2022- emerging


New Mexico + Mexico


Phytophiliac ANTENNAE JOURNAL #60


Jorge Córcega Ruta de la Milpa + nopalera owner/grower, Milpa Alta, Ciudad de Mexico, MX
Carlos Rodríguez López - Profesor Investigador, Escuela de Ingeniería y Ciencias, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Nuevo León, MX
Miguel Gonzalez Virgen -Leader of the Arts Initiative at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Nuevo León, MX
Dr. Marisa Y. Thompson PhD -Extension Urban Horticulture Specialist, New Mexico State University, NM, USA


Agri + cultural futures for Nopal, the iconic, culinary, 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 Nopal growers in Milpa Alta, Mexico City, we aim to breed a cold-hardy variety of Nopal for temperate climates, expanding the geographic future of Nopal, and also understand the potential to secure genetic samples by true seed - and contribute seed of important varieties to 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. Working with plant biotechnologist Carlos Rodríguez López we are exploring the extraction and stabilization of Nopal pigments as an art material.

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, working with chef and nopalera owner Jorge Córcega of Ruta de la Milpa, we will initiate a participatory community archive with Milpa Alta Nopal growers and culinary artists, the traditional and indigenous stewards of Nopal. Narrated by chef and nopalera owner Jorge Córcega, the NOPALOGY video describes the importance of the nopal growers archive in Milpa Alta, outside Ciudad de Mexico. Created September, 2023

How can we secure the knowledge of Nopal growing for future generations?


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.