I am wandering through the communally governed farms near Puno, Peru. Meditating on taking photos, occasionally focusing my mediocre spanish understanding on the conversation around me. My focus is largly on color, I am practically overwhelmed by it.. every color of the rainbow almost. Of a plant able to grow from the sea to the highest elevations. Even in swamps, saltly soil, sand... even in winter!
Welcome to Peru, and to my mini photo-essay about quinoa where you shall begin to get to know this amazing and most adaptable of plants. At first I shall keep it light, heavy on the quinoa pics with a light seasoning of text. But as these essays continue I hope to speak to you more about the most essential of questions..
What does the quinoa Say?
The sustainable growing cycle of quinoa, potato, and tarwi (essentially lupen beans, pictured above). Andeans have been using this crops rotation cycle for 1000's of years. It is part of what turned the Incan Empire into such a powerful civilization with the ability to move rocks the size of houses. Often the Incas would come to a new nation and peacefully incorporate it into their state (though not always), giving them necessary goods such as food and seeds, creating an infrastructure of roads and sophisticated agriculture, administrating from the central of government in the imperial city of Cuzco.
And now.. a nice parade of luscious quinoa pics. This one was an especially strong rouge pigment when handled. Though the seeds are a creamy white.
Different colors, shapes, sizes... These are not just asthetic differences.
A short, single central stalk of quinoa will result in a lower yield of food, likewise a higher yield will result from tall multi-branched stalks. Different Quinoa varietals have many unique uses outside of food.
Within food, they can be milky, poppy, chewy, high in calcium, iron, sweet, grassy.. you name it!
For example, I learned of over 7 colors of quinoa that were used as pigment. Almost every color of the rainbow. I didn't see a blue quinoa yet. But I did see plenty of purple so it's only a matter of time.
This is a rather rare and beautiful varietal called Witulla (Wee-too-yah!). It is as exciting to see as it is to say. Also apparently very good for making a kind of crispy quinoa biscuit and hot quinoa drink from.
The modern face of Quinoa Conservation. It is also a combination of many of the dominant cultures currently operating in this landscape. Quechua, Aymara, Mestizo... and that very rare specimen, up there at least, gringo!
Note the stone walls in the back. This hill was completely terraced and cultivated at one time. Can you imagine what the Andes would look like if covered in multi-color quinoa fields from head to toe? Quite a costume.
Two colors of quinoa growing on one stalk - Misa Quinoa! A sacred varietal used in Andean ceremonies.
Also take a look at those leaves.. Do they remnd you of beets, chard, or spinach at all? Well if you were to taste one you would definately say spinach! Quinoa is a psuedo-cereal grain and is much more closely related to the aforenamed vegetables. The leaves are very good.
Dr. Alipio Canahua was so generous in educating us about how these communal farms work, the various history of these places, and in introducing us to so many cool varieties of native quinoa.
Though he did suprise one farmer when his van full of gringos and quinoa conserationists were looking at his field.
"Are you breaking my quinoa stalks?" He asked.
A very serious question in a place where community justice is the rule and outsiders can be severely punished.
We bought some quinoa from him.
You can see that quinoa is a many flowered plant. Each little rosette is going to form one single seed of quinoa when mature.
The hill in the background is actually covered with ancient terraces and stone walls. As most are in this area of the Andes. So much that was once cultivated was lost in the last 500 years of colonialism.
As a wise old puneño farmer once told me...
"Quinoa is very hardworking in the Andes, just like the people."
And it is true! Quinoa is more productive in the higher altitudes, and the people of Puno living above 13,000 feet are especially industrious. Peruvians even have their own word for work (chamba) that sums up how hard working they are.
Good-bye to the añokas and Dr. Canahua for now. We shall return in a further blog post to talk of the Altiplano (high-plains), indignenious farming in Peru, various food stories, and how quinoa is processed for cooking.
Thanks for reading!