El Vivero Muy Otro ~ Food forests, sustainability, and building a greenhouse in Chiapas

This young Zapatista student rests after planting a sugar cane erosion barrier at the base of her food forest in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.

In Chiapas, Mexico autonomous Mayan communities are continuing to combine modern science with a careful recuperation of ancient knowledge in order to create unique and innovative forms of perennial forest farming.

Today you are invited to join this exciting effort by participating in an intensive greenhouse construction process during March 2017.  Click here for the full internship information.  Click here to donate.


UPDATED INFORMATION:  There is now a NEW internship opportunity in Chiapas during December of 2017.  Click here for full information.

The larger Food Forest process includes autonomous schools cultivating a variety of edible, medicinal and other useful perennial plants in forest-like eco-systems at sites donated by Zapatista communities. these sites range from dry and cold mountainous regions to lush perennial plantings in steamy, rainforest settings.  The commonality of these experimental is a deep respect for Mother Earth and commitment to totally organic agricultural processes free of both industrial chemicals and genetically modified organisms.

However, obtaining the vast number and diversity of organically grown perennial plants needed for these beginning Food Forest plantings is proving to be quite challenging.  Not only do most commercial nurseries in Chiapas not offer organically grown plants, almost no growers in all of Mexico can provide in the unique blend of organically produced medicinal, food crops, and other useful plants needed for tropical perennial Food Forests.  After extensive consultation with Zapatista students, educators, and civil authorities, a list of about 100 key species has been identified for beginning use in the Food Forests.

The process of selecting and studying plants for the Food Forests is dynamic and ongoing.

Therefore, two years after accepting the request of young Zapatista leaders and experienced Zapatista educators to help recuperate ancient Mayan knowledge about Food Forests, Schools for Chiapas is preparing to construct a greenhouse in the highlands of Chiapas.  This greenhouse is an expansion of “El Vivero Muy Otro” (The Very Different Nursery) which is already growing lots of plants for the Zapatista Food Forest effort.

Here’s where Zapatista allies can help out.  We need some hardworking hands in March of 2017 to help build the greenhouse, mix up tons of planting mixtures, and plant a bunch of seeds.  We also need a few supporters to donate a little money to help cover the greenhouse construction and maintenance expenses.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need your continued creativity, your knowledge and your dreams, your suggestions and your solidarity.  Join us in this exciting effort.

Objective: These three, unique week long internships will provide participants with hands-on experience building and outfitting a production nursery to serve the Zapatista Food Forests throughout Chiapas, Mexico. Useful (but not required) skills include composing, planting soil preparation, welding, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, social media, and organic food forest farming theory and practice. Please provide a brief (one page) description of your experiences in these areas.

Trip #123
Alternative Spring Break in Chiapas 2017: Food Forest Mini-Internships ~ Session I: March 6 – 11
Hours: Monday – Friday
10am to 2pm, 4pm to 6pm

Trip #124
Alternative Spring Break in Chiapas 2017: Food Forest Mini-Internships ~ Session II: March 13 – 18
Hours: Monday – Friday
10am to 2pm, 4pm to 6pm

Trip #125
Alternative Spring Break in Chiapas 2017: Food Forest Mini-Internships ~ Session III: March 26 – April 1
Hours: Monday – Friday
10am to 2pm, 4pm to 6pm

Summary description: A new and different travel / volunteer opportunity with Schools for Chiapas. Only for those individuals who can be quite self-sufficient and find their own way to live in the tourist center city of San Cristobal de las Casas. These are basically six-hour days of work from Monday to Friday working to construct a production nursery and learn about Mayan food forests.

Click here to begin your application. teach-chiapas/travel/travel-application/

In fact, please consider joining the Food Forest effort in whatever form makes most sense to you – and please become our grass roots spokesperson to expand the reach of these words.  Thank you.

Click here for the full internship information.  Click here to donate.


Zapatista Food Forests of Today: Recouping Ancient Mayan Knowledge

A few traditional fruit trees can be obtained from organic nurseries, but the many Food Forest plants are more specialized and need to be grown from seed.

FAQ 1: Why are the Zapatistas of today reviving and recouping ancient Mayan knowledge to plant permanent food forests for the 21st century?

