Salt & Silver in Mexico: Lydia and Fidel are a great couple
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Fidel and Lydia’s Garden of Eden

  • TEXT THOMAS KOSIKOWSKI, JOHANNES RIFFELMACHER
  • ILLUSTRATION JANA FEDEROV

Oaxaca is pretty much the center of the Mexican food scene. Few other parts of the country boast such a rich selection of fresh and unusual ingredients. Many traditional dishes originate from pre-colonial days when the Maya ruled the region.

Farmers from the surrounding villages come to Oaxaca’s markets on the weekends to sell their painstakingly hand-raised products. While wandering through small Sanchez Pascua market we meet Fidel and Lydia, who are selling fresh vegetables in the most astonishing colors at their tiny stand. We stop to chat for a while and learn that the two of them live in San Pedro Tidaá, a small village deep in the heart of Oaxaca, where they lovingly tend the seasonal vegetables, unfamiliar herbs and lettuces that they grow. With shining eyes we pepper them so long with questions that they finally invite us to come and see their small realm.

Jumping onto their truck as soon as the market ends, we don’t wait for a second invitation. As it turns out, we are the first foreigners to visit their village in 60 years.

#cool! The drive is longer than we expect, but after nearly two hours we reach Fidel and Lydia’s sleepy village. Their plot of land is small, and lies in the shade of a couple of ash trees. Various varieties of lettuce, cabbage and spinach grow beneath two shelters that they have constructed from wooden stakes and netting.

Salt & Silver in Mexico: There's one thing you'll always find at Oaxaca's markets: mezcal and charming ladies

There's one thing you'll always find at Oaxaca's markets: mezcal and charming ladies

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Salt & Silver in Mexico: Edible blossoms from the garden next door are a typical curiosity in Oaxaca cuisine

Edible blossoms from the garden next door are a typical curiosity in Oaxaca cuisine

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Salt & Silver in Mexico: Cozy inspects the young kale

Cozy inspects the young kale

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Salt & Silver in Mexico: Fidel explains to Cozy how the irrigation system works

Fidel explains to Cozy how the irrigation system works

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Salt & Silver in Mexico: Jo can't believe how tall the kale is

Jo can't believe how tall the kale is

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Salt & Silver in Mexico: Fidel grows all of his own plants from seed – and collects the seeds from his plants

Fidel grows all of his own plants from seed – and collects the seeds from his plants

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Salt & Silver in Mexico: Talk about awesome-looking chard!

Talk about awesome-looking chard!

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Salt & Silver in Mexico: Fidel tries to fatten us up by feeding us lots of lettuce

Fidel tries to fatten us up by feeding us lots of lettuce

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Salt & Silver in Mexico: Lydia and Fidel are a great couple

Lydia and Fidel are a great couple

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Salt & Silver in Mexico: And now just imagine what the garden will look like in July full of radishes, coriander, beets, carrots and other delicious vegetables

And now just imagine what the garden will look like in July full of radishes, coriander, beets, carrots and other delicious vegetables

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Salt & Silver in Mexico: The country around San Pedro Tidaá is very pretty, too

The country around San Pedro Tidaá is very pretty, too

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 Out in the open, beside the greenhouse tents grow the stars of the garden: bright yellow and deep scarlet chard. We’ve never seen these varieties before. Cabbage is currently in season, and Fidel proudly shows us six different kinds, some of which flaunt purple veins and lush, greenish-blue leaves.

During the tour of the garden, we get to see lemon grass, old varieties of rocket, a mild type of dandelion and miniature cherry tomatoes. We buy a basket of seasonal vegetables and are as happy as children at Christmas.

We are very much impressed by Lydia and Fidel’s natural attitude toward agriculture. Neither of them are in any way interested in optimizing profit, industrialization or using machines. Instead, they talk to us about earthworms and other creatures living in the soil that help the plants grow – they’d never poison them! They talk about maintaining an ecological balance. And how important it is to cultivate the soil sustainably. Here in the heart of Mexico people don’t wait until they’ve reached the edge of the abyss to realize how important it is to respect and protect their resources. Hat’s off to them!

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