The Xochimilco neighborhood isn’t just any Mexican suburb. The region features over 100 miles of artificial canals dotted with man-made islands called chinampas, that were built during Aztec times to feed an ever-growing population. And to many people’s disbelief, they are having a resurgence in popularity.
In the early 1900’s, Xochimilco was a main source of Mexico City’s food; however, rapid urbanization meant less land available for farming purposes. Today, only about 20% of the original 5,000 acres of chinampas are being used, and only around 3% are being used expressly for farming purposes.
However, since the novel coronavirus hit Mexico interrupting the food supply, small farmers have been rehabilitating abandoned chinampas to deliver on the need for fresh, local food. “We’re talking about something that’s 1,000 years old. We have to preserve this,” says Raúl Mondragón, founder of the Colectivo Ahuejote.
The revival of this type of farming is due in part to issues at CDMX’s major market, La Central de Abastos, which has seen shuttered warehouses, limited truck traffic, and widespread infection from COVID-19. Instead of being in a massive marketplace, small farmers on the chinampas can often deliver fruits and vegetables directly to the consumer. In fact, buying directly from a chinampero is not only good for the small business economy, but it also provides the consumer with the lowest risk of potential infection.
Due to the ongoing quarantine, many people have also become much more interested in cooking. As such, they are more curious about where their food is coming from; even lifelong capitalists have started composting. Due to this newfound interest and restrictions for major markets, commerce in the Xochimilco region has been flourishing. In just three months, sales have increased by 100-120% for small farmers. Many of these farmers have even been able to leave their other jobs and focus full time on farming.
These unpredictable times have served as a reminder that these beautiful floating gardens have been feeding Mexico for centuries, and that they are a sustainable alternative to mass markets. The fight to keep tradition alive is a noble one, and luckily, these farmers aren’t holding back.