Agrarian urbanism, food education and local food production as detonators that reconnect urban citizens with nature and their food system
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Cuauhtémoc district is the place where most of the team lives and also where some of the most active urban agriculture initiatives are located. The founder and director of the organization has helped develop some of the most emblematic urban public gardens that actually exist. It´s here where we´ve had very valuable experiences understanding the importance and the regenerative potential of growing food as we´ve had the opportunity to be part of many garden activations in a wide variety of contexts in public and private spaces. The most relevant projects are the ones we have developed as urban agriculture centers in public space where we have worked with 5 district public administrations. In 2006 with former organization Sembradores Urbanos (2006-2012) Huerto Romita the first urban agriculture center (UAC) in public space in Mexico was started and is still active, a 80 sq mt innovative education and demonstration center where people come to learn about growing food in small spaces. In 2009 contracted by the sponsor of Vivero Urbano Reforma (400 sq mt) we developed a tree nursery and a food garden in one of the most iconic avenues of the city; Paseo de la Reforma, in the heart of the business and cultural center of the city. Here we had the opportunity to work closer to the local government as we trained a group of their employees. In 2012 as Cultiva Ciudad/Culticiudad was created came the relocation of the Vivero project to the site where Huerto Tlatelolco was born. Huerto Tlatelolco(1650 sq mt) is also located on Reforma Avenue, in a historically very important part of the city, on the site stood until 1990 a tower that was damaged in the 1985 earthquake and then demolished. For the last 7 years we have developed what is now a unique example on the transformation and regeneration of an underused lot into an educational, demonstrative, productive and inspirational UAC that attends thousands of people each year.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
This image shows the 16 districts in which Mexico City is divided. The blue area is where the Cuauhtémoc district is located.
Tenochtitlán and Tlatelolco 500 years ago, these were the most important cities of the Aztec empire, now the center of México City: A city built on a lake that now has a serious water shortage challenge.
Cuauhtemoc district is considered the heart of Mexico, it takes it´s name from the last Mexica emperor that fought against the Spanish conquerors. It means Eagle which falls in Nahuatl referring to the sun falling at sunset. It is where our nation was born when our ancestors found the signal of an eagle with a serpent on a nopal and is now our national shield. The climate is template with ideal weather most of the year so food production can take place throughout the year. This political demarcation is located right where the lake used to be which makes up a very plain topography and It also explain why is has been one of the parts of the city that has been most affected with the last earthquakes (1985 and 2017), it has also been capable of reconstructing from tragedy and destruction. There are layers of history since Prehispanic times, the Spanish conquest and the modern times. It´s the actual political epicenter of the country, a place where colonial constructions mix with the ancestral Aztec cities and the modern buildings. It´s divided into 34 colonies that range between some of the most dangerous neighborhoods to some of the trendier hip neighborhoods, opening up a wide diversity of people that live and work in it. The commercial, cultural, social and political activities represent the 7th economy of the country. It has 4 major urban parks that together make up an area of 6.25 hectares, thus areas of high environmental value. Cuauhtémoc district has public established markets in every neighborhood plus hundreds of street markets that take place everyday on the different neighborhoods, offering fresh produce that comes from all over the country and also a wide variety of imported goods. The most important farmer market in public space takes place every week in one of Cuauhtémoc´s neighborhoods. It´s also home to some of the best restaurants in the city and the world as well of thousands of "fondas"(Mexican eateries) and street food stands that offer fast and cheap menus for the people that come to work everyday. It´s also the district where some of the most relevant urban agriculture projects are established and growing food initiatives have grown exponentially in the last 10 years with the collaboration of local government and different organizations. As one of the more visited areas by tourists, last October we organized a food garden tour around 8 urban agriculture projects where more than 50 people participated showing us the growing interest on this theme and a future for an urban agrotourism industry to develop bringing national and international visitors.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
