Go Inside the Organic Gardens of Oaxaca’s Huertas Organicos

At Chopt Creative Salad Co., we love to travel. Every 60 days, we offer three new salads inspired by street vendors, local food producers and home chefs we’ve met from Vietnam to Mexico, and everywhere in between. Our blog, Chopt Travels, is how we share our research, and, most important, the stories of the characters who stole our hearts and filled our bellies.

As the creative director at Chopt, I travel around the world to eat, photograph and connect with the people and places that inspire our menu. I smuggle home ingredients and make connections with like-minded innovators working in the world of food. Dream job, I know.

Come along as we take your lunch to places it has never gone before.

—Julia Sherman, Creative Director at Chopt, and author of the blog and book Salad for President.

partner tip Lorena Harp is spreading the salad gospel in Oaxaca, Mexico. A native of Oaxaca City, Lorena raised her three children here, and she has committed her life to teaching the value of growing your own food and eating organically. Her organization, Huertos Organicos, addresses access to fresh produce in Oaxaca’s worst food deserts and distributes an incredibly simple solar oven to as many of the local people as they can. The oven is a collapsible origami-like metal cradle for a pot, which harnesses the rays of the sun to bake, boil or steam anything your heart desires. Fresh veggies prepared, with no fuel or electricity required.

I spent the day as Lorena’s shadow, packing into her rugged Jeep and driving out to check up on some of the 25 schools where her organic gardens and related educational programs were in full effect. The first place we stopped was a school attached to a brand-new housing development, in an area so stark and dry, each child brings one full water bottle from home to water the garden each day. As result of this communal effort, the Huertas Organicos team is able to send the kids back with chard, kale, radishes and carrots for their families. We crashed a class as they tilled the soil and harvested organic beets as big as their heads, showing them off for the camera.

While planting edible gardens and reintroducing fresh food to small Oaxacan communities is greatly ambitious work, we were captivated by the solar oven project that dovetails so well with the gardens themselves. At Chopt, we talk a lot about “method,” the way food is prepared, the means by which a process can be streamlined and simplified to create the best, tastiest and healthiest results. For most people, not just restaurant chefs, efficiency in the kitchen is the key to success. And for many of the families in the small towns Lorena serves, the ability to cook without reliance on gas is a huge relief. Not only is fuel expensive, it’s also not necessarily readily available in remote villages.

Besides the sheer practicality of the ovens, they are also a pleasure to use, simple and wildly futurist at once. To demonstrate, we followed Lorena back to her home, where we unfolded the little mirrored wings and set a pot in the center. We filled the pot with homegrown potatoes, and let the sun do its thing. “It was magical to cook with sunlight. Once I tried it, I couldn’t stop,” she says while chopping fresh herbs for what would soon be a potato salad. “My little solar oven accompanies me wherever I go. We have a great choice in Oaxaca to pollute less, to help our health and save fossil fuels.”