Help Tequio Foods

“Tequio” /ˈtekjo/ ( is the Zapotec peoples’ concept of community joining together to accomplish a common goal for the betterment of all. It is often seen, for example, in the local school systems, when buildings need repair or the water system needs upgrading. Everyone completes part of the work, regardless of skill level or age, because the future of the community depends on them.

Tequio Foods is born of the concept of the community’s effort to advance as a whole. The company’s mission is to import products to the United States East Coast in a manner that honestly and deeply supports independent, indigenous farmers that are keeping alive the Milpa and ancestral techniques that are the basis for strong Mexican agriculture and lifeways.

By working directly with farmers and cooperatives, Tequio Foods verifies and supports the growing practices of each individual farmer by meeting with them, building a relationship, and encouraging the development of the community as they most see fit. Likewise, Tequio Foods partners with US-based companies and chefs on the East Coast to bring unique, heritage products that elevate the diverse cuisines of Mexico in the United States with the ingredients from their roots.
Chef Luis Martinez was born in Santa Catarina Loxicha, Oaxaca, Mexico, in a small Zapotec pueblo. He came to the US in 2005, after studying Fine Arts at the state university while also working in kitchens around Oaxaca City. Upon arriving in the US, he experienced the harsh reality of migrant work and the shock of a different culture as a farmworker in Indio, California. After eventually moving to Los Angeles, Luis got back into the restaurant industry, where he worked in several restaurants and cuisines, always alongside other Oaxacans. These chefs taught Luis how to infuse Oaxacan culture and cuisine into his cooking by using various methodologies, from traditional ingredients to Asian techniques. Now based in Asheville, NC, Luis is combining his love for cooking with his passion for social justice. 

One of the factors that pushed Luis to the US was the Mexican government’s designation of his community-building efforts in indigenous communities as politically dangerous. Because of his involvement, he experienced extreme abuse from the government, ultimately leading to his seeking and receiving political asylum in the US. Now an American citizen, Luis is dedicated to continuing to work alongside indigenous communities in overcoming and flourishing, despite difficult economic challenges and dangerous political encounters.

Mexican chefs on the US East Coast often have to make substitutions in their dishes because the unique, heirloom products are simply not available on the East Coast. By combining his experience in community-building within closed communities with his experience as a chef, Luis is leveraging a deep commitment to the roots of Mexican cuisine with the promotion of Mexican gastronomy on the US East Coast.
As Tequio Foods grows, it will undergo three main phases.
  • Phase 1: Research and Development
Tequio Foods focuses on farmers and cooperatives that practice sustainable agriculture, have a clear focus on community development, and are subject to volatile social climates including gangs, drug traffickers, or corrupt government officials. Many of these farmers have created cooperatives in their regions in order to safely export their products from their small communities to the larger cities. Many of these communities are closed to people who are not originally from there, so building relationships with community leaders is critical to the success of Tequio Foods. During this first trip, Luis will be visiting several farmers and cooperatives in Xochimilco, Tlaxcala, and Oaxaca in order to establish relationships and learn their farm techniques and experiences while growing ancestral products. They will also import a small amount of products to promote with local chefs.
  • Phase 2: Exportation and Buyers
Phase 2 happens concurrently with Phase 1.
The exportation process will happen in partnership with companies that already have the infrastructure to realize small- to medium-scale production. During this phase, the logistics of partnership and procurement will be formalized.
With a 20-year history of working in kitchens at every level, from rice washer to Executive Chef, Luis has built a network of companies and chefs that have already expressed interest in Tequio Foods. During this phase, Luis will solidify the list of available products from growers and the list of dedicated buyers.
  • Phase 3: Meaningful Social Impact
As true Mexican products become more easily accessible in the US, Tequio Foods’ hope is that Americans will recognize the deep and diverse history of Mexican cuisine, learn about the resilience of the small Mexican farmer, and see the connections we all share.
Likewise, Tequio Foods will work directly with Mexican farmers to realize projects that the communities have deemed as necessary for themselves. Some of these projects currently include a radio station so that people can communicate across mountains with no infrastructure, a community library, and the empowerment of women farmers who are creating mutual aid groups, self-defense workshops, and support groups for those surviving intimate partner violence.
Growers and Cooperatives
Tequio Foods will focus on independent, indigenous communities. Exportations via cooperatives help avoid drug cartels, paramilitary violence, and other dangers. Access to these cooperatives and communities is extremely limited and requires an extensive network of connections and contacts. However, these cooperatives employ ancient growing techniques and hold large seed banks, producing heirloom varieties of beans, rice, squash, and other products that are now extinct outside those communities. The cooperatives that Tequio Foods works with want to maintain their independence and grow their social sustainability and need income to do so.
Currently focusing on Phase 1, funding will help cover associated costs of travel to the growers and cooperatives, including:
Safe travel to and from the communities.
Gifts and hospitality for growers and community leaders.
Importation of a limited amount of select products to promote Phase 2: Research and Development.
Return on your Investment
Investing in Tequio Foods right now demonstrates your own dedication to social sustainability and a partnership with those who created and grow the food we all eat. Your investment promotes a culture of mutual respect, where American consumers see not only “Mexican food,” but the true diversity and history of every ingredient and every bite. It also helps communities realize their full potential and supports people through resources to create the future they choose.
In deep gratitude, we will publicly announce your name as a supporter via social media and press releases. You will also receive an audio-visual report upon return from the initial Relationship Building trip. Of course, we will also keep you up-to-date regularly with the phases and status throughout our establishment.
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Luis Alberto Martinez Cruz
Asheville, NC

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