The Model of La Milpa, Our Unique Approach

Our model, which supports local leadership to develop their own voice to break the chains of dependency imposed by colonial systems is strongly influenced by the Maya concept of “La Milpa.”

Maya elders have a teaching about the Milpa: their system for growing corn, beans, squash, chillies and other plants together in raised beds. This system works because of the special relationship between each of these plants. The beans draw nitrogen from the air, replacing what the corn consumes from the earth. The corn provides a vertical platform for the beans to rise up above the crowd and access the nitrogen. Squash grows out around the trunks and fends off unwanted competition from the stalks. It also keeps the soil moist and prevents erosion. The plants’ flowers attract important insects which also contribute to these complementary relationships. Together, the corn, beans, squash and chillies form an interconnected, sustainable environment which provides all the essential elements that the whole and its parts need to thrive and to flourish.

These teachings talk a great deal about the number 2. To the Maya, the number 2 is considered sacred. It is more than the sum of 1+1, and symbolizes the power of union. HSP’s approach is also based on the power of union, the power of cooperation rather than competition.

This system also highlights the idea that “small is beautiful.” Each part of this complicated structure has a basic function that benefits the greater good. The Highland Support Project works to create organizational Milpas that create transformational programming to address issues on the micro level with a vision of creating networks of response that realize constructive action on the macro level.

Our Milpa inspired model inspires us to work in a cooperative approach that is participatory, inclusive, and focuses on empowerment, building leadership, and agency. These components enhance the capacity for people to make choices for their communities to counter charity paradigms that replicate dependency.

Read our 2018 Review to learn more about our model in action.