One of the major challenges we see is the disconnection urban citizens have from nature and food production processes. -We don´t see nature we don´t feel nature, we don´t protect and care for nature. –As a city built on a lake, we now face water shortage; 30% of the water we get comes from communities as far as 150kms from the city. After it passes through the city´s sewage system the polluted water goes back to communities the produce the food we get in the city. –The loss of agricultural land left in the outskirts of the city; the loss of fertile soil to the use of agrochemicals and poor agricultural practices and the expansion of urbanization as the city grows. - Food Waste -The lack of quality green areas, the loss of habitat for insects, pollinators and birds. -A fossil fuel dependent food system on produce that comes from the out of state and imported agroindustrial production.- Nutritionally poor food -Modern eating habits have Mexicans health compromised and eating related diseases take up to 90% of the Health´s Department budget. The access to good quality food is only for those who can afford it, and the access to over processed” food” is widely available at cheap prices.- Recently the law on urban productive gardens was published (Ley de Huertos Urbanos CDMX 2017) but it hasn´t been put to use and no public funds have been destined to the development of these projects. -There is a lack of information and hard data on the positive impact and the benefits urban green productive areas provide on the environment and society. –Community breakdown is more and more evident as insecurity, violence and crime rates have scaled up- As we envision the actual challenges if not addressed soon in 30 years will be catastrophic in many levels, climate change events causing food scarcity amongst many other things. The health of the people and the living systems in the cities will be extremely compromised. The gradual but non stopping intake of toxic substances in our food will have generated a major health crisis and the future´s generation´s health expectations are to be the lowest ever. The levels of stress derived from the city lifestyle, and the lack of contact with nature will be a serious mental health challenge and the quality of life in the city will be untenable. Fuel dependence systems for food to be accessible will be a major security issue.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Urban Agriculture Centers have a systemic impact in the urban environment as educational, demonstrative, productive and inspirational spaces that bring urban citizens an opportunity to connect to nature and their food and build capacities on sustainable practices. Through formal and informal hands on learning experiences, people who attend UAC´s learn how to grow food using agroecological practices, create fertile soil using their organic waste, ecotechnologies to use resources more efficiently, building capacities and skills on the basics of life in an inspiring natural environment. Growing interest in this theme brings national and international students to do research therefore producing important information that contribute to improve practices. These spaces are made possible thanks to the collaboration between local government, environmental and social NGOS, chefs, universities, companies and the community. Volunteers, interns and people who help build these spaces use bio construction and ecological techniques that grow and strengthen community and also provide a habitat for insects, pollinators and birds in the city. Even though the quantities of food produced are not enough to feed the urban communities the quality of the experience itself has an impact on how the people value fresh, nutritious and tasty food, and are more willing to make significant changes to feed themselves better. The wide range of activities that happen in a UAC offer many ways to promote a culture of agrarian urbanism, involving and compromising people with the production of a part of their food. They become live markets where people come to buy their fresh produce, where local farmer markets happen connecting producers and consumers. Public events offer talks, workshops, cooking classes that chefs, activists, NGO´s and environmentalists come to share. School field trips are rich enhanced learning experiences for the students and teachers. UAC´s are a very good simple strategy that can help fight climate change as they act as green quality areas that help reduce the high temperatures of the heat island effect cities like ours create. Community compost programs make it possible for the local neighbors to bring their organic waste for it to be turned into compost, closing the cycle of nutrients and creating fertile soil. As a small-scale production it allows for a wide diversity of edible plants to grow, and become live seed banks helping with the conservation of species that are adapting to the climate change. UAC´s are a possible and accessible strategy to create resilience and strengthen food security in the urban era, bringing knowledge and inspiration, building a network that serves a growing urban farming movement, building healthier communities through food production. These projects are now attracting federal government attention on the need for public policy to support them.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
