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Urban agriculture grows in Mexico City

IMG_2743Mexico City has it all. Lots of people (22 million), high altitude (the city sits 2,250 metres above sea level), plenty of Uber drivers, the Angel of Independence that overlooks passersby, an extensive range of tacos, chocolate and mezcal and more than 50 urban farms producing food for communities right across this bustling city.

The later is thanks to the dedication, passion and enthusiasm of one lady in particular, Gabriela Vargas.

Gabriela created her first garden in the city 16 years ago and today, as director and founder of Cultiva Ciudad, is educating thousands of people about how to grow and cook with fresh produce.

From Condesa in the southwest, to Cuahutémoc northeast of Centro Histórico to the edible garden in Chapultepec, Gabriela showed us a sample of her urban agriculture projects to enhance food security in a country that is such a significant player in the production of sugar cane, corn, sorghum, wheat, beans, fruits and vegetables, coffee and cocoa.

Did you know that scientists have discovered chocolate was invented at least 3,100 years ago in Central America and not as the sweet treat people now crave, but as a celebratory beer-like beverage and status symbol!

In 2014, Mexico produced over 240,000,000 kilograms of coffee beans. The nation predominantly produces high quality Arabica beans and is responsible for majority of U.S. coffee imports.

‘Mexico is also a competitive exporter of horticultural products and was Australia’s 20th largest import source by value for horticultural products in 2006 with imports valued at $A14.4m. Principal horticultural imports from Mexico to Australia include frozen fruit, frozen strawberries, pickles, dried dates, dried tropical fruits, garlic and lime juice. Australia is perceived by Mexico to be an attractive market for Mexican agricultural products. In its submission, the Mexican embassy outlined that:

‘Australia is an attractive market for Mexican agricultural products. Mexico already exports a vast range of agricultural products to the United States, the European Union and Japan and can offer Australian consumers high quality products like mango, avocado and limes, in which Mexican producers may have seasonal and weather advantages.

‘The northern states of Mexico in particular are interested in exploring the Australian market for the exportation of fresh fruits, such as plums, melon, watermelon, grapes and citric products.’ (Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

One of the reasons that Mexico has enjoyed success in its crop production is because the land used for crops increased from 3.70 million acres in 1950 to 8.64 million acres in 1965. This was due to irrigation programs instituted by the government in the 1940s and 1950s. The PROCAMPO Program is another reason. The government makes cash payments directly to farmers and they can then determine which crops they want to produce. The program has encouraged Mexican farmers to produce crops like wheat and sorghum as well as fruits and vegetables instead of the more profitable corn and beans.

With further anticipated growth in Mexico’s crop production and potential for greater exports, Gabriela has realised the importance for children and communities alike to learn about where their local foods come from:

“I think learning where and how our food grows has multiple benefits for communities,” she says.

“Reconnecting with nature and its cycles, valuing the work of farmers, promoting healthier eating habits and growing food can make you a more responsible consumer as you value the difference between organic local and fresh produce to industrialised food.

“Growing food has the power to transform and heal communities.”

Sitting in Cultiva Ciudad’s Huerto Tlatelolco garden in Cuahutémoc (that includes more than 30 fruit trees and is the first edible forest in a public space in the city of Mexico), munching on a salad of fresh greens and edible flowers with homemade tortillas, it’s easy to forget that this little piece of paradise sits in amongst one of the largest cities in the world.

Congratulations to Gabriela and the Cultiva Ciudad team. Your work is inspirational!

Louise FitzRoy | Founder
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