cultivate Abundance also taking a share.


Masa is maize dough that has gone through the traditional nixtamalization process of soaking and cooking in an alkaline solution and removal of the hulls. After this overnight process was complete, we were ready to grind the maize into dough. Among our team, Maria and Marifrans were the experts, with Lupita and Kelly also quite familiar with masa production.


I was the bumbling greenhorn.


Although not present during the soaking, cooking and dehulling stage, I understand that there were very few issues. However, when the team was ready to grind the corn with the hand-operated molino that I bought at the flea market, there was drama as the grinder immediately broke.


Kelly and I were sent out in search of an adequate molino. One was eventually located at Mimi’s Piñatas in downtown Immokalee. After the new molino was delivered to the masa team at Misión Peniel, I retreated inside to shell some of the seed corn, hoping to avoid scorn as the new purchase was sure to end in disappointment.


To my surprise, the new molino did the job. A short while later, Lupita burst into the building and flung hot tortillas, fresh off the komal, at Pastor Miguel and I. Miguel, a tortilla connoisseur, immediately bit into his treat and declared it a success. Despite intentions to limit my carb intake that day, I also took a bite. In no more than a minute I had wolfed down the entire tortilla.


So why go to the trouble of growing rare Guatemalan maize, locating a decent molino, nixtamalizing, and grinding out the dough?


Fresh tortillas of course. And much more; including healthy food, fellowship, and respect for our farmworker heros.


After all, these are tortillas were made and eaten for the glory of God.