With so much happening in our world, and with so many other worthy causes just in Mexico and at the border alone, why should we help jimadores?
There is no single short answer. One of the short answers, though, is that if you’re reading this, the solvable problems they face will likely impact your life directly, and soon, if they remain unsolved.
Agave spirits are delicious, and they sell like it. To become spirit, agave must be roasted, fermented, and twice distilled, all with great precision and expertise. But before any of that, agave must be sown, allowed to grow for several years, and harvested. Those critical steps of sowing and harvest require tremendous wisdom — a wisdom that cannot simply be learned, but that is passed down from generation to generation of jimador, growing and evolving decade after decade. In short, one does not just decide one day to become a jimador. It’s a door that great-grandfathers open for their great-grandchildren, long before they’re born.
It is an important, cultural, honest profession that unites man and land. For hundreds of years, it was honored, and a point of great pride. Over time, as tequila took off, those conditions were deliberately changed. Today, after decades of systematic disenfranchisement, the once-honored jimador profession is on its last legs.
The sons and daughters of jimadores are rejecting that path, as it has become a path of strife and little opportunity. They see their fathers struggle to find work in times of slow production, and struggle to eat even as agave prices soar. They see their grandfathers, now unable to work, physically deformed from years of dedicated service to the agave, with no health benefits or savings to show for it and help them survive.
The next generation of jimadores see little choice but to seek opportunity elsewhere, and they are leaving. They leave behind a home, but also a culture and profession that desperately needs them.
One cannot just decide one day to be a jimador, but if enough decide one day to not be jimador — as is happening this very moment — they will collectively take agave spirits with them. This is not an exaggerated problem. If we don’t help these men and women — if we do not bridge the gap between being a jimador and drinking clean water, or eating nutritious foods, or having literate children; if we do not make informed and scrupulous purchasing decisions — we will lose this culture and these spirits. And it will be on us.
If all of this sounds a bit dramatic, it’s because it is. This is a $6 billion USD industry, born of thousands of years of culture. One common response is: “there is no way a powerful $6 billion industry is going to let this happen.” In a way, that’s not incorrect. The largest companies have the means to adapt, to further industrialize their production and to artificially add flavors lost in the transition to less skilled tenders of agave. Many of those companies do not use very much agave at all. They would likely struggle more if the corn refiners of Iowa decided to walk away. But those small- and medium-sized companies that focus on their cultural product, and are attentive to detail and true to their raw material, will collapse.
That response — the idea that the industry would never let this happen — is also not too far off in one other sense: as contributors and lovers of this culture and industry, we have no intention whatsoever of letting it slip away. That’s why we’re here.
These men and women need us. We need these men and women. That’s why we’re humbly, but quite urgently, asking for your help.