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California university recognizes Maya ‘forest gardener’ Narciso Torres

Posted: Friday, January 6, 2023. 1:03 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: On January 12, a top award from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) will be given to a Belizean forest gardener and archaeological collaborator, Narciso Torres, according to the Santa Barbara Independent.

Torres was nominated by archaeologist Anabel Ford for the Chancellor’s Award after decades of collaboration. Chancellor Henry Yang, according to Ford, “…is highlighting the importance of different ways of knowing and seeing… the academy is opening its eyes and welcoming traditions born of the basic scientific method of trial and error, recognizing the wide range of contributions to the world of science.”

Ford has built a legendary career around her discoveries at El Pilar in western Belize. But she recognizes that there was more to learn from people like Torres, who rely on generational knowledge to cultivate the region’s flora and fauna in sustainable ways.

They met in the early 1980s when she was surveying the area where he lived and her field director hired him and learned that he was growing cacao trees and other native species.

Ford said, “Over the years, we realized he was our teacher and we were learning from him. His observation skills are subtle, and his knowledge rivals ecologists’. Every situation we encounter, he will assess it from a perspective that will seem novel to me but evident to him. He can return to an exact spot without a compass or GPS. He can tell how soon the rains will arrive, he can identify the ancient Maya presence without doubt, and he can interpret the potentials of soil without a pH test!”

Torres, who says he was “hooked” by working with Ford’s team, explains that his lessons are becoming increasingly relevant to the younger generation and back in vogue with the rise of regenerative farming and a broad public desire for more eco-friendly methods: “Children are very, very happy when they are outdoors and playing with plants, but I think we’ve broken that love. Some can do it and some want to do it, but they don’t have the opportunity.”

Torres plans a full schedule of visits to farms and historic sites around Santa Barbara, where he’ll certainly be sharing his wisdom with all who listen: “We are losing so much,” said Torres of the plant species he cultivates, which are often slashed and burned by more industrial agriculture. “We are destroying them with chemicals. We are using things that are not Mother Nature.” Yet he remains jovial and hopeful, explaining, “We want to see a better life for our future generations.”

 

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