The Story of Oregano Indio and Rancho Gordo
I just got back from Mexico and spent part of my time in the Huasteca region of Hidalgo. It was a really a wild, memorable experience. The drive took hours and most of it was over almost humorously curvy roads. The destination was a collective of farmers who are growing their native oregano. They called it Oregano Indio but it's a variety of Oreja de Raton. These people are incredibly strong, proud and poor. We've been selling their oregano at Rancho Gordo and it's glorious. It's less citrusy than the more traditional Mexican oregano and more earthy. It just soars when you mix it with garlic. The farmers started cultivating it when they discovered their foraging was affecting the landscape. Over the years, they've developed their systems, which I didn't quite follow, but I do know it ended with harvesting with the moon's cycles somehow. The farmers were so proud. They have thousands of starts waiting to plant and acres and acres of oregano planted. I love people who are passionate and want to share what they know. I know in San Miguel de Allende there's a huge push to plant lavender and while I think the idea is well-intentioned, why not plant an indigenous plant? I guess lavender would be easier to market but is there any cultural relation to Mexico? After the tour, we all gathered at one of the houses and all of a sudden the entire village was there, about 40 people. They'd prepared a great goat barbacoa and the goat meat has been washed with some maguey liquid that took away the gaminess and added incredible flavor. Beans, quelites, caldo from the goat and later pancita with incredible salsas. A few people gave speeches thanking us for what we'd done and I was feeling somewhat guilty. What had we done? We just bought a few bags of oregano at a fair price and it was delicious. When it was my turn to speak, they asked what else they should grow. I told them I was no expert but it seemed to me that good vodka should come from Russia, foie gras from France and Oregano Indio from the Husteca and they shouldn't dilute their message with too many products. I hope I was right! Sitting quietly at one end were three guys who it turns out had just been busted in Arizona. Before they left they told the collective they were nuts and it wasn't going to work. Now they're back, broke and begging to work for one of the growers. The leader wisely said no, but agreed to give them 1,200 plant starts so they could start their own. I obviously don't want to go into politics but I will say the root of the problem is these men want and need to work in Mexico. They don't want to come to the states for bad landscaping jobs. Whether this is the responsibility of the Mexican and U.S. governments or if our trade policies contribute to their destitution is up to you to decide. But the crux is that it was shamefully easy to give these people hope and a start. Between this and the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project where we're working with indigenous bean farmers, I'm learning one can do business where everybody wins. Anyway, the good news is that the oregano was delicious and apparently healthy. My trip was incredibly moving and of course delicious. Buy Oregano Indio from Rancho Gordo.