Chinampas: A mexican tradition with global impact
She answers to the name Doña Flora. She has one of those names that somehow ends up determining someone’s life. She tells us that her parents and her grandparents as well as her kids and gradkids have dedicated their lifes to the chinampas, a mesoamerican agricultural style, where local producers have been working the land they live in for more than 500 years.
Flora greets us in El Acuario – the only restaurant in town – with a plastic blue basket on the right hand and a hat on the other one (she brings the hat everyday with her as she visits the San Gregorio Atlapulco parcels). She is wearing a long sleeved bluse embroidered with distinctive colors that show an image close to her heart: fisherman in a boat.
She walks with her basket towards the first bridge that leads to the chinampas. There, she tells us that she used to have a water spring – she was the only one with one- but in time, it dissapeared. El Acuario’s owner thought they could raise some colorful fish and he did in his restaurant. Thus, the name The Aquarium in spanish.
Overexploitation in the wáter made the spring go away, as Flora says.
Nowadays, the cannel we see has only 20 centimeters of depth. It can go all the way to 1.60 meters in a luck year. Before, it was at least 3 meters of depth, but it had the same luck than her spring: water exploitation, and the fact that the 3 factories that supply fresh water to the area work deficiently due to the lack of maintenance.
The water system of Ejidos de Xochimilco, San Gregorio Atlapulco y sus afluyentes, besides being considered a world heritage and a cultural milestone for Mexico, it also is worldly acclaimed for it’s environment importance. Flora insists that often she finds herself amongst academics and scientifics from all the corners of the world to take water samples and know more about the ecosystem in hopes to find some information that can help stop the climate change. However, in Mexico, we know and acknowledge just a small fraction of the importance of this place in topics such as water availability, climate regulation and air quality (yes, in one of the most polluted cities in the world).
I ask her why more and more, people are abandoning the chinampa lifestyle. Flora answers that is a social problem, because parents threaten their kids saying education must come first, and if not, “they will end up in the chinampa”. Others have dedicated their lifes to other professions. Her family has made it their mission to have both: to preserve the tradition and to study. Her son, Pedro, is both a chinampero and a librarian.
More than 500 years ago, the chinampas supplied food to the whole Mexico City. From Xochimilco, boats would go to Santa ana, get through a bridge called Roldan, in downtown. After that, the góndola (which had two platforms) was installed: One platform for people and the other one for groceries. Now it’s transported by cars. Today, from San Gregorio, an average of 8 to 10 tons are distributed to different distribution centers al throughout the city, like the market Central de Abastos.
As we walk amongst the lines made by those who walked before us, Flora names vegetables that we have never known. She picks one fron the grouns and, with a gaze of hope, she shows us the leafs: “If it has been eaten by the animals, it is organic, we have to always look at that”.
Flora makes a point to tell us that hers, is quality agricultura, free of chemicals. “We try to get our agriculture colleagues that still use them, to use them responsibly”.
The San Gregorio area is ideal for agricultura, since it is surrounded by mountains, where water strolls through the lakes.
836 acres belong to the community. She takes us to the place that divides the small properties to the comunal land. Inside the land, we can see lakes that are the main source of water for the Aquifers (and here is where the city goes looking for water). “Shouls this parcels not exist, the City would have no water” Flora tells us. “This is why the UN, the government and the academia is so interested in Xochimilco”.
Some of the land was taken away in the President Luis Echeverria times. They were planning to make a resort out of it. “He payed the people $30,000,00 mexican pesos (around USD$1,500) per parcel. Ridiculous, since it’s a big chunk of productive land. By tricks and corruption, they were able to sell them”.
We are back in the water canal, Flora tells us about the Price Charles of England visit, three years ago. She points out from the boat, the land where the Prince was. She tells us that the Royal bodyguards fell off the boat and got really mad. I tell her that the TV news did not feature that part, and she tells us that what was actually in the news was that he was transoported in “an ugly boat”. “We do not have trajineras, we use the boats for production and transportation. We are not a resort”.
We stay silent for a while. Flora interrupts it by sharing her thoughts: “ What a though life”. “A prince’s life”, I ask.
“That life. Filled with bodyguards. He travels even with an ambulance, as if everytime he was in the edge of an accident. There is nothing as beautiful as to live a quiet life, sleep in the soil. Eat hand made tortillas.”
The boat that we have been riding has the Cándido Ríos name engraved on blue painting over the wood. The Rios’ family is Flora’s. Cándido is his husband. Pedro, his son. All of them know how to work the land. Even Sarita, her granddaughter, who has just ended 5th grade in elementary school.
“We can’t keep importing products. What will happen to us if we do? We need to cultivate our own food. Not only to sell them, but also to consume them. I shared this knowledge with all my kids, to work the chinampa. Pedro brings Sarita. I tell him to show her, because maybe one day, all of this will fade away. Just as our water spring.”
Support local community and visit Floating Gardens from San Gregorio Atlapulco.