In fields around the campus, a group of women have come together to grow amaranth. As I am learning, amaranth has some incredible properties: each plant will produce 40,000 to 60,000 seeds seasonally, which are 13 to 15 percent protein (among the highest for any grain) and are high in fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamins A and C; its leaves are also edible, containing more calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C than spinach; and it is resistant to the heat and drought, requiring much less water than corn and beans. Amaranth is native to Mesoamerica and has been cultivated here for approximately 7,000 years. Though it was nearly eradicated with the Spanish Conquest, it is being replanted in parts of Mexico and Central America.
Today I am visiting Victoria, who manages and operates an association of women who are making products from the amaranth plants. They sell a powder of amaranth seeds which is used to make a local drink or mixed with corn to make tortillas, and they make a natural, herbal shampoo. It takes three days to mix and settle the ingredients including the amaranth leaves, which they purchase for one quetzal (USD$0.14) each, into a liquid ready to be bottled as shampoo.
Victoria and Florinda showed me the final product, and took the time to pour a bit of it into 8 ounce bottles, which they will label and sell for 12 quetzales (USD$1.63) each. They sell about 40 of these bottles per month, earning roughly USD$65 from selling shampoo. In addition to their other products, they are able to make a living for themselves and provide me with an example of how the support they receive in the form of business advice from organizations like UVG-Altiplano, plus a few small loans, means the difference between subsistence farming and a less stressful, more fruitful quality of life.