Veggie gardens sprout, thrive in Mexico City

Written by Eco Village Mexico on . Posted in Latest News, Events, and How-To's on Permaculture & Self Sustainability.

By Tim Johnson
McClatchy Newspapers
Published: Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 8A
Last Modified: Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 – 7:11 am

MEXICO CITY– Climb to a rooftop and scan the horizon of Mexico’s capital, and you’re likely to see nearby rooftops or balconies with vegetable gardens.

Urban rooftop gardening is on the cusp of a boom, sponsored by a City Hall that sees gardening as a way to alleviate poverty, provide residents with their own healthy food and add some green to one of the world’s most populous cities.

In a program begun five years ago, Mexico City’s municipal government has given grants to 3,080 families to build gardens on their rooftops, sometimes sheltered by simple greenhouses to protect from nightly mountain chill.

Many more families have attended urban gardening classes and struck out on their own to grow tomatoes, lettuce, chilies, scallions, guava, passion fruit and other edibles.

“There wasn’t anything up here before,” Sergio Hernández Rodríguez said from his rooftop in the Coyoacán district, where 2-foot-tall garden beds now display corn, celery and chilies alongside aromatic herbs and lavender.

Off to the side, his wife puttered inside a greenhouse made of plastic sheeting and clear mesh and supported by a metal frame where tufts of romaine lettuce peeked out from holes in horizontal PVC tubing.

“I’m hoping to grow strawberries in here before long,” Estela López said as she showed off the simple hydroponic system using a pump made for a

The couple spend hours each day tending to their rooftop garden, building compost and nursing seedlings. The project is already paying off.

“I can sell to my neighbors,” López said. “They know it’s very clean.”

Hernández said the garden has given him new appreciation for vegetables he once detested. His wife insisted on growing radishes, he explained with a grimace.

“I don’t like radishes, but these are good,” he said.

Mexico City’s small-scale urban gardening project has gained momentum.

“We’ve had growth of about 30 percent a year in projects. It just keeps growing,” said Armando Volterrani, a project manager with the city program.

Residents eager to test their green thumb in Mexico City, a metropolis at an average altitude of 7,300 feet with more than 20 million people, often need help to learn how to grow vegetables.

“There are different microclimates all over the city, and rainfall and altitude also vary,” explained Margarita García, deputy director of the city’s sustainable agriculture program.

In demonstration gardens scattered about the city, volunteers tell visitors they’ll receive for having vegetation on their property and answer questions about how to grow on a balcony, whether composting is essential, and when to plant.

One of the demonstration gardens is the Huerto Romita, an explosion of green behind cyclone fencing in a partially empty lot in the central Roma Norte district of the capital.

During a break from attending visitors, co-founder Carolina Lukac explained what she tries to convey to those curious about starting a garden.

“Among the benefits of harvesting in your own home is that you don’t use chemicals and the fruits and vegetables are more alive and vital. Once you pluck them, an hour later you are eating them. There’s less loss of nutrients,” she said.

Lukac dismissed concerns that growing vegetables in the capital’s sometimes visibly polluted air would affect one’s health. “With a good rinsing, they are fine,” she said as a specialist with City Hall agreed.

Lukac said the vast majority of those who visit her demonstration garden are women, many of them young.

“I see this do-it-yourself spirit as stronger among young people,” she said.

A sense of pride in producing crops native to Mexico throbs at another demonstration garden in the far western Cuajimalpa district, run by a retired teacher, Maricela Segura Gámez. She walks by a carefully tended patch of calabaza squash and chilacayote squash threaded between stalks of corn.

“The chilacayotes are pure Mexican, grown only here in Mexico,” she said.

Along one wall of her outdoor compound, she points to fruit trees. One is a capulin cherry and another is a tejocote, a fruit that is similar to a crabapple; Mexicans often eat them around the country’s Day of the Dead holiday on Nov. 1 and on Christmas.

In her herb garden, shrubs of rosemary, dill and thyme sprout as well as epazote, a leafy Mexican herb with a strong aroma, a mix between lemon and fennel.

“Epazote is also purely Mexican. The Chinese can never imitate it,” she said.

Mexico City is far from the leader in encouraging urban agriculture in Latin America. It took cues from Havana and receives guidance from Cuba’s National Research Institute for Tropical Agriculture. Urban garden programs also exist in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Caracas, Venezuela, she said.

But in some ways Mexico City has advantages. Residents can tend gardens 12 months of the year, and a generous four-month rainy season lessens pressure on water resources.

Moreover, most buildings in the city have flat rooftops.

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Eco Village Mexico

Eco Village Mexico is an eco village project in Cajon de Peñas, Tomatlan, Jalisco Mexico. We are expanding and looking for new partners to join us on over 300 hectares of Mexican mountainous area with plenty of fresh water and fertile land.
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