Tag: sacred valley

What ever happened to the little family farm anyway?  You know, the Laura Ingalls Wilder style that we all like to picture in our minds when we hear the word ‘farm.’ Put simply, this is what happened to it. 

Large Scale Farm Equipment

(Thanks to modernfarmer.com for this photo)

Without modern machinery, it took a whole family of workers to cultivate your average 150 acre farm of 100 years ago.  With the birth of the tractor however, everything changed.  The only limit to how much land a farmer could cultivate was the size of his tractor.  Every time a larger tractor came out, fewer workers were needed in the field.  It became advantageous to merge small farms into bigger ones to keep those tractors busy.  The result is obvious, as you can see in the following graph from the USDA: 

Average Farm Size and Number of Farms since 1900

Image though, a place where it was physically impossible for this trend to occur. 

Enter: The Sacred Valley of Peru.  Once the bread basket of the Inca Empire, (the corn basket really, but let’s not get bogged down with all the details) the Sacred Valley is known for its mild year-round temperatures, abundant water, and good soil.  What it does not have however, are large open plains.  Nearly all the farming is done in small terraces like these. Many small farms are built on the same terraces, that were made centuries ago on the sloping valley walls. 

Terraces for Farming near Pisacacucho

Because a large tractor cannot physically fit onto these terraces, people still use bulls to plow their fields.  Two bulls will pull a long wooden plow that has a metal tip on it.  This is a close-up of one of the wooden plows.

Standard wooden plow with metal tip

Here is pair of bulls yoked up to one of these plows.  This picture was taken while both the bulls and the family driving them were taking a break. 

Bulls plowing the field in Peru

There is another other reason why a small farm can survive today in the Sacred Valley: wages.  In the US, it is rarely profitable to engage in any type of farming other than industrial scale farming.  This is because, relative to wages, food prices here are very low. 

For example, a 10lb bag of potatoes in the US will normally cost less than $3.  Minimum wage in California is over $10 per hour.  In the Sacred Valley, where potatoes are the cheapest in the entire country of Peru, 10lbs of potatoes will cost you about $1.75 (this will vary quite a lot depending on the time of year and the success of the growing season).  Minimum wage is less than $1 per hour. So in California, you would have to grow more than 30lbs of potatoes per hour worked in order to make minimum wage.  In Peru, you would only need to grow 5lbs per hour worked.  That is why families can actually make a living plowing their fields with a pair of bulls yoked to a wooden plow. 

Few of us would be willing to accept the very high food costs vs. wages that would be necessary in order to go back to the old, Little House on the Prairie-style farms.  It does strike a nostalgic cord, though, to see how many people are still able to keep the small family farm alive in The Sacred Valley. 



Farming by Hand near Chichubamba Peru
Farming by hand near Chichubamba, Peru
One Bullpower farm implement-Chichubamba Peru
A one-bullpower farm implement

Walk into an average natural foods store, and you’ll encounter many a product label lavishly employing such terms as “enchanted,” “spiritual,” “mystical,” “aura,” “kharma,” and so on.  Far be it from us to judge, but for our part, we don’t really think salt possesses the requisite level of sentience to merit association with such enlightened wording.  Still, read our website, and this “Sacred Valley” term keeps popping up everywhere, sounding suspiciously like a phrase worked up by a marketing firm.


Never fear, it’s legit.  The Valle Sagrado de los Incas (Sacred Valley of the Incas) is simply the name that’s been used to refer to a particular region of Peru for the past several hundred years, ever since the Incas started viewing it as, well…sacred.

Sacred Valley of the Incas
Photo from Wikipedia by Charles Gadbois

Map of Sacred Valley Region

The map above gives a good, simplified overview of the general area. In general, the Sacred Valley Region refers to what you see on this map, the heartland of the Inca Empire.  This includes many areas that are not technically in the valley itself.  The ancient Inca capital of Cusco, for example, is in its own valley, separated from the Sacred Valley by a mountain pass.  Likewise, the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu are perched on the side of steep mountains which descend into a narrow gorge.  There is no valley in the immediate vicinity.


The Sacred Valley proper refers to a stretch of the the river known as the Urubamba, the Vilcanota, or the Willkamayu, depending on where you are and whom you talk to.  In Quechua, Willkamayu means “sacred river.” This stretch of river, shown in a Google Earth screenshot, below, has flat, fertile ground alongside, a rare commodity high in the Andes.

Satellite view of the Sacred Valley

For the Inca Empire, part of what made it sacred was its fertility. It was one of the most important areas for maize production. The climate is very good for agriculture, and the ruins at Moray (look for more on this in a future blog post) seem to have functioned as an ancient government agricultural laboratory and seedling nursery.  Today, in addition to maize, quinoa is widely cultivated. 

Quinoa crops in the Sacred Valley

And last, but by no means least, the salt pools at Salineras de Maras were the empire’s primary source of salt.  

Salineras in the Sacred Valley

Thus, “Sacred Valley Salt” is actually a very matter-of-fact product name.  Of course, we’d love for you to give this salt a try, and just to tempt you, here’s a link to purchase some.


But whether or not salt interests you, the Sacred Valley’s natural beauty is sure to impress.  Here are a couple of photos to enjoy.

Sacred Valley of the Incas

Photo from Wikipedia
Photo from Wikipedia


Urubamba flowing through the Sacred Valley