High in the Andes, Virgilio Martínez resurrects experimental agriculture, and more
[Photo credit: Gustavo Vivanco]
In the late 15th or early 16th century, the Inca built a center for experimental agriculture at Moray, 40 kilometers outside of Cusco, and 3500 meters above sea level. Some 500 years later, Vírgilio Martínez, chef of Lima's Central, is doing something along the same lines. Just off to the side of the spectacular bowl of terraces where the Inca planted quinoa and potatoes, Martínez and colleagues have opened MIL, an “interpretation center” that works with anthropologists, scientists, and artisans—and that includes a restaurant, a research lab, a distillery, and community outreach programs—all devoted specifically to Andean culture. Now, one of its first projects is about to come literally to fruition.
Collaborating with a scientific organization called CITE, and with the Choque family, who donated indigenous seeds, the center turned over 1.5 hectares earlier this year to the local community for farming. Their Mater Initiative—a program that registers, studies, and develops new uses for Peru’s indigenous products—paid the wages of the local growers who devised a rotational system for cultivating, thereby diminishing the risk to the farmers for trying experimental crops.
On June 25, the results of that first planting will be harvested, and split 50/50 with the community. But Martínez doesn’t have to wait until then to know the project has been a huge success. “55 varieties of potatoes, 5 types of quinoa, legumes, root vegetables—the list is long and nutritional,” he says. So successful, in fact, that MIL has already expanded the project, adding more land for next season and building a potato nursery. “We know it’s generated positive changes,” he says. “Higher quality seeds, a more varied diet, and great value placed on traditional Andean farming techniques, which were being lost.”
--by Lisa Abend