2022- emerging


New Mexico + Mexico


Phytophiliac ANTENNAE JOURNAL #60


Miguel Gonzalez Virgen -Leader of the Arts Initiative at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
Dr. Marisa Y. Thompson PhD Extension Urban Horticulture Specialist, New Mexico State University,


Tecnológico de Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
New Mexico State University
Ruta de la Milpa, Milpa Alta, CDMX


Agri + cultural futures for Nopal, the iconic, edible, prickly-pear cactus.

The Nopalogy project emerges first, from the sheer wonder and botanical magnificence of the iconic Nopal, the culinary prickly pear cactus Opuntia ficus-indica grown and eaten throughout Mexico and shipped around the globe. The nutritious Nopal, an ancient and contemporary symbol of Mexican identity and resistance, grows in lean soils with minimal water, earning it a place as one of the 50 Future Foods and supporting Drawdown aims for the food system.


Nopalogy evolves four climate responsive research strategies for the culinary Nopal, including: cold-hardy varieties, seed genetic resources, artist pigments, and knowledge stewardship.

Nopalogy aborda los grandes temas de nuestro tiempo: la seguridad alimentaria, la resiliencia al cambio climático, el agua, la biodiversidad, y la expresión e identidad culturales.

Nopalogy addresses the major themes of our time: food security, climate resilience, water, biodiversity, and cultural expression + identity.

We begin with an agronomic question: Can Mexican culinary Nopal be bred to grow in much colder Northern New Mexico, which has endemic Opuntia species, comparable elevations and rainfall, and where warming is predicted? And could this new crop be useful for climate adaptation and food security globally?

Working across borders with New Mexico State University, the Art/Science Initiative at Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the Nopal Growers Association of Milpa Alta, Mexico City, we aim to breed a cold-hardy variety of Nopal for temperate climates, expanding the geographic future of Nopal, and then place genetic samples (true seed) of all varieties in global seed banks including CIMMYT and Svalsvard.

Additionally, two aesthetic and socially engaged research directions draw attention to potential cultural contributions. Food technologists are studying the nutrition of “betalain” pigments from Nopal fruits which inherently carry deep purple/blue color named BeetBlue.

What are the aesthetic potentials of Nopal pigments?

Credit: B. C. Freitas-Dörr + et al, Science Advances, Volume 6 # 14, 2020
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz0421

Lastly, we will initiate a participatory oral histories archive with Milpa Alta growers and culinary artists, the traditional and indigenous stewards of Nopal. Efforts to maintain and expand the chinampas at Xochimilco may also offer possibilities.


Unlike traditional agronomic research conducted on plants of such importance, Nopalogy is an artistically driven interrogative network that brokers innovation between diverse actors including: farmers, biotechnologists, ethnobotanists, agronomists, culinary artists and other communities of practice. Nopalogy demonstrates Mignolo's epistemic disobedience, challenging the dis-integrative mindset of the western episteme, upending traditional hierarchies of knowledge, expertise, scale, duration, and impact. It adopts instead, the “diplomacy of art” a symbolic and practical handshake across borders, manifesting AND/AND, a radical dot-connecting, generosity.

Nopalogy demonstrates epistemic disobedience challenging the dis-integrative mindset of the western episteme

This includes the obvious borders of art/science ¬LaTour’s “great divide” of nature and culture, but also dynamic interchanges and transactional borders such as the aesthetic borders between material practices and social engagement, the geographic borders between New Mexico and Mexico, and the heterotemporality of cultural heritage and food futures.

Perhaps most important is the non-anthroponormative proposition that the Nopal prickly pear is a worthy vehicle for such an investigation, aligning Nopalogy with the most radical post-humanist and “vegetal consciousness” perspectives. Nopalogy operates well beyond the conventional paradigms of eco-art, and art/science collaborations, intentionally blurring epistemology and the ontological, and expanding art’s field of operations for greater agency.