Cinco de Mayo is not (as some might believe) Mexican Independence Day, but a holiday that celebrates the date of the Mexican army’s May 5, 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. In the United States, this day has evolved into a day of memorializing Mexican culture and heritage. Parades, parties, mariachi music, and folk dancing are accompanied by traditional foods, many of which contain corn – an ingredient first cultivated in Mexico over 7000 years ago and which may have launched their agricultural industry.
In the Mesoamerican period, prior to Spanish colonization, archeologists have found impressive evidence that the Olmecs, Mayas, and Aztecs of Central America were accomplished agrarian societies. Corn, beans, squash, chili peppers, and tomatoes were all cultivated and often rotated in the fields to replenish depleted nitrogen in the soil. These early civilizations also developed irrigation systems, harvested rainwater, and created new structures such as terraces and “chinampas”, or artificial floating islands, to cultivate their crops in previously unused lands.
Agricultural crop growth has since expanded in Mexico to take up 13% of their total national territory. Mexico is the eighth-largest crop producer in the world, with their top exports including tomatoes, wheat, coffee, sugarcane, sorghum, and corn. They’re also major producers of pineapple, avocado, mango, cocoa, rice and vanilla – one of the country native plants.
Coffee is one of the most profitable and popular crop products that Mexico exports. Mexico is the largest producer of organic coffee in the world, accounting for 60% of global production in the past 20 years. Despite most crops being grown in large complexes, coffee is still consistently cultivated by small farmers in the southern part of the country, particularly in Chiapas and Oaxaca. Over 500,000 small farms produce and export coffee, which makes fair trade regulations extremely important for the protection of Mexico’s coffee industry.
Every year, May 5th will be a celebration, not only for the victory of the Mexican army, but also to commemorate Mexican culture and heritage and their thriving agriculture industry.