The problem blends with the transit of migrants who cross the region in search of the American drea...
MEXICO CITY – One of the world’s most populated and polluted cities is experiencing a farming revolution.
A growing number of Mexico City’s 26 million residents, tired of the endless asphalt spaces and congested streets, are seeking a greater connection not only with their land, but also with what they consume.
Crushed by long working days and vast distances imposed upon them in this great metropolis, defeños, as people from Mexico City are known, have grown detached from one of life’s most crucial ingredients: food.
“No one has the slightest idea where their food comes from,” said Carolina Lukac, co-founder of Sembradores Urbanos (urban farmers).
This local organization is dedicated to teaching urban agriculture, a movement seeking to bring citizens closer to their food and toward a healthier lifestyle by growing produce at home or in communal spaces.
“Food sometimes travels thousands of kilometers to arrive at our tables. Globalization has had its benefits, but it has distanced us from the origin of our food,” she added.
Many health organizations, including the country’s own Health Secretariat, see this scenario as one of the reasons for the increase in obesity. According to the government, 47 million Mexicans are obese, representing almost 42% of the population.
In early 2011, the World Health Organization announced Mexico was home to about 4.5 million overweight children between 6 and 11 years old, accounting for about 40% of the overall child population.
Culture plays a big part in cultivating poor eating habits, which is why organizations such as the Sembradores Urbanos see themselves as leaders in the counterrevolution of the fast-food nation.
“It’s a project we started five years ago, as we saw a lack of space for people to learn about urban agriculture,” Lukac said.
She added her team works from a small space lent by their local council in a shady corner of the neighborhood of La Romita, in the center of the city.
Onions, turnips, carrots and a variety of ornamental flowers are grown at the La Romita urban farm. The produce is not for consumption but for demonstration purposes, or simply to sell as seedlings.
“We don’t grow big quantities of vegetables,” Lukac said. “Our goal is to share that knowledge so people can do it at home.”
The organization offers courses on the different stages of the farming process.
“We begin with the planting of seeds, continuing with how to make compost, then garden management – like seasonal planting, control of diseases and tips for maintaining your plot,” Lukac said.
While at first glance Mexico City might not seem like a space conducive to the cultivation of food and plants, it is, in fact, surprisingly accommodating.
“It is an incredible place for urban agriculture,” Lukac said. “It has a luxurious climate, and there are many large, flat roofs that serve as perfect spaces to plant.”
Sembradores Urbanos holds free classes every Wednesday afternoon, which are attended mainly by women, families and visitors from outside the nation’s capital.
“I came here mainly to learn how to initiate urban agriculture at our home,” said Raúl Almeda, a 40-year-old who recently attended his first class after seeing it advertised on the Internet. “My family and I are very concerned about climate change, and this is something that we can do to help reduce the effects. Urban agriculture doesn’t look that easy, but it’s important that we and our children learn how to do it in order to make a positive change in our lives.”
Almeda also wants to provide his newborn son with fresher food.
“As a family, we normally shop at the supermarket on Saturdays,” he said. “In reality, we don’t know where the food comes from or how it fares in terms of quality.”
Those who attend the sessions are led by a charismatic team of green-fingered volunteers. They are shown the wide variety of plants and vegetables that can be grown in the city and the techniques needed to become urban farmers.
Though growing slowly in Mexico City, urban agriculture has already seen an increase in popularity throughout Latin America, thanks to initiatives by governments and international entities such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
According to the FAO, countries such as Cuba, Chile, Colombia and Brazil are leading the way in Latin America.
Similarly to the Sembradores Urbanos, the Secretary of Rural Development and Equality among Communities of the Mexican Federal District (SEDEREC) also supports urban farming in Mexico City.
“Our aim is to encourage the production of healthy foods free of chemicals”, said Margarita García, SEDEREC’s sub-director of special projects and business liaison. “We all have the right to a fresh and organic food source.”
SEDEREC works in 16 districts of the city, offering financial support and technical expertise for those who want to practice urban agriculture.
“We have schemes running in social housing projects, where up to 300 people see benefit from a single plot,” García added.
SEDEREC also is investing in educating school children, who are learning how to grow produce so they can share the techniques with their families. This initiative may well have aided the gradual rise in petitions for support since SEDEREC started in 2007.
“In 2007 we supported just 20 projects [within the city], but now we have around 240 projects, benefiting 2,000 people directly – those who work within the allotments of land,” García said.
García added this gradual evolution slowly is becoming a necessity, as the younger generation grows older.
“Through urban agriculture, they will improve their health and combat obesity,” she said. “It’s something that everyone could carry out at home. All you need is a little bit of training and technical assistance. Of course it’s primarily about growing produce, but urban agriculture also helps create green spaces within the community.”