“Of all the underlying forces working toward emancipation of the city dweller, the most important is the gradual reawakening of the primitive instincts of the agrarian”. Frank Lloyd Wright. Each space and community has its own unique characteristics and on that base the UAC´s are developed to help the specific purpose of the place and the people involved; all of them have similar characteristics that makes them education, demonstration and productive centers. The centers are built using natural upcycled materials with ecological building techniques, and applying ecotechnologies like rainwater harvest, biofilters, and compost toilets for example. They offer the communities close by high quality green areas in which neighbors can have access to food education programs: workshops, training programs that build capacities and teach skills to people of all ages and backgrounds. Local fresh produce is available and accessible in a variety of ways, as by growing it for themselves, buying it from the garden or at the farmers markets, and solidarity economy barter markets that are part of the activities the centers offer. The produce is also purchased by chefs and restaurants that value the origin of their ingredients and are supportive of the social work the UAC´s do, not only by buying but also by actively participating in the education and training programs and supporting fundraising farm to table events. UAC´s contribute to the create resilience in the city by providing biological corridors for pollinators, insects and birds, they are live seed banks where seed exchange practices contribute to the safeguard of biological diversity and the regeneration of a local traditional natural food system. UACs are also great spaces to build and nourish the community, through Community enhancing activities, like volunteering, various educational options (internships, workshops, school field trips, cultural and gastronomical events) that promote a local and healthy food culture.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Huerto Tlatelolco is located in the Nonoalco Tlatelolco housing complex. This was designed by Arquitect Mario Pani in the 1960´s under the precepts of the Modern Movement. The area is divided into 3 sections and is also known as a "garden city" since mora than half of the almos 1 million square meters it covers is free green space. The complex includes 22 schools, hospitals, nurseries, sports center, theater and commercial premises.
In 2017 a student designed an app to map the urban agriculture projects happening in the metropolitan area of the city. We had an urban growers conference that year and the app was used to map and register the participants projects. Sixty active projects registered for the event. Sadly it´s not working anymore but it gives us an idea of how the movement has grown in the last years.
Cars can become gardening containers as fuel is a very scarce resource in 2050.
Cuauhtémoc district, the heart of one of the largest cities of the world, has become the inspiration for Mexico City and the whole country, to shift to a regenerative and sustainable food system that promotes an integral health for the people and the environment in urban areas. Public policies, like the law of urban productive gardens, have enabled and supported the transformation of most of the 200 abandoned lots existing in 2020 and have now become areas where food is grown, using regenerative agricultural techniques. The district has now a large network of UAC´s; there´s at least one in each neighborhood, and these are part of the green infrastructure that has contributed to a higher quality of life and is now habitat for birds, insects and pollinators. The activation and building of these centers has been made by the community for the community; as this centers are built in a collaborative manner with the participation of people from all ages. This centers are built using upcycled and natural materials and have a diversity of applied ecotechnologies, especially ones that help a more efficient and sustainable use of water.
This network has been enabled by an empowered community who have developed capacities on urban farming, natural and upcycling construction techniques, water harvesting systems and ecotechnology trades and are now actively involved in the process of producing distributing and consuming healthy local food. Food waste has diminished in the area as people now value food production and have learned to use basically all parts of the produce they consume.
UAC´s come in different sizes since they have been built and adapted to a variety of spaces, contexts and purposes. Some have a smaller area therefore the services they offer are more educational, demonstrative and as distribution points where people can have access to seeds and all the supplies needed to maintain their gardens at home.
Larger areas have been destined to be productive in a medium to large scale and now provide jobs to young adults and are also spaces for senior citizens to get actively involved in the production of an important percentage of fresh produce that is available to the communities nearby.
A placed based economy favors short chains of distribuition and urban farmer markets not only take place at the UAC´s but also public policies have been created to allow more of these local sourced markets to happen in public space. The established public markets also have now an area of locally produced fresh and artisanal processed goods . Bartering has spread among the community creating a solidarity economy system of “prosumers”(people not only consuming but also producing goods) and there´s an active exchange of products, services and knowledge.