Beginning in 2015, Mayan students, education promoters, and other Zapatistas began the process of constructing 18 multi-species food forests at autonomous schools in several climatic zones of Chiapas, Mexico ranging from mile-high oak/pine forests to lowlands rain-forest jungles.

Food forests represent an ancient, alternative agricultural system which can provide food, medicine, and many other useful products through mimicking the ecology of a young forest. The ancient Mayan civilization was one of many cultures around the world which utilized perennial food forests to meet their basic needs.

For the Zapatistas their efforts to plant food forests today represent both a revival and a recuperation of agricultural practices utilized by their ancestors; it is also a practical response to the bankruptcy of contemporary commercial agriculture and food distribution systems. Within today’s modern Mayan communities, Zapatista educators, students, and activists are uncovering, documenting, and utilizing a rich reservoir of biological knowledge still practiced by their parents and grandparents. These communities have donated the land for each food forest and have freely shared their extensive plant knowledge with the young students. Most of the plants used in these new Zapatista food forests are being donated directly from surrounding Mayan communities.

Naturally today’s food forests are usually designed utilizing native plants as well as a biological tabloid including trees, scrubs, grasses, vines, and roots from around the world. The Zapatista process of food forest construction also includes research into non-native species which may eventually be included in their food forests for the 21st century. Design elements are being drawn from videos, photos, and visits to specific food forests. To date the Zapatistas have studied contemporary Food Forests in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Mexico, Morocco, United States, and Vietnam.

FAQ II: How can you support this exciting new effort of the Zapatistas to grow Food Forests in Chiapas, Mexico?

Schools for Chiapas volunteer presents to Education Promoters at Food Forest workshop.

You can help by sharing photos, videos, or written research materials about Food Forests you are planting. Others might help by bringing seeds and plant-starts of useful forest species you grow.  Maybe you can share a book or article about Food Forests   Schools for Chiapas is helping coordinate the educational materials and will gladly receive your materials via email, snail mail, or in person.

Donations are urgently needed to pay for food, transportation and educational materials at quarterly workshops with Zapatistas in the three climatic zones. Additionally, there is a need for funds to establish native stingless (melipona) and Apis bee hives; rustic nurseries will eventually be needed at all eighteen of the Zapatista food forests.

Volunteer instructors with extensive knowledge of food forests who have participated in the Escuelita Zapatista are also needed immediately for quarterly workshops and nursery work. Eventually, there may be opportunities for others to actually get their hands dirty on the ground in Chiapas; for the moment we ask that you consider planting a food forest where you live and that you also donate what you can to the Zapatista food forests of Chiapas, Mexico. (store/gifts-of-change/support-food-forests-in-chiapas/)

As a multi-species, organic, perennial system, food forests are beneficial to human beings everywhere and to our Mother Earth who especially needs help in this moment of deep capitalism-driven crisis and rapid climate change. Please consider contributing what you can to support this exciting new educational and agricultural initiative of the Zapatista communities in Chiapas, Mexico. (store/gifts-of-change/support-food-forests-in-chiapas/)


To learn more about Food Forests in general we now offer you contact with one Mexican organization and suggest several English language texts that we have found useful. We ask for your suggestions of additional educational materials (especially in Spanish) and other support that might be useful in creating autonomous, indigenous food forest in Chiapas, Mexico.

  1. La Cooperativa de Las Cañadas: Centro de Agroecología y Vida Sostenible ~ This ecological agricultural center and 30-family cooperative features a growing food forest, bio-intensive gardens, forests, as well as milpa production. They offer outstanding week-long courses, a large nursery of plants, and an outstanding collection of useful seeds. Tel/fax: 273-7341577 bosquedeniebla@prodigy.net.mx, bosquedeniebla.com.mx


  1. The Mayan Forest Garden: Eight Millennia of Sustainable Cultivation of the Tropical Woodlands by Anabel Ford and Ronald Nigh, Left Coast Press, LCoastPress.com
  1. Jardineria Forestal Maya de El Pilar / The Maya Forest Gardent of El Pilar: Un Libro de Colorear Plantas / A Plant Coloring Book Por / By Anabel Ford
  1. Creating a Forest Garden: Working Nature to Grow Edible Crops by Martin Crawford, Green Books, greenbooks.co.uk
  1. Edible Forest Gardens: Ecological Vision and Theory for Temperate Climate Permaculture (Vol. I & II) by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, chelseagreen.com


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