Editorial: Flavorful local corn tortillas offer taste of sustainability

  • Tacos made with corn tortillas from Mi Tierra Mexican food market and restaurant in Hadley. RECORDER FILE PHOTO

Published: 4/24/2017 7:25:19 PM

For Jorge Sosa, making homemade corn tortillas for his restaurant in Hadley was about recreating the earthy, crunchy taste of authentic Mexican food. It was a restaurateur’s decision to deliver taste to his customers, but since 2007 these tortillas have grown into a significant strain of the Pioneer Valley’s locavore food culture.

Sosa’s inspiration was the natural food of his native Mexican state of Guerrero, where, he said, “You grow your own corn, pick the corn, cook it, wash it, grind it, and you go back home and make your tortillas.”

By the time he opened his Mi Tierra Mexican food market and restaurant in 2007, Sosa was convinced he couldn’t serve anything but corn tortillas homemade from corn flour.

Sosa and his wife, Dora Saravia, soon began experimenting with local farmers growing Mexican varieties of corn, but they didn’t succeed in New England’s climate. So, Sosa and Food Bank Farm founder Michael Docter persuaded area farmers to produce 50,000 pounds of hardy New England corn for tortillas, and ultimately convinced Common Capital in Holyoke to provide a loan to buy a $54,000 tortilla-baking machine.

Today, Mi Tierra Tortillas sells 95 cases of 6-inch tortillas a week.

That comes from nearly 2,000 pounds of local heirloom corn a week from farmers like Joe Czajkowski Farm in Hadley and Frank Ernst in Amherst. The tortillas are sold in organic and conventional varieties at River Valley Co-op in Northampton, Atlas Farm Market in Deerfield, Green Fields Market in Greenfield, McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls, and is served at restaurants in the Valley and as far away as Somerville and Brookline.

There’s no preservatives or other chemicals and a taste that reminds Sosa of home. Even for people who are used to tortillas made with a long list of preservatives, softeners and artificial flavors, one taste can make a convert to the locally grown and produced product.

“I find people who really care about what they eat, and where the food is coming from, that’s kind of the client that’s really loving the tortilla,” Sosa told The Recorder.

J.D. Hairston, co-owner of The Brass Buckle in Greenfield said it’s a “no-brainer” to pay 17 cents more per tortilla to make “basically designer tacos” with a taste that reminds him of his own upbringing in south Texas.

“It’s the most beautiful thing. To me, this is the coolest thing happening food-wise in the Valley,” said Hairston.

Across the street, at Mesa Verde, co-owner Amy McMahan said she loves serving the fresh, local tortillas.

“It’s non-GMO, organic, local corn, and we’re supporting a local business,” she said.

For Docter, who says he has advocated for local agriculture all his life, this use of local corn was the next logical step to making a significant impact in eating locally. “Corn is something that’s always been grown here and can be grown here really well.”

Sosa’s insistence on natural food and good taste has brought him success in the Pioneer Valley, where many people appreciate all things local and natural. His success supports, and is supported in turn, by local growers and the restaurants and stores that sell his product.

What he and Docter have come up with is another great example of how sustainability can work in the Valley, fostering healthy eating and a healthy local economy. It’s the kind of endeavor that reminds us why we take pride in the way of life found in this region.

We hope their example will encourage other farmers and entrepreneurs to try duplicating their success.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

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