Can food lovers save Mexico City’s nutrient-rich islands and the farmers who toil here?

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Julio Cristobal, a Yolcan farmer, works in the fields using traditional farming methods. Jordi Ruiz Cirera / For The Times.

Today, about 850 of the chinampas in Xochimilco are used for active farming and another 15,000 are thought to have farming potential

By Laura Tillman
La Times
Dec 04, 2018

Excerpt:

“We’re trying to conserve and restore the chinampas,” Usobiaga said, referring to Xochimilco’s network of tiny islands that have formed over the centuries from the mud and compost in the canals. “It’s a very important environmental area for Mexico City, and it’s threatened by many factors: urban sprawl, pollution, and the abandonment of the chinampas.”

Today, about 850 of the chinampas in Xochimilco are used for active farming and another 15,000 are thought to have farming potential, said Alberto Gonzalez-Pozo, author of a book about the islands.

But urbanization is threatening Xochimilco. Developments — many of them illegal — are popping up on some of the islands, and sewage often flows directly into the canals. The spring water that once fed the canals of Xochimilco was long ago harnessed for the densely populated neighborhoods of Mexico City and the back-and-forth cycle of drought and flooding alternately swamps the islands or causes them to sink.

“It’s little by little but it’s neverending,” Gonzalez-Pozo said. “It’s a worrying phenomenon.”

The chinampas were once much smaller, some as narrow as 12 feet, Gonzalez-Pozo said. Today, some of the islands are as wide at 60 feet after many of the narrow canals were filled in. The loss of the waterways that once separated the islands has also reduced their fertility.

Many of the families who have farmed the chinampas for generations are giving up due to the meager wages, Usobiaga said. By paying fair wages and providing technical assistance, a planting schedule and a purchasing contract, Yolcan is hoping it can support families who want to continue farming.

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