The “Valle del Mezquital” in the state of Hidalgo, is a valley rich with culture, history and agriculture. “Mezquital” is the Spanish word for mesquite tree, which is a common tree in the area. This valley is about 40 miles north of Mexico City and has an average elevation of 6,200 feet above sea level.
When we think of valleys, we often think of places that are near sea level, or low altitude. However, the “Valley of the Mesquite Trees” is at the high altitude of 6,200 feet. It is located in the Mexican plateau, or central highlands.
This valley has a particularly interesting history. The Toltecs were a group of indigenous people that lived in Central Mexico. Their capital was in the city of Tula from about 500AD until 1100AD. To this day, there are visible signs of the Toltec Empire throughout the Valle del Mezquital. In Tula, there is an archeological site where visitors can see Toltec pyramids and statues called “atlantes.”
After the Toltecs, the dominant group of people in the region were the Otomí. The valley was then conquered by the Spanish in 1520, but there are still Otomí descendants throughout the area. These people have their own dialect and unique styles of art, especially embroidery and weaving.
People wanted to change the semi-desert environment to make it more suitable for agricultural, so they created new irrigation systems to bring water to the land. As a result of this new infrastructure, the valley is now a major agricultural region in Central Mexico.
After irrigation systems were built, many farms began growing a wide array of fruits, vegetables and grains in the area. In fact, the Valle del Mezquital produces a quarter of all of Mexico’s green chilies. Other crops grown in the region are: corn, wheat, lettuce, broccoli, beans, tomatoes, poblano peppers, cilantro, parsley, onion, spinach, mint, radish, celery, figs, pomegranates, peaches and pecans.
Before there was as much agriculture, people survived by consuming other naturally occurring foods. The nopal cactus produces a type a fruit called a “tuna,” or prickly pear. There are also a lot of insects, like grasshoppers and worms, that people would eat as a source of protein. Although there is now more agriculture in the area, people still see these insects as a delicacy.
The Valle del Mezquital can be a difficult place to live in for a variety of reasons. Since the valley has a desert-like climate, the temperature can get really cold in the night and hot during the day. These temperature fluctuations can be challenging for people and for agriculture. Another challenge that people face in the valley has to do with the water used for irrigating fields. Although the irrigation systems have been good for growing plants, the water has also caused some problems in the valley. Contaminated water from Mexico City is diverted through the valley, so a lot of the crops are watered with what is called “black water.” The unpleasant smell from the water is a negative side effect of a system meant to help the valley produce more fruits and vegetables.