The news from Guerrero has not been good of late, what with the abduction and probable murder of 43 students at a teacher’s college in Ayotzinapa, and the subsequent riots. But real life can’t be reduced to one storyline, and so I was happy to get some better news from our friend, tequila and mezcal expert Clayton Szczech, who wrote to tell me about a kickass organization of indigenous peasants in the Río de Balsas region of Guerrero.
Sanzekan Tinemi is an autonomous community organization that supports sustainable development in rural communities, with an emphasis on reforestation and the preservation of folkways. Since 1990, the organization has been fostering collectives in an effort to inject some much-needed cash into the region.
The group works to preserve and reinvigorate Guerrero’s existing folkways, and mezcal was a no-brainer. As boozy hipsters the world over have increased the demand for mezcal, Guerrero producers are poised to profit. But the boom in popularity threatens to undermine artisinal methods and put strain on the wild agave population. Old school mezcaleros are under intense pressure to sell out to large, modern mezcal companies. In order to provide support to small producers, the Sanzekan organization now represents a collective of maestro mezcaleros who use traditional methods and practice good stewardship of the land, including reforesting the region’s wild agave cupreata. The collective includes producers from the municipalities of Chilapa de Álvarez, Zitlala, Ahuacuotzingo and Tixtla.
Szczech writes, “Sanzekan Tinemi (“Onward Together,” in the Nahuatl language) is the most inspiring group of people I’ve meet in nearly two decades of screwing around in Mexico. They are dedicated to the social and economic developments of their communities through the sustainable use of natural resources. Chief among these resources is the wild agave cupreata, which their families have been making into mezcal for centuries.”
I called Szczech for more details and he spoke with enthusiasm,
“It’s like the real, real deal. They’ve been around for 25 years, and have specific working groups in their organization. They have soil conservation, they have a reforestation group, they have a women’s group. And one of the things the women’s group does is create handicrafts and they use the profits for reforestation and other projects.”
The organization’s latest experiment is a program of ‘solidarity bonds,’ which allow you to prepay for mezcal that will be matured in glass for two years.
Szczech explains, “This traditional method mellows mezcal and balances flavors in an unmistakable way.”
The bonds are part of an effort to provide small producers with the financial support they need in order to resist selling out to corporations, which offer unscrupulous yet binding contracts that force producers to sell their heritage for a pittance.
“Sanzekan came up with these bonds as a way to get some money on the table now, to make those efforts less attractive to their members now,” Szczech explains. “Our solidarity will make a huge difference in the survival of their communities and culture.”
He describes visiting the reforestation project and touring the Sanzekan storage facility. “They built this crazy concrete pyramid. It looks like some weird Masonic shit. They just have thousands and thousands of glass carboys, organized by producer.”
A pyramid full of artisinal mezcal? This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Altruism that leads to artisinal mezcal? Sounds like my kind of good deed. If you are interested in supporting a dynamic community while simultaneously getting your hands on some legit mezcal, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with Szczech.