Colorado quinoa pioneer John McCamant dies at 81

“If I’ve done anything at all it’s because I’m a vehicle in this quinoa evolution and not much else,” said Prof. John McCamant at a presentation at the International Quinoa Research Symposium in Pullman, Washington, August 14, 2013.

McCamant, who taught at the Graduate School of International Studies and was a major force behind Colorado quinoa production in the San Luis Valley, died on May 6. His funeral will take place June 20th.

McCamant was an expert in Latin American politics and active in peace and justice movements in Colorado and throughout Latin America.

He became involved in the production of the earthy grain quinoa after his first graduate student David Cusack was killed in Bolivia while searching for an unusual strain of the seed, Cusack had brought quinoa seeds to the United States. His story is chronicled in haunting detail in a two part series by the Atlantic.

After Cusack’s death, it seemed clear that if someone didn’t take over his work developing Colorado quinoa, Cusack’s efforts would be for naught. So McCamant stepped in and created White Mountain Farms – the first massive quinoa farm in the U.S.

His first efforts at planting, starting in 1984, were failures. In 1987, he had his first crop. White Mountain Farms went on to become one of the country’s largest quinoa producers.

“I think seeds are extremely important,” McCamant said in his presentation in Pullman. “They have it all. They know so much more than we do… The seeds will learn. It’s not us that learns. Quinoa has a life of its own. It found us. We didn’t find it.”


Photo credit: Christian Guthier, Creative Commons, Flickr.