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How an Indigenous Community in Mexico Found Strength In Wild Mushrooms

Every day, from the months of June to October, Héctor Campanur Sánchez goes out of his home in Cherán, in the central Mexican state of Michoacán, to hunt for wild mushrooms on the steep slope of an extinct volcano.

During the rainy season, the said mushrooms are laid up in geometric piles, among the wild greens and the varying colors of the stalks of blue and pink corn, and fills up the indigenous town of Purhépecha’s Saturday and Tuesday markets.

First come the yuntas, or yokes, which grow in pairs like hitched oxen, and the ghostly white lobes of ahuachikuas, the perfect filling for corn-husk-wrapped nacatamales. Later come pale gray ox stomachs, grilled on clay comals like slabs of beef; yellow tiripitis as rich and unctuous as egg yolks; coral-like birds feet to sweat into blood-red stews called atapakuas, thickened with masa and scented with yerba buena; and bright orange trumpet mushrooms, known here as pig snouts, which, ground to a mince and fried with garlic, onion and lard, bear an uncanny resemblance to a good pastor.
“In mushroom season,” Campanur, 32, says, “you can suffer a little less.”
Campanur’s family has collected and sold mushrooms for generations, yet as recently as a decade ago, the tradition was at risk of disappearing. Illegal logging began around the edges of Cherán’s expansive municipal territory, which covers nearly 52,000 acres, in the early 2000s. In 2008, loggers from a neighboring village formed an alliance with a local cell of the Knights Templar Cartel, which was eager to clear the land for lucrative avocado farms.

Over the next four years, the loggers poured over the volcanoes like termites as they cleared over 124 acres in just a week. According to the current president of the Council for Community Property, Miguel Macías Sánchez, trucks loaded with wood go through the town as many as 250 times a day. The trucks were also guarded with armed men who pointed their AK-47s at anyone who dared question them.

According to a study from the Universidad Michoacana, some 19,800 acres of woodlands were cleared by 2011, about 70% of Cherán’s total forested territory. Some in town call that number modest, saying the destruction came closer to 30,000 acres or more. Murders, disappearances, extortion and kidnapping became commonplace. Mushrooms couldn’t grow without the detritus of falling leaves, and families such as the Campanurs stopped going to collect them for fear they might not come back.

On April 15, 2011, the people of Cherán would rise up against these loggers.

Find out what happened next over at the Los Angeles Times.

(Image Credit: Felipe Luna / For The Times)

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