© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

An ancient agricultural method of the Maya people is used on this Woodford County farm

Milpa seed mix arrives on Corrie Scott's family farm in rural Roanoke. The mix was planted on a patch of land the family can't use for conventional planting.
Corrie Scott
Milpa seed mix arrives on Corrie Scott's family farm in rural Roanoke. The mix was planted on a patch of land the family can't use for conventional planting.

The Maya people have practiced the milpa tradition of planting for over 4,000 years.

Corrie Scott and her family haven't been doing it anywhere near that long on their 80-acre farm in rural Roanoke, but she has already seen the benefits of regenerative agricultural practices at play.

"They have fields that have been in continuous production for thousands of years without any loss of productivity. And that's the opposite of what we're seeing in many of the industrialized agricultural areas around the world," she said, alluding to productivity declines, increased fertilizer usage, and overall lower yields for many farmers.

Milpa plots alternate between a few years of heavy productivity and several years of lying fallow, or uncultivated. That alternation can lead to healthier soil, bringing larger yields without the use of fertilizers during productive years.

Unlike traditional row crops, milpa takes a more diversified, scattered approach to planting.

"You've got pumpkins right alongside corn, and it gets kind of messy," Scott said. "A lot of people refer to it as a chaos garden. So it doesn't look as neat and organized as the row crops that we think of. But again, that diversity is what's giving some of the health and the nutrients back into the soil."

Scott is using Green Cover's First Acre program, which provides free milpa garden seed to anyone willing to donate at least 50% of the food grown back to their communities. That can be a farmer, or even an urban gardener.

While Scott said she doesn't have the equipment to harvest a farm fully converted to milpa, she is planting the seed in a small patch where they're planting a new windbreak of new trees. Those trees are still young, leaving ample room for a milpa garden until they grow taller.

"It would otherwise be wasted space this year, and and over the next several years as these trees continue to grow. So we're gonna get the benefits of the soil, and then we're also going to get the benefits of the food production that we can donate back to our community," Scott said.

The milpa seed mix must be planted about 60 to 90 days before the first frost of the year. Scott planted her crops just last week.

Scott said she hopes the milpa seed program serves as a good introduction to conservation for farmers.

"Groups like the Maya community have been farming in sync with nature for generations, for centuries," she said. "And so the more we can kind of experiment with that here in our own backyards, and our own gardens, and our own large scale farms, I think the more we'll learn and the more we'll be able to start to understand the way this diversity benefits us."

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.