The growing importance of urban farming can also be seen as edible landscaping has taken over the parks and streets in the district. Inspired by agroforestry there are now fruit trees, herbs and edible perennials growing all over the district. Maps with the location of this areas of edible forests are available and people can harvest different kinds of fruits, nuts and herbs throughout the year for free.
The centers have also contributed to improve waste management in Cuauhtémoc, through communal composting programs the average of kilograms of domestic organic waste being processed at these centers goes up to 1000kgs each week. There are also public policies that have supported the creation of large composting centers where the organic waste coming from the food commerce in the area is processed into nutrient soil. The beneficial effects of on-site management of organic waste have been various: is has helped to better control disease vectors, reduced transportation to landfills and thus pollution and production of methane. The production of fertile soil has had an important impact in carbon secuestration, which has alleviated the effects of climate change. Even though there has been an impact on the city´s climate, the area of Cuauhtémoc now has lower temperatures, better air quality and a higher rate on rainfall due to the expansion of green areas and the higher quality of the soil that is being introduced to all of the public green areas of the district, fighting the heat island effect the urbanized area use to have.
The development of this agrarian urbanism culture has helped to promote deep ecology, supporting integral health; not only in a physical, emotional and mental level, also in a deeper manner by reconnecting people with nature which has been for many years now a form of therapy that helps heal anxiety, depression and has helped people feel they are part of nature once again, and by this feeling more empowered to be proactive on the care of the planet. Stress levels in the general population in the area have lowered due to the benefits of having more access to quality green public space. Violence and crime rates have lowered on the districts communities especially around the areas where the UAC´s are located, this due to the social integration the gardens have created.
Food education programs are now an integral part of school´s curricula and are teaching children better eating habits and gardening skills. As most of the schools in the district are limited in space, UAc´s have become living laboratories where field trips are part of the annual studies plan. Students from all levels and capacities have enhanced learning experiences that have influenced them on better eating habits which has caused the eating related diseases and obesity rates to lower. Ancestral natural medicine has taken a very important role in the health of people, as these centers also grow medicinal plants and have a network of trained herbalists that give consults and teach workshops on how to use and prepare your own medicine with plants.
The years of research done on the benefits of urban agriculture in the previous decades with the participation of several universities and students have produced very valuable information on the fields of arquitecture, urbanism, design, and also the most obvious like earth science. Manuals have been published and there is now a lot of accessible information on regenerative practices that have proved the environmental benefits the recovered and repurposed areas have had on the quality of the air, the use of the water, and of the limited resources in the city.
A larger green area in Cuauhtémoc is now a biological corridor that provides habitat for many birds, pollinators and insects; there has even been registers of the recovery of some of the lost species in the previous decades. Seed saving live banks have played an important role on the safeguard of the seeds of many of the ancient food plants like the quelites as well as a vast diversity of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Seed exchange is a common practice and the access to a larger variety of heirloom varieties is now possible to all people. These live seed banks are contributing to food sovereignty and security by assuring their reproduction by the people and independent from the big corporations and agroindustry companies.
It´s 2050 and despite the environmental and social challenges that have been experienced in the recent decades, a new culture is now a reality in the heart of México. The transformation that has taken place through the systemic work of urban agriculture centers have created a movement from the ground up that sustains a regenerative culture. The impact of the actions taken by an empowered society that has developed capacities and skills has given way to a new economy and culture around food. Improving the diet and health of people and the environment, supporting food security and sovereignty, developing a local economy and regenerating the bonds people share now form a culturally rich, healthy and socially cohesive community. People from all over the city, the country and the world now have another reason to visit the Cuauhtémoc district as an agrotourism industry has also flourished and is inspiration to the visitors.
This vision has been inspired and is sustained by the work we have been developing for over 20 years implementing urban agriculture projects in all kinds of spaces contexts and communities. The experience we have had specially with the development of Huerto Tlatelolco has taught us a lot on the potential and opportunities this centers offer and at the present moment are models the federal government is taking interest in supporting and replicating for the first time. We hope you can look at the attachments we added.